Happy birthday, Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011). Best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo award or a Nebula award. Between her novels, novellas and short stories in the Pern universe, there are 24 books published in that series alone.
Her writing career and numerous accolades have filled multiple biographies, but from an interview with Writing World’s Lynne Jamneck in 2004, I discovered two gems about McCaffrey that reach beyond what a biographer could reveal.
First: hen asked “Why Dragons?” her response was, “Why not?” From such a simple phrase, she demolishes the impossible and not just in possibilities in science fiction. From such a simple phrase she opens all the doors and all the windows and all the cracks in the floor boards for women and marginalized voices to take up their pen and paper.
Why Dragons? Why not?
Why female protagonists? Why not?
Why women of color and queer women and differently abled women and why are we writing? Why are we writing speculative fiction? Why not?
Second: Further in the interview, Jamneck asks, “What do you hope to give readers through your work?” and though McCaffrey says she doesn’t write with a message in mind, she answers: “Mostly I’m telling people that they don’t have to be victims. They can be survivors”
Especially in stories by women and about female characters, there’s no greater message. We need to see ourselves in speculative fiction where we are not just as the kidnapped-love-interest, the girl-friend, the wife, the mother. We need to see ourselves as the hero. And like other heroes, maybe we get captured, maybe we lose loved ones, but we survive and we escape. As the hero, we definitely fall and we definitely fail, but we survive. We overcome.
Happy birthday Anne McCaffrey, for teaching us these lessons. Happy birthday.