Anne McCaffrey Essay - Critical Essays

McCaffrey, Anne


Anne McCaffrey 1926–

American novelist for adults and young adults, short story writer, and editor.

McCaffrey is best known for her adventure stories about the world of Pern which combine the technical attributes of science fiction with elements of fantasy. Pern is a lost colony of the future whose inhabitants possess medieval names and characteristics. They survive repeated invasions from the menacing Threads through the use of fire-breathing, telepathic dragons. McCaffrey's characterizations of the brave Dragonriders, equally strong men and women, are realistic and contemporary in scope.

The recurrent themes throughout McCaffrey's works are trust and the importance of companionship, especially between the Dragonriders and their dragons. Her young adult protagonists, such as the rascally, appealing Piemur and the apprentice harpist Menolly, go through personal rites of self-discovery as they are confronted with situations which cause them to have to make career decisions or to expand their resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.

When McCaffrey began writing, she hired a graduate student to teach her the physics she needed to write credible science fiction and her books have been recognized as consistently accurate. The loose, episodic nature of her plots and the repetition of characters and situations in the Pern series have been cited as weak points in McCaffrey's writing. However, her imaginative interweaving of the strange and the familiar has delighted many readers, and McCaffrey is considered among the most successful of recent science fiction authors. Dragonflight won both the Nebula and Hugo awards in 1969, and McCaffrey was awarded the E. E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction in 1976. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

In this well-written and carefully plotted story [Restoree, Anne McCaffrey] has constructed a fascinating world that is technologically sophisticated, but culturally quaint and archaic, and her heroine, Sara, snatched out of Central Park by a low-hovering space craft, observes it closely and describes it intelligently…. She is a "restoree" and for what that means we refer you to this top-notch science fiction tale.

"Paperbacks: 'Restoree'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the August 21, 1967, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1967 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 192, No. 8, August 21, 1967, p. 76.

[Dragonflight is] a science-fantasy that readers surfeited with gadget-ridden supermodernistic space epics will welcome. A Terran-colonized planet is threatened every 200 years when it draws near to the orbit of a wandering planet that sends out life-destroying Threads…. How [the battle is waged] against the Threads makes for an ingenious story.

"Paperbacks: 'Dragonflight'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 8, 1968, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1968 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 194, No. 2, July 8, 1968, p. 166.

[In Decision at Doona] Earth is so overcrowded that citizens must wait years for their turn to visit a Square Mile, an open area of trees and grass. Other planets are being colonized, but very slowly because of a sacred law against cohabitation with other species and the foot-dragging of an inert bureaucracy. Ken Reeve is exultant when he gets the chance to go on a colonizing trip to Doona with his family. But on Doona they discover that another race of biped catlike creatures has also sent a colonizing party…. [This] is a skillfully blended package of story elements—frontier scenes in a new land, sociology, botany, biology, politics, linguistics and plenty of action.

"Paperbacks: 'Decision at Doona'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 17, 1969, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1969 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 195, No. 11, March 17, 1969, p. 58.

Helva [in The Ship Who Sang], hopelessly deformed at birth, becomes one of the "shell people" whose brains will eventually be used to monitor space ships…. [Anne McCaffrey] manages the tricky balance of keeping Helva's physical and psychological cogs in gear as she passes from sorrowing adolescence to sensible womanhood on equally traumatic journeys. Helva should transport a young feminine audience.

"Fiction: 'The Ship Who Sang'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXVII, No. 18, September 15, 1969, p. 1033.

Richard W. Ryan

The concept of a spaceship as a living being is cleverly developed in [The Ship Who Sang]…. The present work may not be up to the standards of [Anne McCaffrey's] Dragonflight …, but it is a winning treatment…. In a special way this is a love story, for Helva … finally finds her ideal ship partner.

Richard W. Ryan, "The Book Review: 'The Ship Who Sang'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, October 1, 1969; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1969 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 94, No. 17, October 1, 1969, p. 3468.

When things get too terrible, the SF writer can always scuttle into a never-never world. Plausibility is just about down to nothing in Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight. This novel of a quasi-medieval world where chaps ride telepathic dragons and fend off things from outer space won a Hugo Award. A number of people evidently hate the here-and-now.

