Thursday, November 24, 2011

A tribute to Anne McCaffrey

With the death of Anne McCaffrey on Monday, November 21, 2011 I felt that it would be appropriate to talk about her life and how her work influenced me.  I would not be a writer if I had not begun immersing myself in her work at the age of fifteen.

I first discovered Anne McCaffrey when I ... um... borrowed... my father's Science Fiction Book Club copy of Dragonflight in the summer of 1969. Since that time I have worn out 6 hardbound copies of 'The Dragonriders of Pern', a collection comprised of the first three books based on the fantastic Weyrs of Pern, and the people and their dragons who live within them. I can't tell you how many fellow Pern fanatics tell me the same thing, 'When I think of dragons, I think of Pern'.

Anne McCaffrey's 1968 novel, Dragonflight was the first book in the original trilogy, and is the book that launched an empire that now encompasses 22 novels (plus 2 more in the works) and several short-stories. In 2003 McCaffrey began writing with her son, Todd McCaffrey and in 2005 Todd took over the series, and has acquitted himself well. I am still buying and enjoying the new entries in the series!

Dragonflight began life as a short story for Analog, 'Weyr Search' which appeared in the October 1967 issue, followed by the two-part 'Dragonrider', with the first part appearing in the December 1967 issue. In 1969 the two award winning short stories were combined into the book Dragon Flight, and was published by Ballantine books.

Pern is a planet inhabited by humans. In the forward of the book, we find that he original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By taming and bonding to the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragonettes called Fire-Lizards and then making genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic, the colonists gained the upper hand. The dragons and their riders destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. The Threads would fall for fifty or so years, and then there would be an interval of 200 to 250 years. However, an unusually long interval between attacks, 4 centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. At the time of this novel, only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval). The weyr is now living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence, due to a series of ever weaker leaders over the previous fifty or so turns (years).

The story begins with Lessa, the true daughter of the dead Lord Holder and rightful heir of Ruatha Hold. She was ten years old the day her family's hold was overrun by Fax, Lord of the Seven Holds. Out of everyone in her family, she is the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive, and that was because she hid in the watch-wher's kennel during the massacre. Now she is a drudge, working in the kitchens or her family's rightful home. However, Lessa is gifted with the ability to use her mind to make others do her will; grass grows where it should not, and nothing grows where it should. Every day of her life since the day Fax massacred her family she has used that power in secret to undermine him. Now the mighty Fax only visits Ruatha when he is forced to, and has left the running of the hold to a series of ever more incompetent warders. Things have become quite grim there under Lessa's vengeful care.

Unbeknownst to Lessa, the dreadful menace of thread is about to make itself known once again. This time, however, there is only one undermanned weyr to combat the menace, and only one Queen Dragon to propagate the species. Jora has died, and her dragon is only hanging on until her eggs are ready to hatch. The Dragon Rider F'lar, rider of Bronze Mnementh, has brought his wing of dragons to Ruatha hoping to find a woman who will be a the Weyrwoman of Pern. Fax despises the Dragon men, and is spoiling for a reason to kill him. However, he unwillingly makes the pilgrimage to Ruatha, bringing all of his ladies, including his pregnant wife, Gemma. When they arrive in Ruatha, the hold is a filthy disgrace, the food is unfit and tensions are high. Lady Gemma goes into labor during the disgusting meal that is all that the warder can scrape together.

Lessa secretly uses her abilities to manipulate F'lar into a fight to the death with Fax, with the eye to claiming Ruatha for herself, as was her right and due. Before the fight, Fax is maneuvered into renouncing his claim on Ruatha, but to her chagrin, it is only in favor of Lady Gemma's babe, should it live.

This is where the story really begins. At this point in the book, I am completely enthralled; and my own work, dishes and other domestic tasks fall by the way until I turn that last page!

The action is vivid, the people and the dragons are clear and distinct as characters. The social and political climate on Pern is clearly defined. Each of the characters is fully formed, and the reader is completely immersed into their world. The way the dragons teleport, and their telepathic conversations with their riders makes for an ingenious twist in this seductive tale. And speaking of seductive, what I love the most about the entire series is the frank sensuality that never disappoints me. Anne McCaffrey never drops into long graphic descriptions of the sex that is frequently part of her stories, and yet she manages to convey the deeply empathic and intensely sensual connection that the riders and their dragons share.

