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Subdeacon Joe

Anne McCaffrey has died

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A great writer. And one of the leaders in the fantasy genre.

 

Anne McCaffrey, a science-fiction writer widely known as the Dragon Lady for her best-selling series of young-adult novels, “Dragonriders of Pern,” died on Monday in County Wicklow, Ireland. She was 85.

 

The cause was a stroke, her publisher, Random House, told The Associated Press. Ms. McCaffrey, who had lived in Ireland since the 1970s, died at her home, Dragonhold — so named, she liked to say, because it had been paid for by dragons.

 

The author of scores of books in a spate of different series, Ms. McCaffrey was indisputably best known for “Dragonriders,” written over four decades and comprising more than 20 novels.

 

That series, which is notable for marrying elements of fantasy to pure science fiction, takes place on the planet Pern, which Earthlings have settled. A utopian idyll at first, Pern has degenerated, after centuries of human habitation, into a tense feudal society.

 

The greatest threat to Pern is Thread, a type of deadly spore that rains down periodically. To combat these Threadfalls, inhabitants have cultivated a species of large, airborne, telepathic and eminently congenial dragons, whose fiery breath can vanquish the Thread. Throughout the series, Ms. McCaffrey’s protagonists — often young women or children — right all manner of galactic wrongs, stalwart paladins astride their soaring scaly steeds.

 

The series, which began in 1968 with “Dragonflight,” includes “Dragonquest,” “Dragonsong,” “Dragondrums,” “The Masterharper of Pern” and, most recently, “Dragon’s Time,” written with her son Todd McCaffrey and published this year.

 

As a stylist, Ms. McCaffrey was not uniformly esteemed. Reviewing “Dragonsdawn” in The New York Times Book Review in 1989, Gerald Jonas wrote of her, “Few are better at mixing elements of high fantasy and hard science in a narrative that disarms skepticism by its open embrace of the joys of wish fulfillment,” but faulted her “awkward similes” and “formulaic descriptions.”

 

But the immense commercial success of “Dragonriders of Pern” more than outweighed any criticism. The books sold millions of copies and have inspired a cornucopia of Internet fan fiction and a spate of scholarly studies.

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