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McCaffrey, Anne

Entry updated 6 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1926-2011) US-born professional horsebreeder and author, in Ireland from the 1970s; mother of Gigi McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey. Most of her output was sf, though tinged with the tone and instruments of Fantasy: much of her main work, the enormous Pern sequence of Planetary Romance adventures (see below) is normally experienced as fantasy. She began publishing work of genre interest with "Freedom of the Race" for Hugo Gernsback's Science-Fiction Plus in 1953, becoming well-known a decade or so later with her first novel, Restoree (1967), which rather conventionally, though with tongue in cheek, tells the story of a young woman who, after being flayed alive by Alien flesh-eaters, is saved and with her skin restored has adventures in another world's high society. Soon McCaffrey began publishing the linked novels and stories that have made her reputation as a writer of romantic, heightened tales of adventure designed to appeal – and to make good sense to – readers who start young and who, over the years, grow into her world.

Her major series is set in a long-lost Earth colony, Pern, a world whose first human settlers (see Colonization of Other Worlds) had modified the native dragonish species "fire lizards" through Genetic Engineering – the relatively late Dragonsdawn (1988) serves as the relevant origin story – in order to create the romantic empath dragons who dominate the overall sequence. These huge but loyal and sapient creatures have powers of Telepathy, Teleportation and Time Travel – further fantasticated speculation appears in the "nonfiction" A Diversity of Dragons (1997) with Richard Woods – and symbiotically pair-bond at birth like giant ponies with a selected human. Such human/dragon duos, who dominate the many volumes of the sequence, engage (as the founders of the colony had intended) in high adventures while defending civilization and the planet from the deadly fungus-like spores known as Threads that fall at intervals from a neighbouring planet, searing human flesh and destroying the native Ecology. In the process of exfoliating the series, McCaffrey and her collaborators and successors have, perhaps inevitably, allowed a touchy-feely Young Adult glow to soften the impact of its first volumes, losing in the process the clarity of her focus on strong women protagonists (see Women in SF), and her remarkable nuts-and-bolts attentiveness to the problems of living and gaining career success in Pern.

The series is complexly organized, with considerable retrofitting evident in later volumes; in a sequence that was in production for more than forty years, it is perhaps inevitable that the early volumes are the freshest. The first portion of the overall sequence, which contains the heart of Pern, comprises Dragonflight (fixup 1968) (containing the 1968 Hugo-winner "Weyr Search" [October 1967 Analog] and the 1968 Nebula-winner "Dragonrider" [December 1967-January 1968 Analog]), Dragonquest (1971) and The White Dragon (1978), all being assembled as The Dragonriders of Pern (omni 1978). A second sequence – Dragonsong (1976), Dragonsinger (1977) and Dragondrums (1979), assembled as The Harper Hall of Pern (omni 1979) – comprises Young Adult tales calved off from the Main; Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern (1983; exp 1983) and Nerilka's Story (1986) are closely connected. Further titles include Dragonsdawn (1988), a prequel to the overall sequence (see above), which is followed by The Renegades of Pern (1989), All the Weyrs of Pern (1991), The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (coll of linked stories 1993), The Girl Who Heard Dragons (coll 1994), The Dolphin's Bell (1994), The Dolphins of Pern (1994) and other titles down to The Skies of Pern (2001), after which point Todd McCaffrey was listed as collaborator in various continuation projects. A Time When: Being a Tale of Young Lord Jaxom, his White Dragon Ruth, and Various Fire-Lizards (1975 chap) is connected to the series; Dragonflight (graph 1991) was the first of a projected series of graphic-novel versions of the material. The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern (1989) with Jody Lynn Nye may be of assistance to readers.

