RIP Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)
Not a lot to say. I wouldn’t call McCaffrey one of the greatest writers of all time, despite the awards. Lots of her books were much like the ones I grew up with: horse books. OK, I grew up with more than that, but there were books by Fairfax Downey, books by Marguerite Henry, books by Walter Farley. And there were books by Andre Norton, John Christopher, and Ursula LeGuin (although I never read the Earthsea books till I was at university — the first thing I read by LeGuin was The Left Hand of Darkness, which I read when I was 12, at about the time I read Stranger in a Strange Land). I went from Heinlein to Lewis and Cooper, Alexander and Walton’s version of the Mabinogion. McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley drew me back towards sf. They were horse books (ok, big horses that flew and belched fire) where the horses talked to their humans. Some — rather more than a few — of McCaffrey’s characters were women. They were Mary Sues that we didn’t have to write. There was a lot to dislike in her books — sometimes they were contrived, and often they trod the ‘bodice ripper in space’ line. But they were still books with heroes and heroines. Lots of heroines. Women who were smart and … i was going to say sexy, but one of the things I think it’s important to remember about McCaffrey’s heroines is that they are frequently damaged people. They are women who don’t fit, women who have never been allowed to think of themselves as physically attractive. They get by because they are survivors, and they have pretty low expectations of other people, because they’ve learnt they can only rely on themselves. They felt like me, except for the fantasy part where they got the really cool partners. But even then, as they did, they didn’t always handle it well. They had to accept being loved for who they were, for what they were. They had to survive aliens, Thread, the loss of loved ones… and that was the easy part.
McCaffrey wrote a lot about outsiders and Others. I’m not sure she ever wrote anything particularly profound, but she, like most decent sf writers, inspired questions about important things: race, class, social hierarchies, gender. I don’t think I ever felt challenged by her writing, but I think she probably had some little influence on how I think about things like colonialism, the Other, exceptionalism, the environment …and on my willingness to try to understand people’s motives, rather than to assume that people are just jerks.
So RIP Anne McCaffrey, and thank you.