Friday, November 25, 2011

5 tributes to Anne McCaffrey and what she's meant to us

List by assorted librarians

"Because we build the worlds we wouldn't mind living in. They contain scary things, problems, but also a sense of rightness that makes them alive and makes us want to live there. "

"I have a shelf of comfort books, which I read when the world closes in on me or something untoward happens. "

~ Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011

Bear with us, folks, this is something of a long post, but when we started to talk about the passing of Anne McCaffrey this week, turns out we had a lot of love for the lady and her myriad works, and a lot of words to try and share that. A lot of words, and one wicked tattoo, I might add. I love the way that we each - as teenagers, mostly - took something quite different from her books, and what we took means a lot to us still. Just remembering it brings a smile to our faces, and a flood of emails back and forth as we swap favourite characters, scenes and series.
Rest in peace.

Tosca, Social Media Librarian, South

My parents gave me a copy of Dragonsong when I was 11 years old and I thought it was truly magical. Some of that feeling is because the part of me that felt like a constant outsider or observer found people just like me within McCaffrey's books - she gave me both a voice, and a home. Mawkishly sentimental? Possibly. Yet I know that that initial wonder and awe I felt during that first time read is something I will never forget. It also became my benchmark for all future reading experiences.

Danielle, Web Technologies Library, South

Two things spring to mind when I think back on Anne McCaffrey - firelizards, and food. The glorious idea of having a fierce, choosy and proud, magical animal that would be your best friend, was enormously appealing to a teenager who grew up with a set of animal encyclopedias and a stable of imaginary horses. I also loved the scene where Piemur and Menolly head out to sample the treats of a local fair, including bubbly pies, though it took until yesterday's email exchange to realise that I always equated these with that quintessential (and extinct!) treat, Georgie Pie's apple and blackberry pie (piping hot and crusted with sugar). Firelizards and food aside, Menolly's story (the Harper Hall trilogy) was a really satisfying one, as Menolly went from being a misfit in her own family, to finding her place in the world, and a wonderful mentor, largely through her own brave strength of character.

I also have a special place in my heart for To ride Pegasus, and psychic abilities have remained something that I'm endlessly fascinated with. McCaffrey knew that there was a lot of dramatic potential to be mined not only from the powers themselves, but from the human effect of them - what would it be like to have precognition, and see such nightmares, or to have an empathy with others' emotions that constantly abraded? As do my favourite sci-fi and fantasy authors today, for all the otherworldly creatures and situations, Anne McCaffrey wrote really human stories.

Annie, Reference Librarian, Central

(Read Annie's 'Farewell Anne McCaffrey' blog post here)

Why I love Anne McCaffrey…In trying to analyse it, I think it’s the characters that appealed – still do, actually – to me. Particularly the strong female characters – often stepping outside gender boundaries (or stomping all over them), acting as strong people, who just happen to be female.

First of all must be Sara, from Restoree. Ground-breaking at the time of publication (1967), she is still pretty amazing. Sara remains sane after some horrific experiences, and manages to grab whatever opportunities arise to make her life better – and survive. Although not my first Anne McCaffrey (that honour belongs to Dragonflight), this is the one that calls to my heart the most.

That’s probably why I really like Kris from the Freedom series / aka Catteni sequence. I’d always liked the short story ‘The thorns of Barevi’, found in the anthology Get off the unicorn, which was reworked to become the opening of Freedom’s landing. Kris takes no nonsense from anyone – and gives as good as she gets.

Yana from the Petaybee series (– but, not so much the books about her children). Yana is kick-a@@ military who finds a family, a home and a cause.

Because I needed to make sure the Doona books got mentioned somewhere… Kelly in the Doona books is pretty cool – but you have to read a couple of them to get to her.

Then there’s the Rowan and her daughter Damia – and her granddaughters. Start with The Rowan herself. I’d always hoped that my hair would go grey the same way as Damia’s – but no such luck.

And, how could I forget Helva, The Ship Who Sang.

Then there’s Molly, beloved wife of Henry Darrow from To ride Pegasus, followed by Rhyssa in the other Talents series.

And… I could go on, but… oh, I’ve twisted my own arm, so I will. The doomed females from Pern: Moreta and Sallah from Dragonsdawn. Tissues – boxes and boxes of tissues.

And… oh. So many. So many memories. So many connections with my family – and friends.

Sean, Digital Outreach Librarian, North

My first reaction on hearing of Anne McCaffrey’s passing was of a quiet noting. I had classed her as an author I once loved, and thus felt a certain fondness for. Having spent the day talking with library friends about her I’ve reconnected with how much her writing meant to me when I discovered it. McCaffrey was very interested in creativity and musicianship, and it’s those novels that resonate most with me.

The first McCaffrey title I ever read was Dragondrums, and it’s stayed amongst my favourites. Looking back it seems a weird choice – it was the sixth in the series, and the third in the Harper Hall Trilogy. It stars Piemur, who is almost an addon – Menolly is the major character in the trilogy. This was my first experience of fantasy/sf writing, and I didn’t have the habit I have now of reading in order.

The Harpers are a guild of bards, but they also play a role in communication – the drums are how long distance information is conveyed in the world of Pern. Piemur in particular faces a musical challenge I well understood at that age: He was a boy soprano (as I was then) whose voice was changing (as mine was also). I still associate the day I had to leave the choir I was in with Piemur’s feelings – what was next now this wonderful gift was gone? You’ll have to read the novel to find out what was next for Piemur.

The Crystal Singer series again has themes of using musical abilities in differing ways. The heroine, Killashandra, has perfect pitch but a slightly flawed voice, and is denied the chance of the lead roles she has dreamed of. Instead of taking the option of singing in support roles, she decides to become part of a society of miners who seek out rare minerals that can only be successfully retrieved using voice controlled machinery.

Killashandra is a risk-taker who is unafraid to try the new and different in the hopes it will pay off. During her adventures she risks both social status and even life many times, and her determination (and musical skills) carry her through. As someone who has to have music as part of his life I’m thankful Anne McCaffrey gave me these wonderful examples of people making their way through the world with music to aid and guide them.

Erika, Reference Librarian, Central

Dragons. And I have the tattoo to prove it.

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