There are several further series, whose first volumes are sometimes by McCaffrey solo, though most were carried on with collaborators. Entirely solo is the first, the Pegasus sequence comprising To Ride Pegasus (fixup 1973) – which deals with a corps of parapsychological investigators in the near future and is notable for its political conservatism – and Pegasus in Flight (1990), both assembled as Wings of Pegasus (omni 1991), plus Pegasus in Space (2000). The Ireta sequence – Dinosaur Planet (1978) and Dinosaur Planet Survivors (1984), both being assembled as The Ireta Adventure (omni 1985; vt The Dinosaur Planet Omnibus 2001) – is also listed as solo, as are the Killashandra tales: The Crystal Singer (stories in Continuum 1, anth 1974, to Continuum 4, anth 1975, ed Roger Elwood; fixup 1982), Killashandra (1985) and Crystal Line (1992), all assembled as The Crystal Singer Trilogy (omni 1996). Further series, some solo, some collaborative, include the Planet Pirates books beginning with Sassinak (1990) with Elizabeth Moon; the Rowan sequence beginning with The Rowan (1990), featuring a powerful female telepath who engages in adventures and much sex with an even more powerful male telepath named Jeff Raven; the Petaybee sequence, about a sentient planet (see Living Worlds), beginning with Powers That Be (1993) with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough; and the Catteni sequence beginning with Freedom's Landing (1995), in which humans fight back against an Alien conquest of Earth; the Acorna sequence beginning with Acorna: The Unicorn Girl (1997) with Margaret Ball. For further details on all these, see Checklist.

The effect of McCaffrey's early singletons, which include some strong work, was not strengthened by the comet's tails of further volumes (some so weak that it is possible that they may be described as Sequels by Other Hands). Decision at Doona (1969), a tale of fraught First Contact with Cat-like aliens, was for instance disappointingly sequeled much later by Crisis on Doona (1992) with Jody Lynn Nye and Treaty Planet (1993; vt Treaty at Doona 1994), also with Nye. The Ship Who Sang (coll of linked stories 1969) is an intriguingly plausible tale in which a deformed girl, encased in a titanium life-support shell and grafted into a Spaceship (see Cyborgs) as its pilot, in effect becomes the ship; the emotional difficulties facing a conjoint entity of this sort, who in the particular case of the protagonist Helva understands the universe in terms of Music, are many. Other such "shell people" include City managers, prefiguring the kind of AI-run world or Space Habitat so often featured in later works by Iain M Banks and others. The story was influential from the first; but that initial impact was diffused by a succession of sequels, the Brainship collaborations beginning with PartnerShip (1992) with Margaret Ball. The two initial singletons Decision at Doona and The Ship Who Sang were assembled along with Restoree (see beginning of entry above) as The Worlds of Anne McCaffrey (omni 1981), a volume which – though less popular than Pern – may stand alongside McCaffrey's main sequence as her most significant accomplishment in the field.

Later singletons, like The Coelura (1983 chap) – strangely assembled with Nerilka's Story from the Pern sequence as Nerilka's Story & The Coelura (coll 1987) – tend to downgrade their sf premises in favour of romance. The best of McCaffrey's relatively infrequent short stories, including some connected work, were collected in Get Off the Unicorn (coll 1977) – the title, originally "Get of the Unicorn", was changed either by an ignorant copyeditor, or by someone more senior who thought McCaffrey's readers would not understand "get" as a term used in horsebreeding. Though her work has been criticized as oversentimental, a careful reading of her best work may absolve it of later sins; McCaffrey was deservedly among the most popular writers in her particular subgenre. In 2005 she received the SFWA Grand Master Award, and she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. [JC]

see also: Arts; Del Rey Books; Ditmar Award; ESP; Gamebook; Gandalf Award; Identity Exchange; Organlegging; Panspermia; Robert A Heinlein Award; Science Fantasy; Sensory Deprivation; Shakespeare; Skylark Award; Writers of the Future Contest.

Anne Inez McCaffrey

born Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1 April 1926

died Dragonhold-Underhill, County Wicklow, Ireland: 21 November 2011




Pern: Harper Hall






Planet Pirates

Tower and the Hive/Damia


Petaybee: Twins of Petaybee

  • Changelings (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2005) with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough [Petaybee: Twins of Petaybee: hb/Terese Nielsen]
  • Maelstrom (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2006) with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough [Petaybee: Twins of Petaybee: hb/Chris Spollen]
  • Deluge (London: Bantam Press, 2008) with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough [Petaybee: Twins of Petaybee: hb/Fred Gambino]



Acorna's Children

Tales of the Barque Cats

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor


about the author


previous versions of this entry

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