Even though I have read the entire series every year since 1983, I find myself fully involved in the story. Every year there are new books to add to the series, and now if I were to sit down and begin reading the series it would take me two full weeks to get through it!

This book changed my life as a reader of fantasy and science fiction. I found myself incessantly combing the book stores for ANY new book by Anne McCaffrey, and eagerly read anything by other auther that even remotely promised to be as good as this book. I read many great books in the process; some were just as groundbreaking, and some were not so good, but even after all these years, this book stands as the benchmark beside which I measure a truly great fantasy.

'Dragonflight' has captivated generations of fans, and was the first adult book my youngest daughter ever read once she left the Beverly Cleary books behind, having simply snuck it off my shelf (I wonder where she got that notion). My children are firm fans of Anne McCaffrey's work, and so are my granddaughters! I inadvertently raised a fan-club! As a family, when we think of Dragons, we think of Pern!

Not only did Anne write amazing fantasy that defined dragons for millons of avid fans, she wrote some of the most compelling science fiction that I have ever read. 

The Crystal Singer’ series had me reading and re-reading the books almost compulsively. 

The Ship Who Sang’ began the Brain/Brawn series which one that I couldn’t put down. 

Dinosaur Planet’ was incredibly adventurous and well drawn. 

‘Restoree’ was a tale that was incredibly romantic and was my go-to romance novel for years. 

Her collaborations with Elizabeth Scarborough for the 'Powers That Be'  (PeTayBe)series were great escapes when I was bored or avoiding cleaning my house.

Anne McCaffrey put romance in the common space-opera.  Her books contained strong women who weren’t afraid to be women.  The men were strong men who loved and respected strong women.  The romance was thrilling, but not written in such a way that men could not relate to her work, and they enjoyed it as much as women.  Her fan-base is made up of both women and men, all of whom have been telling me that they will miss her as much as I will!

God Bless you Anne McCaffrey, wherever you are!  We will never forget the worlds you showed us, or the adventures you took us on!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Stephen King, The Dark Tower Series

This week I bring you a guest post by my friend, Jesse Lee Schleich.  I first met Jesse last year during NaNoWriMo.  He was so passionate about the Dark Tower Series, that I invited him to do a guest-post while I am on my November hiatus from blogging.  I hope you enjoy reading his post as much as I have!

The Dark Tower by Stephen King is a book series which I consider truly epic. It spans seven books, and several worlds. We follow Roland Deschain on his quest to reach the Dark Tower. We go through a lot with Roland. At first we know him only as the gunslinger, but then we get to know him a bit more. He slowly opens up to us and the others, much like a rose.

The adventure from start to finish had a bit of everything, and I am pleased to admit I found myself on more than one occasion worrying about what was to come for the characters. Stephen King managed to weave together an easily believable scifi fantasy fiction which included elements from other popular works of fiction such as the Fantastic Four and the Wizard of Oz. Not quite copying them but bringing them into his work as surreal places, and offering moments for the characters to not quite trust their surroundings.

The story manages to have a good variety in the cast of characters while keeping it believable. There was only one time when I didn’t get what was going on, but I digress. The story focuses around Roland, Eddie Dean, Jake Chambers and Susannah.  Also their animal friend Oy, who you will have to learn about for yourself. I’ll have you know the saddest parts of the story revolve around that damn billy bumbler. But again, I digress. They meet pretty interesting people, like the mysterious man in black, as well as Blaine the Mono.

I read the first two books in the series during a pleasant period of unemployment. By the time I got to the third one, I was working at a local golf course, from the early morning, to the early afternoon. A lot of what I did involved riding machinery, so I was able to listen to these books while outside and in the sunshine. After five books these characters were close to me. Their adventures were what I looked forward to all summer. They went through destroyed metropolitan cities and on super-sonic kamikaze train rides. And I believed every minute of it.

