I have said before that Anne McCaffrey is my favourite writer. I love her interesting plot-lines and well developed characters. While I’m sure that “The Ship who sang” (1969) was the first book of hers that I read, “Dragonflight” (1968) and Crystal Singer” (1982) weren’t far behind. All three were discovered in my High School library in the early 1980’s. By that time there was a lot of her books for me to find! After I finished the 8 books by Julian May (see previous post) I went onto the similarly themed ‘Tower & Hive’.
Get off the Unicorn – short stories:
When I read “Get off the Unicorn” (1979) recently – a collection of early short stories – I was delighted to read the introductions in which Anne talks about when and where the stories were published and insight into why she wrote them or what inspired them.
While she had written a short story for a SF Magazine in 1952, she prefers to acknowledge as her first “The Lady in the Tower” (1959). This is followed by “A Meeting of Minds” (1969). Anne writes “These two stories were supposed to be part a novel I’d tentatively entitled The Bitter Tower. But, when I got started on the story ‘A Womanly Talent’, I got interested involved with Dai op Owen and wrote the four stories which comprise To Ride Pegasus. So these two stories never became part of a novel. But the Raven women are good strong characters, and who knows when I’ll write about that third generation of Ravens.”
I read this with delightful amusement because I have the complete novels that those two stories resulted in a decade later. (Rowan & Damia)
“To Ride Pegasus” (1973) is the first book in the Talents trilogy. It is followed by Pegasus in Flight (1990) and Pegasus in Space (2000). The first book is set at the end of the twentieth century and is concerned with the establishment and operation of the first Centre for Parapsychics. The centre employs, trains and protects those it finds or are drawn to it. Anne includes in her range of Talents: empathy, finding, healing, precognition, telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. From the Prologue of “The Rowan”: The Centre was to formulate the ethic and moral premises which grant those with valid, and demonstrable, psionic talents certain privileges, and responsibilities, amid a society basically skeptical, hostile, or overtly paranoid about such abilities.” Space exploration, and the discovery of a teleportation talent who could machine gesalt (Peter Reidinger, Pegasus in Flight) to push things much greater distances than ever before sets the scene for the Talent and Hive Series.
Tower and the Hive:
Tower and the Hive is set rather forward in the future where Earth is part of the Nine-Star League. (Planets/stars referred to are: Earth, Altair, Betelgeuse, Callisto, Capella, Deneb, Iota Aurigae, Procyon.) Talents are given a “T” rating from 10 (lowest) to 1 (highest). It is mostly concerned with the FT&T (Federated Telepath and Teleport) T-1’s, or Primes, who can gestalt (link mentally) with generators and with other Primes. They operate with a support staff to import and export material between Towers. The main characters are nearly all part of the Rowan/Raven/Lyon family. The books follows the lives, relationships, work and travels of the main characters. In particular it follows their contacts with two alien species – the Beetles, a hive-minded insectoid race, and the Mrdini, furry humanoids who have been fighting against the Beetles. This series is composed of five books:
- The Rowan (1990)
- Damia (1991)
- Damia’s Children (1992)
- Lyon’s Pride (1994)
- The Tower and the Hive (1999)
The Rowan is discovered on the planet Altair as an orphan who has very strong telepathy. With the expectation that she will become a Prime, she is learns to develop her telepathy and telekinesis as a child and ward of the planet, then in a Tower under the guidance of Siglen, the Altair Prime. As a young woman she gains her own Tower at Callisto (Jupiter’s moon) and meets Afra Lyon, a T-4 who becomes her friend and main assistant. She first encounters Jeff Raven (Deneb’s Prime) when he requests assistance after Deneb (a newer colony) is attacked by an alien force that seems determined to wipe out life on the planet. The attacking aliens don’t communicate and two ships are destroyed by a gestalt of the Primes under the Rowan’s leadership. The third is pushed out into space. Debris from destroyed ships and the observations from the talents suggests the Beetles are a large insectoid hive-like alien led by a ‘queen’, similar to ants, in the way the function. The Rowan begins a romantic relationship with Jeff and they commute between the their two Towers/planets. Three years later, emerging Talents on Deneb detect the approach of another Beetle ship. Jeff is sent with representative of the Fleet (the Leagues military arm) to scout and locates a huge asteroid ship approaching with multiple queens on board. When Fleet proves powerless to stop it, all T-3 ratings and above through-out the League are linked through their Primes and while the Rowan leads one gestalt to neutralise the queens, Jeff leads a second to swing the ship out of Deneb’s orbit and into the sun.
‘Damia’ begins by telling of Afra Lyon’s upbringing and how he came to work with the Rowan. The Rowan and Jeff Raven have four children – Jeran, Cera, Damia and Larak. Damia, even as a child, proves to be a powerful talent and difficult to raise. Afra has become greatly involved in supporting both the Rowan, Jeff, and their children. Jeff takes over as Earth Prime and head of FT&T. Their children are sent to Deneb to be raised by Jeff’s talented (but untrained) mother Isthia and to be part of a newly established training program for the young talents emerging on the colony world. Much later, as adults, Jeran becomes Deneb’s Prime and Damia is sent to Iota Aurigae to be Prime for the mining colony there. All the worlds have been concerned about possible beetle attack and so there is great concern when she becomes aware of a alien aura approaching. Afra and her brother Larak assist her in learning more of this approaching ship, of which the only thing they are certain is that it is not beetle. Later, Deneb becomes a the point of a first-contact between talents there and another alien species. This species, the Mrdini had been tracking the huge beetle ship that was destroyed at Deneb. They are looking for an alliance to track and fight the beetles.
Further books concern Damia’s children (primarily) as they take positions as Tower Prime’s or mobile Primes with Fleet ships as they work with the Mrdini. The eldest daughter Laria goes to Clarf, a Mrdini world, to learn and teach language & culture, (eventually becoming it’s Prime); son’s Thian and Rojer, serve with Fleet tracking three beetle ships. A live hive queen is captured, and a number of beetle colonies are discovered. Zaria tries to understand and communicate with the hivers. Tensions have also begun to rise on Human and Mrdini worlds – resentment over the power of certain Talents and the division of potential colony worlds discovered by those exploring space.
I’ve given the most detail on the first book and a little less on the second. I won’t give an in-depth summary of the whole series. That would give away some of the developments – if what I’ve written gains your interest – then read the series yourself!
The characters are well defined and realistic. They make relationships, travel, learn, make mistakes and suffer loss. Anne is not afraid to have her characters suffer, be attacked or even die. They live, love, have regrets and find fulfilment. Their worlds are not perfect – there is abuse, resentment, jealousy, prejudice, ethics and morals – on a small and large scale. Her aliens are alien – the humanoid Mrdini are human-like, but even with human telepathy – there’s no universal translators or fast communication. The captured Hiver Queen doesn’t make noises, rarely moves and completely ignores humans near her as if they don’t exist. One theme in the books is trying to find out how the hivers communicate between themselves. The humans and Mrdini have ideas about the technology in the Hiver ships, but no idea how to make anything work. There is intelligent use of science, which is common in Anne’s books – she consults experts to make sure that the science in her fiction is based on real knowledge.
I highly recommend this as a series. The first two novels could be read as stand-alone books, but I would not suggest picking up the last three if you hadn’t at least read ‘Damia’, and planned to continue in sequence.