Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dragonwriter edited by Todd McCaffrey

Dragonwriter edited by Todd McCaffrey

When Anne McCaffrey passed in November 2011, it was not only those closest to her who mourned her death; legions of readers also felt the loss deeply. The pioneering science fiction author behind the Dragonriders of Pern® series crafted intricate stories, enthralling worlds, and strong heroines that profoundly impacted the science fiction community and genre.

In Dragonwriter, Anne’s son and Pern writer Todd McCaffrey collects memories and stories about the beloved author, along with insights into her writing and legacy, from those who knew her best. Nebula Award winner Elizabeth Moon relates the lessons she learned from Pern’s Lessa (and from Lessa’s creator); Hugo Award winner David Brin recalls Anne’s steadfast belief that the world to come will be better than the one before; legendary SFF artist Michael Whelan shares (and tells stories about) never-before-published Pern sketches from his archives; and more.

Join Anne’s co-writers, fellow science fiction authors, family, and friends in remembering her life, and exploring how her mind and pen shaped not only the Weyrs of Pern, but also the literary landscape as we know it. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: none

As I mentioned in my review of Dragonsong, I am a huge Anne McCaffrey/Pern fan. I’d been looking for an excuse to move Dragonwriter to the top of my to-read list for awhile, and since I had to present on Dragonsong in one of my classes, I thought that was the perfect reason.

I have to say, this book isn’t quite what I’d expected. I’d been anticipating essays on the importance of Anne McCaffrey’s place in science fiction and analyses of how her world and writing work. What I found instead was much more personal, and it really made me appreciate Anne McCaffrey’s legacy more from a personal standpoint than a writing standpoint. I did end up learning quite a bit about the world that McCaffrey started writing in--a world where women didn’t really write science fiction (or at least where they weren’t recognized for writing science fiction). I learned that McCaffrey’s novel The White Dragon was the first hardcover sci-fi novel to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list, period. Not the first woman. The first author. Ever.

That sort of information provided important context for me. I started reading the Pern books in the early 2000s, while most of the famous ones were published in the 1970s. That’s a lot of time for things to change, both in the world in general, and in the writing and publishing worlds specifically. When I started reading Pern books, there were a plethora of other speculative novels on the market that featured strong female protagonists. By reading essays by women who saw themselves in science fiction for the first time in characters like Lessa and Menolly, I gained a new appreciation for the importance of the Pern novels.

I suppose my biggest disappointment with the book is that the essays barely touched on the Harper Hall Trilogy, which is one of my favorite parts of the series. Most discussion of female empowerment centered on Lessa, which makes sense as she is the protagonist for most of the series as a whole, but I was bothered by the unintentional slighting of Menolly, who I think is an invaluable character for people who come to Pern at a younger age. As a kid, Lessa intimidated me in ways that Menolly never did.

All in all, this book is a must-read for fans of the Pern books or McCaffrey’s other work. It would also be interesting for those who are interested in the history of the science fiction genre and how much one person’s legacy can impact that history.