rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
I was sad last week when I read that Anne McCaffrey had died at the age of 85. There are a couple of stories about her that I wanted to share.

When I was about eleven or twelve, on one of our frequent trips to Chippenham library, my father diverted me from my usual route to the children's section and picked out Dragonsong from the fantasy/sf shelves. I remember that I read it pretty much in one go that evening, reading in bed long past when I should have slept. In the morning I woke up, saw it sitting by my bed, and started reading it again ...

After that, not only did I track down and read everything I could find by Anne McCaffrey, I also started routinely visiting the fantasy/sf section of the library. I saved my pocket money and gift money and bought what I could find in the WHSmiths that was all Chippenham had for a bookshop at the time. That intervention by my father changed my reading habits for life, though it is my mother with whom I mostly shared (and still share) books and discussions. Sadly, when I asked him at the weekend, he didn't remember the incident, or what had prompted him to pick out that book at that time.

When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, Anne McCaffrey did a talk and signing at Heffers on Trinity Street, so of course I got a pair of tickets, for myself and my friend Donna. We went for a long walk earlier the same day, for reasons I can't remember, but I remember dashing up to New Hall to grab my tickets, leaving Donna behind to recover, and just making it back in time. The "little white-haired old lady" sat and talked and answered questions, including mine (on the topic of where the name Johnny Greene came from, that you will find on a number of characters in her various universes). I remember I had to repeat my question because I was too shy and quiet the first time. I was a bit nervous that it would be a silly one, but my genuine interest was responded to with respect and enthusiasm.

I stopped being quite so completionist in recent years, and I'm rather more sensitive to the flaws than I was at eleven, or indeed at twenty-one, but the McCaffrey section of my bookcase is still substantial as can be seen below (please ignore my piles of books-to-be-shelved):

My run of McCaffrey books

I picked up one of the books and read it last week (Nerilka's Story & The Coelura) and still found it worth reading. I will probably read more over the next months.

Date: 2011-11-30 10:07 (UTC)
emperor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] emperor
I read an awful lot of Pern books as a teenager, borrowing them from the Corporation of London Libraries (which meant only on Saturdays). I've not picked one up in an age, though, and never did get around to reading her books that weren't Pern.

Date: 2011-12-02 00:20 (UTC)
twigletzone: Red and white striped socks clothes-pegged to the guy rope of a tent. (Default)
From: [personal profile] twigletzone
I got into this conversation a while ago on Facebook. In that case it rapidly deteriorated into a bunch of straight people loudly telling me I was making shit up.

I'm amazed how many Anne McCaffrey books I read given how unsatisfying I found them. The telepaths series were aga sagas with a sci-fi setting bolted on, and the dragon books were just... lacking. I don't like the way she writes men at all; all the male characters in her books are defined by the female ones and exist only in relation to them - as sex objects, husband material or obediently worshipful admirers-from-a-distance who somehow never get sick enough of being ignored to walk away. The crystal singer ones I read only the first two or so of I think, and I found them much like the telepaths books - interesting setting, but not actually *about* much more than whether the heroine found love or not by the end. And the whole lot is so incredibly, suffocatingly normal and cheerful and family-oriented and heterosexual I could scream.

Date: 2011-12-03 18:24 (UTC)
twigletzone: Red and white striped socks clothes-pegged to the guy rope of a tent. (Default)
From: [personal profile] twigletzone
If they'd said WAH OUR COLLECTIVE FANNISH PAIN STOP BEING NASTY, I'd have left it at "meh, she wasn't for me", which was my original comment. They cheerfully got into a debate; I'm not taking blame for that.

no shortage of realistic male characters in sf/f but not many female characters that seem realistic to me

What interests me about that, coming from you, is that you absolutely hated Malta Vestrit in Robin Hobb's Liveships trilogies - I recall you commenting with considerable satisfaction that she got "several salutary come-uppances" in the book. I found Malta Vestrit one of the few female characters I genuinely could root for - a fearless little adventurer and very much her father's daughter. There's a scene later on in one of the third trilogy in which the Fool names his horse Malta, because "she has no fear in her". Malta makes bold moves, not all of which are wise, and becomes both stronger and wiser through handling her own mistakes. She does find love, but you can watch the process of her becoming the equal of the very alien young man she finds it with, and watch his steadily growing fascination with this wild and passionate creature who happens to be a woman. By contrast, Anne McCaffrey's heroines constantly seem to fall on their feet, never seem to end up making cockups they'll carry for life, and invariably seem to be handed a perfect husband on a plate as a result of some mystical quality of specialness they have - being the bestest telepath, or the only one with a personality in the dragon hatchery, or blah blah blah. It all smacks a bit of fairy princess complex to me. I'd like to know what you want in a heroine?

I don't recognise the male-character names you're quoting; I was thinking of the men in the telepaths series, particularly the guy with yellow eyes who spends Rowan's entire life obediently being in love with her from afar and then marries her bleeding daughter. It's like something out of Twilight. The magic telepathic husband Rowan ends up with in those books is deeply irritating as well; he's a female sexual fantasy given life, basically. "Behold my manly ability to COMPLETELY DISREGARD THE RULES, and did I mention that I'm also dark-haired and sparkly-eyed and I Make People Laugh?" The men in the dragon books are pretty two-dimensional for the most part as well, whichever side they're on.

Yes, I agree she was terrible at writing bad guys - although to be perfectly honest I run a mile from any book with dolphins in the title, especially if it's fantasy and expecially if it comes late in an existing series which is already getting creaky. So I've never read that one. Although to be honest based on my own experience of strong and successful women they're often extremely controlling and pushy towards their kids, especially daughters, so I don't think I'd find it an implausible change of viewpoint at all. The combination of strong character, determination and the peculiar blurring of boundaries mothers seem to experience between their own personalities and those of their daughters seems to have a very toxic result.


rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
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