"The Feasibility Factor," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1969; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3529, October 16, 1969, p. 1215.∗

Mary K. Chelton

[The Ship Who Sang is a very moving novel which] grapples with the concept of the sustained living brain in a very compelling way. Highly recommended for all teens, SF fans or not, this may well have the same emotional appeal as Keyes' Flowers for Algernon.

Mary K. Chelton, "Fiction: 'The Ship Who Sang'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the February, 1970 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./ A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1970), Vol. 16, No. 6, February, 1970, p. 93.

[After] long years of peace, the Pern people have become lax and the dragon population is almost extinct. This ecological problem is followed by civil war [in Dragonquest] as well as the threatening Threads. [Anne McCaffrey] writes well and is very inventive. Her story, however, is likely to appeal only to those sword-and-sorcery devotees who have the patience to keep track of a big cast of characters.

"Paperbacks: 'Dragonquest'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the April 12, 1971, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission of the critic, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1971 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 199, No. 15, April 12, 1971, p. 85.

To review ["science fantasy" books] as SF and then to say they fail because they are not SF seems as churlish as dismissing Lear for being an inaccurate historical drama; nevertheless, they grew from the same roots as mainstream SF even though they owe more to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle….

[Dragonquest] is a sequel to Dragonflight, which won the Hugo Award, itself a confirmation of full SF status…. Yet there is a minimum of SF in the book, barring the traditional nature of the setting…. Setting the story in the future does not make it SF, though. Revealingly, the Pernese have regressed to an Earthly historical era which Miss McCaffrey finds romantically absorbing, and her book is an account of tribal adventurings. They are vividly seen, yet somehow they are wishfully thought rather than imagined, and unless one is gripped by the world of Pern it all seems very safe and cosy.

"'Dragonquest'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3740, November 9, 1973, p. 1377.

James Hamilton-Paterson

[To Ride Pegasus] deals in parapsychology. Future Earthlings who have a flair for precognition (referred to modestly by the characters as "my Talent") live and work at The Center, monitoring the thoughts and immediate future of a big American city and giving warnings of impending aircrashes, earthquakes and outbursts of homicide. The four linked stories are like episodes of The Streets of San Francisco scripted by Mme Blavatsky, with the cops using tranquilizer guns in the shoot-outs. What is so unexpected is that Mrs McCaffrey's writing should be uproariously funny. She has a satirical grasp of such a wide range of banality that she should rightly think of it as her Talent…. In fact, Mrs McCaffrey is most funny when she is pretending to be serious. Whether she means to be funny, who knows?

James Hamilton-Paterson, "Space Enough, and Time," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3810, March 14, 1975, p. 284.

Lewis H. Wolkoff

[Dragonflight and Dragonquest] form the single award-winning novel The Dragonriders of Pern. McCaffrey is a fine builder of alien or future worlds and nowhere does she do better than in this story of the culture of Pern, a world where a symbiotic relationship exists between men and the great flying dragons, and how that culture rises to the greatest challenge it has to face.

Lewis H. Wolkoff, "Science Fiction: 'Dragonflight' and 'Dragonquest'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1975 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 35, No. 5, August, 1975, p. 148.

The blarney's as high as an elephant's eye in this...

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Joan Barbour

[In Dragonsong young] Menolly, whose greatest love is music, rebels against the harsh life in a fishing Hold after her father forbids her even to sing. Leaving the safety of the Hold, Menolly is befriended by a group of fire lizards and eventually realizes her dream about becoming a musician. The author explores the ideas of alienation, rebellion, love of beauty, the role of women and the role of the individual in society with some sensitivity in a generally well-structured plot with sound characterizations.

Joan Barbour, "The Book Review: 'Dragonsong'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the April, 1976 issue of School Library Journal, published by...

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Barbara Elleman

McCaffrey uses great imaginative powers in constructing her intricate and intriguing story [Dragonsong], and she includes a helpful character chart; however, confusing details of life on Pern should have been either more fully described or eliminated for readers unversed in science fiction. But for any reader, Menolly comes through as a resourceful young girl searching for a way to give vent to her talents.

