When New Is (Not) Best–The Degradation of Grand Master Anne McCaffrey

When I was fifteen, I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite authors. She wrote back. I still have the postcard. The back was a drawing of a dragon standing before a podium preparing to give a lecture. The title of the lecture was:

Anne McCaffrey: Fact or Myth?

As a teen, I read every book of hers I could get my hands on. I remember walking into the local grocery story with a neighbor when the third Pern book, Dragonsong, came out. A copy was sitting in the spinning rack by the door. I hadn’t even know that there was going to be another Pern book. I was so ecstatic, that this neighbor—who hardly knew me ( I was a friend of her son but didn’t know her well)—bought me the book. That was a pretty extraordinary thing back then.

I was really grateful.

I loved her books. I loved her stories. I thought her science fiction, especially The Ship Who Sang. There were things that happened in that book, science fiction concepts, that I still think about. The thing I liked best of all, however, was Lessa of Pern.

People talk about strong female characters today. Sometimes they mean kickbutt fighters. But when the term first got started, it meant females who held their own, who acted and achieved and accomplished, female characters who were smart.

Lessa was all that. To me, she was the sole female character in SF who really had the qualities I wanted to have. I adored her.

Recently, I was in a store and I picked up a copy of Dragonflight, the original Pern book. I remember thinking, Huh, it probably wasn’t that good. I’ve just glamorized it. Let me see… After all, some of her later books were a bit fluffy. Maybe this early book was just fluff, too, and I had just not noticed. I started flipping through it.

I read an astonishing amount of it before I realized I was standing in a bookstore and embarrassedly put it down.

It was still that good.

Today, author Jon Del Arroz was chatting about his upcoming book on Twitter, and the fact that the title of his book Star Realms: Rescue Run is an homage to Anne McCaffrey came up. A writer at review site SF Bluestocking responded:

I’d recommend broadening your horizons.
Anything written in the last 15 years is
more relevant than McCaffrey’s entire oeuvre.

I don’t know what is more shocking to me:

That this person who supposedly reviews SF spoke so lightly of this Grand Master who changed the field and who still sells today.

That a person who is so old-fashioned as to use the Victorian term bluestocking shows not regard for the past.

That she apparently thinks that my books and Mr. Del Arroz’s books—both written in the last 15 years—are more relevant than Anne McCaffrey’s. (An astonishing compliment, but neither of us have earned such praise, at least as of yet.)

Relevant to…what?

Anne McCaffrey is still relevant, to storytelling, to our field, to life!

And she still sells!

Jon Del Arroz speaks about this incident in his post: The Cult of the New

 

  • Julie Pascal

    Heh. And then they’ll tell us (yes, “they”) that we’ve forgotten the women authors of the past. Or that when someone is nostalgic for that sort of adventure, that they aren’t thinking of the women who were prominent in building this genre. Anne McCaffrey was one of my favorite authors as a teen. And I read the Dragonsong books to my kids when they were quite young and they were a hit with this generation, too.

  • Michael “Zudrak” Gross

    Chronological snobbery, as coined by Owen Barfield and popularized by C.S. Lewis, is like yeast leavening the whole loaf of popular opinion.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    I am currently reading the Odyssey for a research project. Guess what? It’s still a Hell of a read. Of course to this twit it would not be relevant….

  • John Boyle

    Relevent.
    How dismissive, how petty, how insulting to use that word in regard to Anne McCaffrey and her work.

  • Brad R. Torgersen

    Modern political relevance is both cheap, and overrated. If people want to see real relevance, look to Shakespeare. We’ll still be performing Shakespeare long after today’s “relevant” books are forgotten. My guess is that most authors who presently strive for relevance, will achieve long-term obscurity. Not all. But most. Because political fads change. The issues which fascinate activists, also change. Unless you’re grappling honestly with the human condition — who we really are, always have been, and shall remain — the things you consider “relevant” today, may wind up being completely irrelevant tomorrow.

  • I have the same postcard because she used it to reply to me too! And the reply to my letter was absolutely personal not a form reply. I don’t know of a single person who met, corresponded with or otherwise interacted with Anne McCaffery who didn’t like/respect her (even if they thought her books were rubbish). I’m sure there must have been some but they are apparently thin on the ground.

    I would guess that as for relevance she’s more relevant than almost anyone publishing in the last 15 years as it happens. I have no idea how many millions (tens of millions?) of people were inspired by her but I suspect the only recent author to be in the same league is JK Rowling

    • Mrs. Wright

      My response was personal, too. I don’t blame her for using the same postcard a lot…it was a good one and making them was a big deal back then!

      And…yes to everything else you said.

  • Overgrown Hobbit

    I just gave my musical daughter the Harper Hall trilogy and she loved them. Nearly 4 decades of reader-satisfying staying power? Miss Bluestocking could only dream of such relevance.

  • Andrew Jones

    What kind of life must someone be living that nothing in it is relevant to things that have lasted more than 15 years?

  • TokyoTengu

    I need to go back and reread her entire corpus. Anne McCaffrey and RAH shaped my life in ways that are still profound.