Friday, 2 December 2011

RIP Anne McCaffrey

At the start of this year, I signed up for the Anne McCaffrey reading challenge proposed by Caroline at Portrait of a Woman to bring some wonderful fantasy books to a new readership. Little did any of us know then that the great author would no longer be with us by the end of the challenge... the great Anne McCaffrey died at her home in Ireland last week, aged 85.

I was reading one of the collaborative novels she published ("Acorna", written with Margaret Ball), but not enjoying it as much as her earlier books. So rather than review that one for the final quarter of this challenge, I’d like to highlight again some of the Anne McCaffrey originals I fell in love with as a teenager.

Upon hearing the sad news, I immediately cast down my current bedtime read ("Eclipse" where Bella gets seriously irritating trying to choose between her vampire and werewolf boyfriends), and ran to my bookshelf for some nostalgia. I straight away grabbed “The Crystal Singer”, which I reviewed for the reading challenge HERE. This is the cover of my battered paperback edition:

Just 50 pages in, and I’m relieved to be back with the refreshingly non-whiney heroine Killashandra Ree, who has rather more ambition in life than simply finding a boy - vampire, werewolf or otherwise - to take care of her. This ambition takes her from her home planet to the world of Ballybran, where crystal literally gets into the blood, and no matter how many times I read this book it always speaks to me.

In fact, I can see distinct parallels between crystal singing and writing fiction. Here’s an extract from the first chapter, when Killashandra meets a crystal singer on holiday and asks how she can apply to join the guild:

Carrick smiled sadly. “You don’t want to be a crystal singer…. you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for. Singing crystal is a terrible, lonely life. You can’t always find someone to sing with you, the tones don’t always strike the right vibes for the crystal faces… of course you can make terrific cuts singing duo.”
   “How do you find out?”
    He gave an amused snort. “The hard way, of course. But once you sing crystal, you don’t stop, That’s why I’m telling you, don’t even think about it.”

And later, Killashandra asks about finances:

“You don’t get off-world with every trip into the ranges?”
     He shook his head, frowning irritably at her interruption. “You don’t always clear the costs of the trip, or past damages. Or you might not have cut the right shape or tone. Sometimes tone is more important than shape.”
     “And you have to remember what’ll be needed.”

This is apparently as difficult for a crystal singer as for an author, who can both forget the real world when they get caught up in the enchantment of their own work.

Other Anne McCaffrey books I’ve loved are the Dragonriders of Pern series, which are really independent books set on the same planet. The ones that shine in my memory are Dragonsinger, which tells the story of the bullied girl Menolly, who travels to the Harper Hall on a dragon’s back and becomes one of the most important harpers on Pern, and The White Dragon, which I reviewed here.

Other Anne McCaffrey books I’ve enjoyed include "Restoree", "Decision at Doona", "The Ship Who Sang", and some great short story collections "To Ride Pegasus" and "Get off the Unicorn". (Muse: I should think so, too!)

The author named her house in Ireland “Dragonhold” after her Pern books, and I hope that whoever lives there in the future keeps the name. Rest in peace, Anne McCaffrey, and thank you for all the wonderful worlds and characters you created. My teenage years would have been so much emptier without your books. I was your number one fan!


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