Barbara Elleman, "Children's Books: 'Dragonsong'," in The Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1976 by the American Library Association), Vol. 72, No. 17, May 1, 1976, p. 1266.

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Zena Sutherland

Despite a plethora of characters and a rather heavy-handed preface, [Dragonsong] is a science fantasy that is cohesive and briskly paced, with sturdy characterization and a fully-conceived society with its mores and customs.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Dragonsong'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1976 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 29, No. 11, July-August, 1976, p. 177.

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Barbara Elleman

The theme [of Dragonsinger] is developed through many related incidents—some tense, some amusing, others dependent on simple day-to-day occurrences at the Hall rather than the exciting, dramatic episodes found in [Dragonsong]. McCaffrey deliberately paces this story slowly, constructing the many nuances of life at Fort Hold and, most importantly, revealing a girl's struggle to accept and use her very special talent. Although set in another world, where dragons fly and people have fire lizards as pets, Menolly's innermost concerns are wholly contemporary as she seeks to invade what has been a male-dominated craft. Deeply entrenched in the world of Pern from authoring several adult books on the subject,...

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Mary M. Burns

Details of the apprentices' lives—rigorous curriculum and teaching methods, food, clothing, and societal relationships—give verisimilitude to [Dragonsinger,] a superbly crafted fantasy in the heroic tradition. Yet these details, essential to the evocation of the setting, are so thoroughly integrated into the story that they complement and extend the action rather than serve merely as a framework. Poetic introductions to each chapter appropriately suggest ancient ballads and sagas, thus supporting the motif of song as the cement of a people and the idea that crafters of song are historians and effectors of change…. Unlike many sequels, this maintains the dramatic tensions of its predecessor….


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Susan L. Nickerson

In this collection of 14 stories [Get Off the Unicorn] (three not previously published), the reader meets new friends and is reunited with old ones…. Most of the stories contain a psychic element; the work includes historical comments by McCaffrey and is well worth having in sf collections. Very well written, as usual.

Susan L. Nickerson, "Book Reviews: 'Get Off the Unicorn'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, August, 1977; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1977 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 102, No. 14, August, 1977, p. 1682.

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Ruth M. Stein

In [Dragonsinger,] the inferior sequel to Dragonsong, Menolly begins her apprenticeship in music at the Harper Craft Hall…. Set on the planet of Pern, the book reads like a first-week-at-school story, as Menolly copes with demanding teachers, jealous girl students, and envious boy apprentices. There isn't much plot, and little suspense, as Menolly's attempts to prove herself are aided and abetted by her supporting superiors and the personable fire lizards. The most interesting chapters deal with Menolly's training in musicianship, knowledgeable passages on the copying of music and the making of instruments. Though self-contained, the book depends for its flavor on the first volume, a better written...

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[Get Off the Unicorn is a delightful collection] of science fiction short stories…. McCaffrey—a master storyteller—makes the collection even more enticing by adding an introductory anecdote for each tale. While the book as a whole shines with warmth and humor and makes fine entertainment, several stories are exceptional. "Changeling," dealing with homosexual parenting, and "A Proper Santa Claus," describing a small boy's concept of the "right kind" of Santa, are moving human studies whose quality is far and above the usual fare.

Evie Wilson and Michael McCue, "Elderly Books For Youngerly Readers: 'Get Off the Unicorn'," in Wilson Library Bulletin (copyright...

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Debra Rae Cohen

Science fiction's "Dragon Lady" has written several novels, but none more popular and durable than the sagas of the Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and the new White Dragon. No random magic here, no Tolkienesque created language—Pern is supposedly a long-lost Earth colony—but a meticulously logical civilization, finely crafted. Social structure, tensions, legends and traditions are all based on the fundamental ecological battle and on the empathetic kinship between a dragon and his rider.

The ideal of empathy is at the root of Pern….

The people of Pern fight internal disunity and the cultural stagnation that threatens their society's very...

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Susan L. Nickerson

Readers familiar with McCaffrey's classic novels Dragon-flight and Dragonquest will welcome [The White Dragon, an] engrossing and well-crafted addition to "The Dragon-riders of Pern."… The saga of Pern, like those of Dark-over and Amber, is a topnotch continuing adventure, and the new dimensions given to old friends like Lessa, F'lar, and Robinton keep the characters from becoming stale. The fire-lizards are a lively addition to the already well-rounded cast. (p. 1201)

Susan L. Nickerson, "Science Fiction: 'The White Dragon'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, June 1, 1978; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company);...

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Carolanne Isola

Although McCaffrey is one of today's better sf writers, Dinosaur Planet is nowhere near as well-written as the books in her "Dragonriders of Pern" series. The characters are sketchy compared to F'lar and Lessa and the story is not as compelling as Dragonflight or Dragonquest…. Despite these reservations, sf fans will enjoy Dinosaur Planet; McCaffrey's second-rate is much better than some other authors' best.

Carolanne Isola, "Book Reviews: 'Dinosaur Planet'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, June 15, 1978; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 103, No. 12, June...

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Sara Miller

[In Dragondrums] McCaffrey returns us to the fascinating planet of her other dragon tales and once more intertwines the strange and the familiar in this story of a boy's maturing from a likable, restless trouble-maker to a self-sufficient youngster who has learned to survive. Though the plot lacks form at times, placing little emphasis on the major incidents, leaving readers with a loose, episodic adventure, young people will be entranced again by Pern's ways and in Piemur find an impulsive, thoroughly sympathetic hero.

Sara Miller, "Grades 3-6: 'Dragondrums'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1979 issue of School Library Journal, published...

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Barbara Elleman

Though [Dragondrums] stands alone, those familiar with characters and setting from the author's Dragonsong … and Dragonsinger … will enjoy it more. In the first two-thirds of the book, the plot is tightly filled with Piemur's adventures, whereas later the pace shifts to a slower, though still compelling, one concerned with survival. Structurally this breaks the plot, but suspense and continuity are nevertheless maintained through McCaffrey's ability to weave deft characterizations and a good story. (p. 1493)

Barbara Elleman, "Children's Books: 'Dragondrums'," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1979...

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Gary K. Reynolds

Rich detail, warm, memorable characters in an interesting, tradition-based society, dragon-like animals with psi powers, absorbing action, and a dash of sex and romance add up to Anne McCaffrey's highly successful "Dragonriders of Pern" series….

This series is so popular … that it has almost transcended genre categorization. Anne McCaffrey succeeds so well because she presents a colorful, ideally-traditional culture in which each person has his or her place, with corresponding duties and privileges; in which the moral choices are clear; and in which, "if you try hard enough, and work long enough, you can achieve anything you desire."… [The White Dragon is a] major work that should be in...

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Susan L. Nickerson

In Dragondrums, Piemur reaches puberty and loses his glorious voice, so he is apprenticed to Olodkey, the Drummaster….

[Dragondrums] does not stand well alone, however, but should be read as part of the sequence…. The six novels about Pern fit together perfectly. Although her writing style has become a bit pedestrian in Dragondrums, McCaffrey has sustained reader interest by the addition of the message drums, their uses and their language. The reader barely remembers that planet-wide means of communication were lacking in the earlier books. Dragondrums leads into the exploration of the Southern Continent that is so much a part of The White Dragon, and finally...

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Zena Sutherland

[Dragondrums] is as deftly structured and as smoothly written as its predecessors; again McCaffrey has produced strong characters, new and old, a wholly conceived fantasy world, and a nice balance between problems that are present in any civilized society and a sense of humor that lightens both exposition and dialogue.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Dragondrums'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1979 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 32, No. 11, July-August, 1979, p. 195.

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Ruth M. Stein

The people and the problems mentioned [in Dragondrums] would make more sense if you had read the earlier books and the adult trilogy on Pern. Well written, but confusing for the uninitiated. The series doesn't live up to the promise of the first book.

Ruth M. Stein, "Book Remarks: 'Dragondrums'," in Language Arts (copyright © 1980 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), Vol. 57, No. 2, February, 1980, p. 189.

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