November 23rd, 2011


We loved you, Dragonlady.

Robert Heinlein’s TUNNEL IN THE SKY. Robin McKinley’s THE BLUE SWORD.

Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONSONG.

Those are the first three books I specifically remember reading as science fiction and fantasy. They weren’t; I’d been reading SF&F in the guise of children’s books for many years, but they’re the first I recall as genre-specific. I loved them all, but I loved DRAGONSONG and Menolly beyond reason. I had–who are we kidding, still have–a crush on Robinton, on Sebell. I still want a fire lizard. I always will.

I met Anne McCaffrey the first time I came to Ireland, in 1993. Knowing I was coming, I wrote to her and said it was presumptuous but I couldn’t come to Ireland without at least asking if I could meet her, because–well, because she was Anne McCaffrey. Because I loved her books. And she sent a postcard back with her phone number and said “Give me a call when you get here.”

So I did. And she’d had the worst day ever, the transmission had, like, fallen out of her car, the newly-built pool in her house had flooded, there was a ditch dug around the whole house so the foundation wouldn’t get ruined (McCaffrey’s Moat, she called it), and my friend and I got on the wrong public transport service when we went out to Bray (we took the bus, we should’ve taken the train, AKA “Dart”, but I had no idea what a “Dart” was) and she waited until we found her anyway, and she brought us back to Dragonhold and we spent the afternoon with the Great Dame of Science Fiction.

She showed us Robin Wood’s painting of Masterharper Robinton, and told the story of how she’d very nearly been out-bid for it at the convention auction she bought it at. (Somebody apparently finally went and told the other bidder that the woman bidding was Anne Freaking McCaffrey, and not to be an asshole.) She told me how when she saw the painting it was at the art show, and Robin Wood saw *her* and started to blurt “Um look here I did this painting, it’s supposed to be Robinton–” and Anne said, “Yes, yes, of course it’s Robinton, I could see that from across the hall!”

She had at least half a dozen of the other People of Pern paintings–F’Nor and F’lar, Lessa, Menolly, Sebell–all around her custom-built bookcases (“Your books will fit,” the man building them told her confidently. “If you have more than fit on these bookshelves, I’ll build you another one for free!” “This is the one,” she said, showing us a nook bookcase as tall and full as the others, “that he built for free.”), which were also filled with the dragons people had given her over the years. But Robinton was in the dining room, where she could take a meal with him every day.

One wall of her house was filled with Michael Whelan paintings. “I call it my Whelan Wall,” she said slyly, and I burst out laughing and opined it was rather more cheerful than the one in Jerusalem. She’d just gotten the ALL THE WEYRS OF PERN cover painting, and told me how Whelan had done the painting and when she’d seen it she decided she had to write that scene, with the dragons in the trees, into the book.

We met her cats. We met Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, who was there working on the very earliest books of the Acorna series with “Annieone” (and EAS was “Annietwo”). Anne asked if either of us wanted to be writers, and I said that I did. She told me to do anything else if I could, because it was a hard way to make a living. It was a piece of advice I didn’t *really* understand until nearly fifteen years later when I was holding URBAN SHAMAN in my hands for the first time.

Because, well, of *course* I *could* do other things. I did do other things, lots of them, and I was good at those other things and they certainly paid the bills. But there with the first copy of my first book in my hands, I finally really understood that no, actually, it turned out I couldn’t *really* do other things, because while I was doing all those other things they were only a platform to get me to the stage where I could write full time. While I was doing all those other things, I was also writing, because that was more important than going out or sleeping in or getting to the gym or whatever: in the end, I could not, in fact, do anything else and be satisfied, happy, content with what I was doing.

I sent Anne McCaffrey a copy of URBAN SHAMAN and a letter telling her that I finally understood what she’d been saying to me when I was twenty years old, and that it had turned out I couldn’t do anything else, and thanking her for her kindness and generosity to a couple of kids from Alaska all those years earlier.

That fall we moved to Ireland. The next October, at Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction Convention, Anne showed up. I don’t even remember if she was an invited guest or if she just crashed the party, but she was zipping around the place in her electric chair, commanding attention not just with her speed but with her white hair and her big smile and by just being Anne Goddamned McCaffrey, the Dragonlady.

I had no idea if my copy of URBAN SHAMAN had made it to her, so when I got the chance I went to her table and knelt across from her and told her the whole story I’d said in the letter, all the things I said above, and partway through, she said, “Wait, did you write that book about the shaman in Seattle? You sent it to me, didn’t you? I loved it! I’ve gotten the next ones that have come out and I get to read them before anybody else in the house!”

Anne McCaffrey died Monday at the age of 85. It is not an exaggeration to say she helped shape my life, or that I loved her for all that I barely knew her. I’ve already read more than a dozen tributes to her on my friends pages, and I am clearly not the only one who was so affected by Anne, her works, and her worlds.

We loved you, Dragonlady. We always will.

(x-posted from the essential kit)
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