Goodbye to Anne McCaffrey

Each generation will pass, of course, but I am sad to know that another great fantasy and science fiction writer has died. Anne McCaffrey is best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series. However, she wrote far more than those, and her influence has helped shape modern science fiction. McCaffrey was the first woman to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards, which are the most prestigious in science fiction.

Her debut novel, Restoree, is a story about a woman who is abducted by aliens, placed into a new body, and set to work caring for a man who may not be ill at all, and that is just the set up.  Some say it was written, in part, as a response to the way writers used to portray women in science fiction. McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang was also a ground breaking work about severely handicapped children’s brains being used in living ships. Although that sounds terrible, the idea of cybernetic melding of human and machine has gone through many iterations, but McCaffrey’s take on this subject is fascinating.

As a fan of science fiction, far more so than fantasy, I enjoyed her Freedom series more than any other of her works. The four volume saga begins with Freedom’s Landing, which takes the main characters from Earth, via a sojourn as slaves on an alien world, and dumps the troublesome miscreants on a new world. The series is a bit like what happened in Australia, and the characters informally name their new colony “Botony” but it is set on an alien world. These yarns focus on building a society from scratch, but survival is always a driving force in these tales as well. This series is so readable that young adult readers should enjoy it, too.

Another interesting science fiction novel from McCaffrey is Nimisha’s Ship, which blends space-based intrigue with survival skills. McCaffrey often collaborated with other writers, in both science fiction and fantasy genres, and Sasinak is my favorite of those team efforts.

In a side note, one of my science fiction writer friends mentioned that in her later years McCaffrey used a scooter to get around the huge venue known as DragonCon in Atlanta. My friend said that if you saw her, you’d best get out of the way! Maybe her speedy ways on Earth enabled her to write about flying dragons….

By Pamela/Pilar Posted in writing

Star Trek Voyager— Still a Marvelous Journey

While exploring the science fiction archives of Netflix, I noticed Star Trek Voyager among the offerings. Not only did I watch most of those Star Trek episodes first run, I’ve seen the original series (TOS) and the next generation (TNG) many times since those now venerable shows went into syndicated re-run status. But I had not seen much of Voyager since it originally aired on the now defunct UPN network. I’m surprised at how well it has held up. That is the beauty of futuristic science fiction, isn’t it? Since no one knows exactly what our world or even our galaxy will be like in a few hundred years, this late ’90’s version is still worthy.

Basically, the plot of this version of Star Trek is that a new Federation ship, Voyager, is thrown some 70,000 light-years away from known space, while chasing a band of rebels. Due to the destruction of the rebel’s ship, as well as heavy casualties on Voyager, the crews combine, under the leadership of Captain Janeway, and set off for home. Star Trek Voyager combines many typical science fiction themes, but the underlying one is even older— the journey. Like Odysseus, the crew of Voyager meets new friends and enemies along the way.

When it was in production, critics complained about many aspects of the show, and some of those criticisms are still valid. Yes, the first female captain to command a weekly journey into space sometimes makes “silly” decisions. But Kate Mulgrew does a good job of portraying a new captain, on a new ship, in a situation that she is certainly not prepared for, shepherding her crew as they make their seven-year journey through the Delta Quadrant. The other characters were interesting, as well. For the most part, Voyager was blessed with extremely good acting and good special effects. The scripts are more uneven, but some of them are quite good. I think that, taken as a whole, Voyager is better than any other Star Trek series, apart from the original, which is set apart by its iconic status.

Voyager was not without its faults, however, and critics seemed to love pointing out the flaws. Yes, they should have run out of shuttle craft long before they built the Delta Flyer, because those little rascals kept blowing up. Maybe those fancy replicators which remain off-line except for emergencies were used to replicate shuttle craft. Running out of shuttles would probably constitute an emergency. And, despite what some critics have said, Captain Janeway does not threaten self-destruction in every episode. I know, because I have watched most of them in the past couple of months. She does have more than one episode where she bellows, “All hands, abandon ship.” Still, a weekly series calls for at least one crisis a week, so all that drama is necessary to keep viewers entertained.

One of the more interesting ploys by the producers of Voyager was eliminating one female cast member (the character Kes) and introducing a “sexy” gal in a catsuit instead (Seven of Nine.) But, if a science fiction show can intelligently use sex appeal, then the evolution of Jerri Ryan’s Borg sex symbol must qualify. As her character assimilates human characteristics, the writers were able to explore many aspects of humanity. And fiction has long served as a means of discussing human behavior without taking it on too directly. While this series stars an ensemble cast, Seven of Nine was a character with plenty of room for growth, and the writers did not disappoint. Apart from a few two-part episodes, each 45 minute story can stand alone, but there were many “story arcs” which allow greater character development (of villains as well as principals) and more complex plots. By the time the series ends, and I did not want it to end, each character is like an old friend.

For fans who discovered Star Trek via the big screen reboot of a couple of years ago, or for anyone who missed Voyager originally, this series offers great science fiction entertainment, without feeling dated. It is available on DVD and via online services such as Netflix. Viewers will be treated to action, adventure, and fascinating people.