By the time the end-game came around, I was as ready as they all were to make it to the Dark Tower. It, from the start, was known to be the end of the line. The final period on the final page. So much tension preceded it. After a last confrontation, Roland makes it to the final door, and calls out the name of all those who helped him along on his quest to the dark tower. Then he enters. I won’t tell you what happens after that.

I will tell you though, that I re-listened to the ending over and over. You’ll have to tell me what you think of it. They’ve recently announced that The Dark Tower is going to be an HBO series. Be sure to read the book before the show comes out. You’ll be able to appreciate it more. If you like a great story, it is right up your alley. You’ll get to know some fascinating things about the King’s world.

Post written by Jesse Lee Schleich.  He can frequently be found blogging on birdwatching at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brother Betrayed, Danielle Raver

Today, in honor of her book's official release, I am pleased to revisit my review of Danielle Raver's wonderful epic adventure, Brother, Betrayed, which I first read as a Kindle book.  You can find this fine book at your local Barnes & Noble, and at, and of course through the publisher at

Brother, Betrayed by author Danielle Raver was a real pleasure to read! Raver has created a very real world, called Miscia. The three brothers, Oman, Fasime and Syah are very close and love each other very much, although they each have widely divergent interests and personalities. The tale focuses somewhat more on Syah, the youngest brother; and the one whose physical health has often been fragile.
The tale begins with the three brothers going on an extended journey. Omens and portents abound; and the brothers find themselves contemplating the words of a witch after they return.“One brother will betray the others with such treachery that it will change the destiny of Miscia forever.” The three princes hear this prophecy, and despite their fear of it,  it drives them to explore love, loyalty, and their own souls.

The princes are bound by love and loyalty to each other and their kingdom. When conflict comes to their land, their ascension into power is darkened by betrayal. Oman, eldest brother and Anteria’s promised king, leads his brothers on their journey through Arnith.

Fasime, driven by passion, seeks a life of romance and adventure.

Syah, born the ailing youngest brother of the three princes, endeavours to overcome his bleak destiny through pursuit of knowledge and magic… a quest that may reveal unknown power within his own soul.

In this tale woven with deception, war, sacrifice, and magic,  Raver takes the reader to a troubled kingdom surrounded by barbarians, magical races, and forbidden boundaries Raver pays attention to the backstory and paints in the details without going off on tangents. This makes for a beautifully drawn picture of the world in which her characters live.

The land of Miscia is nearing the end of its long golden age, and is poised on the edge of violent change. As the story progresses, each of the brothers becomes more clearly defined, as do their hopes and ambitions. They love their father the king, and they love their land of Miscia. Each brother makes decisions that affect the land for good or for ill based on that love. Oman tends toward paranoia and fear; Fasime is caught in the middle, and the youngest, weakest brother, Syah, is the voice of reason.

No one believes in magic or dragons anymore, and this becomes part of the central tension of the tale as the scholarly Syah begins to understand that his world is not exactly as he had always believed it to be.
The old King is a wonderful, brave character, beloved by the people as brave warrior and a benevolent ruler. The circumstances surrounding his death plunges the land into a civil war, and divides the brothers.

The battle scenes are inspiring, particularly the last battle of the old King. His strength and wisdom are some of the best scenes in a wonderful tale. Also later on a wise old dragon is introduced as an important character.

Raver’s prose is lyrical, and the tale is told as if by the court chronicler. This tale seems to be left open for a sequel; although it is an excellent stand-alone tale in itself. I highly recommend this to all those who enjoy a good epic fantasy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

November is National Novel Writing Month, where millions of authors attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I did it last year, and I am attempting to do it again this year.  I have dropped everything to do this, and am up to 14000 words as of this morning.  This week I will be revisiting my first ever post on this page, which was written in celebration of the new website for all things Harry Potter, 'Pottermore which is still in the Beta Testing stage'.

I loved this book as much as I loved all the ones that have gone before, and also enjoyed the movie, despite the differences in the basic stories.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling is the final book in the series, and is the book where we meet the adult that the boy Harry Potter has become. He is still a very young adult, but he is making adult choices and trying desperately to protect the people he loves. I loved the book and immediately read it twice! Now I am re-reading it again and it is just as exciting to me as it was the first time I ever read it. Rowling's characters are masterfully drawn. They feel like real people and the reader cares about them like they are real people. That feeling of attachment carries through all the books in the series and the final book in the series is no exception. For those people who have never read the books and have only seen the movies I will only say that you have missed so much of the story!

The book takes up after Dumbledore’s death. Voldemort has completed his ascension to power and has gained control of the Ministry of Magic. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to leave Hogwarts to hunt and destroy Voldemort's remaining horcruxes as Dumbledore had requested. In order to ensure their friends and families' safety they go into hiding. They begin the search despite the fact that they have little knowledge about the remaining horcruxes. What they do know is that two of them may be objects that once belonged to Hogwarts founders Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff, and the third may be Nagini, Voldemort's snake familiar. What the objects are and their whereabouts is unknown, but they are sure that Nagini is with Voldemort. As they search for the Horcruxes, they discover many things about Dumbledore's past; things which are not at all comforting to Harry.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione find the first horcrux, Salazar Slytherin's locket, by sneaking into the Ministry of Magic disguised as employees. Now they must carry it with them until they find a way to destroy it. Under the object's malevolent influence and suffering from the stress of being on the run, Ron abandons the others. A mysterious silver doe, the patronus of an unknown friend leads Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which is among the very few objects able to destroy horcruxes. However, when Harry attempts to recover the sword, the horcrux, which is on a chain about his neck, attempts to kill him. Ron suddenly reappears, saving Harry’s life. Ron uses the sword to destroy the locket.

I like the way that Rowling portrays Ron, Hermione and Harry as young adults facing this terrible situation. They are forced to grow up too fast, but they rise to the occasion. They each have strengths and weaknesses that make the story engrossing. At this point in the tale Harry is a bit of an ass. Hermione is desperately trying to hold everyone together. Ron's slow crumbling under the weight of the horcrux is absolutely one of the better parts of the tale, and the way that Rowling deals with his insane jealousy is very realistic. Hermione's complete mystification is so natural, as is Harry's hurt and anger at what he perceives as Ron's unwarranted attitude. There is a part of them that knows that the deterioration of their friendship has arisen because of the piece of Voldemorte's soul that is held within the horcrux and that it is the horcrux that is causing Ron's depression and anger, but still they are not able to deal with their own emotions. I was totally hooked at that point when I first read it, and it is still one of the better sections from my point of view.

Reunited, the three resume their search, and continually encounter a strange symbol, that an eccentric wizard named Xenophilius Lovegood (Luna’s father) tells them is the symbol of the mythical Deathly Hallows. The Hallows are three sacred objects: the Resurrection Stone, with the power to summon the dead to the living world; the Elder Wand, an unbeatable wand; and an infallible Invisibility Cloak (hmmm…ring any bells?). Harry discovers that Voldemort is desperately seeking the Elder Wand. He realizes that the evil wizard is unaware of the other Hallows and their significance and is completely ignoring them. Against his friends' better judgement, Harry decides that finding and destroying Voldemort's horcruxes is more important than procuring the Hallows because the destruction of each horcrux weakens him. In a mad adventure, they break into a Death Eater's personal vault at the Wizarding Bank, Gringotts, to recover another horcrux, Helga Hufflepuff's cup. Harry learns that another horcrux is hidden in Hogwarts. The three find a way to enter the school and a fierce battle ensues, the climax of which finds Harry saving Draco’s life; an act which makes all the difference in the end.
Voldemort and his followers besiege Hogwarts and an all out wizarding war ensues. Several main characters die in the battle, and each time I read this part I cry over their deaths as if they are my friends. In another deeply moving scene Harry discovers, while viewing the memories of Severus Snape, that Voldemort inadvertently made Harry himself into a horcrux when he attacked him as a baby and that Harry must die to destroy Voldemort. (Snape has always been my favorite character after Harry in this series.) These memories also show to Harry the truth of Professor Snape's unwavering loyalty to Dumbledore and his role as spy in Voldemort's camp.

Harry then fully understands what he must do, and he willingly makes that choice.
I loved this very dark and thrilling finish to the wonderful series. It is a book that I will read again and again, and I will push my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to read it! When you see the movie you are only seeing the book-report version of the story, and of course it is wonderful, but the real action is inside the book!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - The Story of Snape