A new year, a new column! Today marks the inaugural post of our new series Science Fiction Fridays. Every Friday librarians and people of interest will talk about their favorite science fiction and fantasy books, television, movies, art, music and whatever other newly discovered media we find interesting.
The recent passing of Anne McCaffrey has left a huge void in the science fiction world. While there are many popular female science fiction writers creating dazzling and award-winning books right now, McCaffrey’s works are so singular, unique and warm, it’s hard to even make comparisons. Through her many novels and characters, one always got the sense that McCaffrey was creating people she herself cared about. These weren’t simply toy soldiers conjured up to perform acts of violence or follow some pre-ordained plot. Rather, McCaffrey’s gift was to give her protagonists life, and then set them free to make decisions, suffer defeats and celebrate triumphs. And while most people know McCaffrey for the rightfully celebrated Dragonriders of Pern universe, she has several novels outside of the series that are worthy of the same amount of worship. With that in mind, here are the top 5 non-Pern novels by McCaffrey that are well worth checking out. Feel free to leave your suggestions, or even your favorite Pern novel, in the comments.
Crystal Singer is the galaxy-spanning adventure of the ambitious Killashandra, a young woman who has trained all her life to be singing star, only to discover she is disqualified from high honors as a singer for a burr in her voice. I always picture Stevie Nicks as a stand-in for Killashandra, which only makes this book more fun to read the further you take it. Romantic and fast-paced, Singer is as unique and charming as the best of McCaffrey.
The Ship Who Sang is probably one of my favorite McCaffrey books, Pern-related or not. The surprisingly poignant tale of Helva, born with severe congenital defects, whose only salvageable part, her brain, is inserted into a titanium shell than integrated with a scout spaceship. More a collection of vignettes than a full-fledged narrative, the book still manages momentum and emotional resonance. One of McCaffrey’s most subtle and thorough explorations of big concepts like humanity and consciousness. Legend has it McCaffrey had to stop reading this one out loud because she would always cry at the end.
Dinosaur Planet is the story of a scientific exploration to the planet of Ireta, an almost inverse of Pern. A colorful cast of scientists explore the planet only to discover strange murders and mutilations of the local flora and fauna. While the mystery only gets going in this first book of the series, I promise you’ll be reaching for the second book the moment you finish the last chapter.
Freedom’s Landing is a great pulse-pounding combination of romance, survivalism and interstellar politics, similar to McCaffrey acolyte Lois McMaster Bujold. The alien Catteni kidnap a young woman in Denver and she awakens to discover a large chunk of humanity has been enslaved on an alien planet. The protagonist is smart, witty, resourceful and ingenuous. Not content to rule science fiction, McCaffrey had to conquer chick lit as well.
To Ride Pegasus might be one of McCaffrey’s best character books, where both minor and major characters through the epic span of the book are rendered as complex individuals. The novel focuses on four women with the psychic and healing abilities that set them apart from humanity, in ways the protagonists never dreamed of. The beginning of the Rowan series starts here, which I would write more about but I’m out of space.
That’s all for this Friday, but check back same Battime next week where librarian Misha will tell us all about one of her favorite fantasy books of 2011!
“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
― Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsinger