Todd McCaffrey (ed.) – Dragonwriter: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern

I stumbled across the unmistakable Michael Whelan cover that usually indicates a Pern book to me on NetGalley. A quick glance at the “synopsis” and I knew I wanted to read this. I love Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and while I started reading them as a teenager, I still enjoy returning to that world of weyrs, dragonriders and Harpers. Why not learn more about the writer herself and take a look back at her career?

dragonwriterDRAGONWRITER: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern
edited by Todd McCaffrey

Published by: Smart Pop, August 2013
ISBN: 9781937856830
ebook: 288 pages
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Non-fiction

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: All too often we try to measure a person by cold, hard facts: when they were born, when they died, their marriages, their children, their schooling.

When Anne McCaffrey passed in November 2011, it was not only those closest to her who mourned her death; legions of readers also felt the loss deeply. The pioneering science fiction author behind the Dragonriders of Pern® series crafted intricate stories, enthralling worlds, and strong heroines that profoundly impacted the science fiction community and genre.
In Dragonwriter, Anne’s son and Pern writer Todd McCaffrey collects memories and stories about the beloved author, along with insights into her writing and legacy, from those who knew her best. Nebula Award-winner Elizabeth Moon relates the lessons she learned from Pern’s Lessa (and from Lessa’s creator); Hugo Award-winner David Brin recalls Anne’s steadfast belief that the world to come will be better than the one before; legendary SFF artist Michael Whelan shares (and tells stories about) never-before-published Pern sketches from his archives; and more.
Join Anne’s co-writers, fellow science fiction authors, family, and friends in remembering her life, and exploring how her mind and pen shaped not only the Weyrs of Pern, but also the literary landscape as we know it.
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I had a plan for this. I thought: This is nice. These are short little pieces on Anne McCaffrey and her novels, memories and anecdotes, just long enough for my way to and from work each day. One chapter per subway ride. It could have worked out so well and this book would have lasted me for weeks. Alas, I found myself drawn more and more into what people had to say about the late, great Dragonlady. I picked this volume up even though I have The Republic of Thieves right here (and half-read, I might add).

This collection brings together a variety of pieces about Anne McCaffrey, her work, and the influence she’s had on her surroundings. I was not for a second surprised to find one recurring description of Anne – lovingly called Annie by many: that of an open-hearted, generous, kind, and sharply clever woman who helped those around her grow and thrive. If I hadn’t read any of her books, I would want to now. I also would have liked to be friends with her, have visited her in her ever-open Dragonhold in Ireland, and heard her sing.

You will find a diverse range of pieces in this collection. While some essays are simple (yet touching) memories of encounters withe Anne, of growing and lasting friendships, others recount how her fiction has helped them through the rough patches in life. Yet others read like an in-depth analysis of Anne’s impact on the science fiction genre, or how religion figures into the world of Pern. Her former collaborators talk about how they came to be Anne’s friends, a couple of young writers share how Anne helped save their career with her endless confidence in their talent and good advice.

anne mccaffrey
All three of Anne’s children contributed to the collection. While Alec’s story is more about him than his mother, one can see her influence on his life and her support for all his activism. Gigi (Georgeanne, Anne’s only daughter) tells how Anne McCaffrey was a “universal mother” for her, her brothers, and all their friends and colleagues.

There is one story that stood out the me, although I enjoyed every single one of them, and that is “Changes Without Notice” by Angelina Adams. I haven’t read The Ship Who Sang (but I will!) but it becomes clear from this collection what it is about. Reading Adams’ story made me understand how that book must have touched her and how it actually changed her life. I admit, I am prone to being emotional when I read, but if this story doesn’t make you cry at least a litte, you must be heartless.

I won’t give away too much – I’ll just say that this collection has given me an amazing insight into who Anne McCaffrey was as a person, not just a writer. My conclusion is: I would have loved to have known her and I am truly sad she is gone.

Just because it needs to be mentioned: This collection was edited superbly. The stories’ succession made utter sense, especially to someone who hasn’t read all (or any) of Anne’s books. There are a few spoilers for two Pern novels (Dragonflight and Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern). Some stories mention other of Anne’s works that I am not familiar with. These stories are arranged in such a way that, in order to understand one story, we get an essential bit of knowlege from the one preceding it, be it Dragon*Con jargon or Anne’s training as an opera singer. I felt like I slowly got the inside scoop on an amazing woman.

Another thing that deserves praise is Michael Whelans piece. He talks about designing the covers for Anne’s Pern novels and, even in the e-ARC edition, shows some of the sketches that were sent to the publishers as cover ideas. Being me, I will buy this as a paper book once it’s out, not only to see the beautiful artwork in color (and larger scale) but to have this gem of a tribute gracing my shelves, right next to my small (but growing) collection of Anne McCaffrey novels.

RATING: 8,5/10  – Absolutely excellent

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  • Todd McCaffrey – Introduction
  • David Brin – Believer in us
  • Sharon Lee and Steve Miller – Why Are You Reading This Stupid Shirt?
  • John Goodwin – Star Power
  • David Gerrold – How the Dragonlady Saved My Life
  • Robert Neilson – Bookends
  • Elizabeth Moon – Lessons From Lessa
  • Robin Roberts – Flying in New Directions
  • Lois McMaster Bujold – Modeling the Writer’s Life
  • Wen Spencer – All the Weyrs of Pern
  • Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett – The McCaffrey Effect
  • Mercedes Lackey – The Ships That Were
  • Elizabeth Ann Scarborough – The Dragonlad’s Songs
  • Richart J. Woods – Religion on Pern?
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro – Anne and Horses
  • Michael Whelan – Picturing Pern
  • Alec Johnson – Red Star Rising
  • Angelina Adams – Changes Without Notice
  • Charlotte Moore – The Twithead With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Janis Ian – The Masterharper is Gone
  • Georgeanne Kennedy – Universal Mom
  • Todd McCaffrey – Afterword
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Tina Fey – Bossypants

You are correct, this is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Nor fiction, for that matter. But ever since my boyfriend made me watch 30 Rock, I have been in love with the show in general and Tina Fey in particular. Since I already owned the audiobook of Bossypants (a gift from last year), I felt the time had come to interrupt my Codex Alera good-night-ritual for something humorous.

bossypantsBOSSYPANTS
by Tina Fey

Published by: Little, Brown, 2011
ISBN: 1609419693
Audiobook: 5.5 hours
Paperback:  272 pages
Standalone

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: My brother is eight years older than I am.

Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.
She has seen both these dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

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Ever since her Sarah Palin impersonation on SNL, Tina Fey is a household name when it comes to comedy. While I had heard of her before, I really came to like her for her TV show 30 Rock which I am still watching with my boyfriend (we’re on season 5 or 6 right now). I really didn’t expect to like it and when I ended up loving it, I remembered that audiobook I had lying around.

Tina reads it herself which is a huge bonus. Anybody who has ever heard her start mumbling when she’s talking about something embarrassing, knows how much difference a good narration can make. Telling her own story, beginning – as one should – with her childhood and school years, she sweeps us into the world of a comedy star, which is also the world of a pretty regular girl, with regular girl problems. Going into this with basically no knowledge of Tina Fey the person, or even Tina Fey as anything other than Liz Lemon, I learned a lot of new things about her and about the world of comedy.

From the moment she go her scar (which, yes I googled right after hearing that part) to how she went on a catastrophical honeymoon, to being a working mom, Tina Fey lets us take a glimpse into her life. She never lingers overly on bits that would be boring unless they happened to you, and instead puts a humorous spin on everything. Whether it is shocking events (like the acquisition of that scar), sad asides, or revelations about her own character, she is never – ever – boring. Her chapters are mostly short but some of them manage to convey – through humor – certain truths about the world that I didn’t expect to find in this book.

Tina talks about photoshopped pictures, about Trying To Be Pretty As A Woman, and of course about her time on Saturday Night Live. The audiobook offers a special bonus that I must mention here. When the story comes to the point of Fey being Sarah Palin, the audiobook actually includes the SNL clip. A very pleasant surprise, indeed! The one thing that does get lost when you listen to this on audio is the pictures. But wait! The audiobook comes with a PDF file with all the pictures included. You get to see dorky soccer Tina, her baby’s awesome Peter Pan birthday cake, that photoshopped picture, and lots of Tina-as-Sarah-Palin fotos.

If there are things I didn’t like about this, it was that the autobiography was too short (well, she isn’t that old) and maybe the part about Photoshop not distorting yout girls’ minds. Other than Tina, I believe that despite knowing all the pictures we see in magazines are fake, we are still expected to look that way. Now trying to look like a model is hard enough when you’re just talking about the actual human beings graced with amazing beauty. Being expected to look better than those people – meaning: those people made even prettier by the magic of Photoshop – is literally impossible. But despite this disagreement, Tina always has a good point and an explanation, whether it is about women’s beauty craze or respecting your gay friends.

This is an easy book to recommend. If you like Tina Fey or anything she’s done on TV, you will enjoy this book. If you’ve never heard of her or dislike her, then don’t buy it. It’s that easy. You get more of her kind of humor, her sometimes self-deprecating (but not really) remarks and her hard facts about being a woman working in comedy. But you also get to meet the person behind the star. And that’s the kind of girl everybody would like to go out and have a beer with.

THE GOOD: A well-told, hilarious glance into the life of Tina Fey. Not a single boring moment and no whiny biography stuff.
THE BAD: It was very short and, given the issues Fey talks about occasionally, it wouldn’t have hurt to go more in depth.
BONUS:
The audio clip of “Palin and Clinton” on SNL that was cut into the audiobook.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to everybody who likes Tina Fey. Simple as that.

RATING: 8/10 – Excellent fun

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