On Tuesday, 22 November 2011, the science fiction and fantasy world lost one of its brightest and longest-lasting stars. Anne McCaffrey succumbed to a stroke at the age of 85.
Most people will rightly talk about her most famous series, the Dragonriders of Pern, one of which–The White Dragon–was one of the first ever science fiction books to land on the NY Times best seller list. However, I think another of her series shows the woman behind the words better: the Talents/Rowan series.
It didn’t start as a single series, rather, it all started with the book To Ride Pegasus, which introduced a group of otherwise normal humans who also had psychic abilities including telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition (seeing events before they happen). I won’t give away what happens, but in the end they set up an organization to help Talents, as they call themselves, and to show the rest of the world how Talents can help them in many areas.
In the second book, Pegasus In Flight, however, is where she really shows the lady inside. The main character is a young boy who’s been paralyzed by an accident. He discovers a new way to use his Talent by accident, which then becomes one of the primary uses of Talent for the rest of the series.
It’s this young disabled boy that really caught my interest in these books. Not many authors are willing to use a disabled protagonist, not even for a book or two. That Anne did it, and used him as the discoverer of the Talent that formed the basis for the Rowan books–which are set in a future where interplanetary travel is pretty much based on this Talent–says a lot about her, I think.
Anne also made him human. Though he was, for a while, the most powerful Talent in existence, his disability also made him very vulnerable, and he got into some seriously dangerous situations. In short, she treated this disabled character pretty much like she would any other character… she gave him skills, gave him vulnerabilities, and put him in a situation where he could use the first to overcome the second, just like any good author would do with any other character.
For all her wonderful gifts in writing enjoyable stories, she will be missed, but most of all I’ll miss the fact that she didn’t see disabled people–like me–as less worthy of being protagonists or heroes in her books.