Author Spotlight: Anne McCaffrey

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To Ride Pegasus: Talent #1 by Anne McCaffrey
Pegasus in Flight: Talent #2 by Anne McCaffrey
Get off the Unicorn by Anne McCaffrey

Rereading old favorites can be hazardous to your comfortable memories. The Talent series by Anne McCaffrey soared me to the stars in my teens, while Get off the Unicorn kept me there. Women had powers equal to men. They were beside them in space. Things I had never seen from all the male science fiction authors which I read voraciously were in her books. Women had agency. Women – no – me, I was represented. I didn’t know that was what I had been looking for, the concept didn’t exist in the eighties, but she provided me validity, with representation.

Now (sigh) we have moved beyond the ground-breaking societies these stories predicted. I can’t recommend them to teenage girls of today because these future women need to go further than Anne McCaffrey could dare fifty years ago.

But, me, they shaped.

Strangely I always loved her short stories and novellas (like Helva, the Ship who Sang) more than her novels and series – unless the series was a series of short stories and novellas.

The grandmaster passed in November 21, 2011 at age 85. On the eve of the anniversary of her passing, I thought I would share some of the legacy she left behind.

To Ride Pegasus: Talent #1 by Anne McCaffrey

One of my favorite books of all time, this collection of Anne McCaffrey’s short stories from what would become her Talent Universe, To Ride Pegasus was published in 1973. I picked up the ninth printing from 1983. As a decade of printings indicate, I wasn’t the only person who loved this book.

The collection contains four short stories/novellas, one of which was specifically written for the book. All the stories were amazing to my 80’s teenage self – showing strong women for the day.

To Ride Pegasus (first published in this collection 1973)
A Womanly Talent (first published 1969 in Analog)
Apple (first published 1969 in an anthology)
A Bridle for Pegasus (first published 1973 in Analog)

Rereading the book in 2016 changed the glasses of how I viewed the book – no women in leadership roles – The Directors were men, the politicians were men. But the women did have psychic powers, some even were bad guys of great danger. On the other hand, “A Womanly Talent” had a woman defining herself by being a mother and was manipulated by the men around her to make certain she was happy in her role. The reread also showed me how I got so many of my attitudes of what a woman should be; I didn’t realize how much Ms. McCaffrey shaped who I was.

Should teenage girls of today read this book – likely not. It’s attitudes toward women is now 40 years out-of-date – two generations. But for its day, this book was amazing.

Pegasus in Flight: Talent #2 by Anne McCaffrey

You know, I am not sure I have ever read this book. It came out after I became an adult, had a good job, and could easily buy whatever I wanted, so it’s been on my shelf forever – traveling across the country over 2,000 miles in various moves but I think I read it for the first time yesterday (in 2016 when I wrote the review). Problem with the good job and adulthood is finding time to read. Lack of good job does have some pluses.

I’ve been reading so much new stuff from urban fantasy, romance, self-published, and new writers, I had forgotten how layered Ms. McCaffrey would write her soft sci-fi books. Three separate main story-lines, two romances, three or four character growth lines, etc. So dense and marvelous in her Talent Universe, this 1990 full novel updates and expands the Talent Universe short stories which she had started writing in the ’50s.

But the book is showing its age in its racial and gender attitudes. Yes, Ms. McCaffrey was exceptional for her time at having lead females and people of color in her books, but at the same time because she pushed the envelope out, the edge of what is acceptable has moved far beyond this book. Older people will enjoy reading it, especially those who picked up every book this woman wrote, but the new generation … it is no longer relevant. Pegasus in Flight isn’t so long in tooth it isn’t readable yet, but soon, so sadly soon, it will be.

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I had an Anne McCaffrey two-day reading fest, going through three of her books from the Talent Universe. “Get Off the Unicorn” short story collection contained stories from McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, the Ship that Sang, and Talent Universes as well as several stand-alone stories. Below are short reviews of each story and the date it was originally published. All of them are over 40 years old and many of them are showing their age, even though, for their day, they were cutting edge.

Lady in the Tower (1959 – Talent Universe) & A Meeting of Minds (1969 – Talent Universe) – These two together are a great combination of hope and caution. I totally fell for Afra because of them.

Daughter (1971) & Dull Drums (1973) – These two together made me think about what I wanted to be in relation to my family. Dated for today’s world, yet still fresh for the constant struggle of becoming your own person while not walking away from those you love.

Changeling (1977) – This story STUCK with me. Crawled in my mind and stayed there for some reason. LTGB before it was even a thing.

Weather on Welladay (1969) – This mystery shows how everyone can only see things visible to them.

The Thorns of Barevi (1970) – Forget this story unless you need to see when Ms. McCaffrey failed at something – she even admits in the notes on page 153 it didn’t work.

The Great Canine Chorus (1971) – A weird character study of a character going bad. Not Ms. McCaffrey’s normal fare of hope.

Finder’s Keeper (1973) – A young Talented Finder tries to avoid being taken over by a man with gray morals.

A Proper Santa Claus (1973) – Everyone outgrows Santa Claus and magic.

The Smallest Dragonboy (1973 – Dragonriders of Pern Universe) – I think this is the only story in the book which hasn’t become out-dated, mostly because it wasn’t set on contemporary earth.

Apple (1969 – Talent Universe) – Sometimes even the FT&T had failures; not everyone is salvageable.

Honeymoon (1977 – Helva, the Ship that Sang Universe) – I loved this as a bookend to the Helva story. Not really canon like the rest of the series, this is more like a fanfic – only written by the author.