I was saddened to hear the news of Anne McCaffrey’s passing yesterday. Like for many others, Anne McCaffrey was a huge influence in my teenage years.
I grew up in a relatively book-poor country, and F&SF books were particularly hard to find. The very first McCaffrey book I read was Pegasus in Flight, book 2 of the Talent series, which I got out of the British Council library (yes, foreign powers provided books for those of us who could afford to be members). While I loved that one–and read it over and over and over– my real love was Pern.
Dragonsinger was my first introduction to Pern. I found it while patiently going through stacks of pirated Sidney Sheldons and John Grishams and 70s Mills & Boons at a weekly bazaar (The thellaywallay, as the men who ran the secondhand bookstalls were called, carted their books from place to place all over the city, following the different bazaars, which were–originally– known as Monday Bazaar, Tuesday Bazaar, Saturday Bazaar etc.). My delight knew no bounds–I was actually holding a book with little dragons (aka fire lizards) on the cover (which also came from the 1970s, but had survived till the 90s where I could get my grabby hands on it).
I read that book several times. A couple of months later I ran into its prequel, Dragonsinger, at a secondhand bookshop in an entirely different city. I still remember holding that book, dizzy with disbelief at my good fortune. Now I could find out Menolly’s backstory! (Yes, I was used to reading series out of order, and skipping books entirely, in those days.)
On a trip to the UK a few years later, I made sure to snag as many Pern books as I could lay hands on–the ones with the gorgeous covers put out by Corgi.
Pern was the first world I ever immersed myself in so fully and completely. I ached with Menolly as her music talent was derided and dismissed by her family; I thirsted with vengeance with Lessa as she plotted to regain control of Ruatha. I felt the joy of the dragons and riders as they flew, and trembled for the rest of Pern when Thread fell. The culmination of Pern–for me–was the gamechanging All the Weyrs of Pern. I know McCaffrey and now her son have continued writing in Pern after that, but for me, that book was so final. When I got to the end, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It was the end of an era–the end of a chapter in Pernese history, the end of a season for me as a reader. I was not far from college by that point, approaching adulthood, and on the cusp of changing reading tastes. I don’t allow myself to be drawn into a world as fully as I did as a girl; no world has gripped me the way Pern did. I’m older, more wary, more holding myself at an arm’s length.
I devoured other McCaffrey books–the Brainships, the Crystal Singer series, Sassinak, Rowan, and the Powers that Be. But Pern was my first love. Thank you, Anne McCaffrey, for giving it to me and thousands of other readers.