Anne McCaffrey – The Tower and Hive Series

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)

TalentsBackground – Pegasus/Talents:

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)

Tower and the Hive

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.

Final notes:

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.

Exploring Metafunctions – The Saga of the Exiles & The Galactic Milieu

In the mid to late 1980’s a book titled “The Many Coloured Land” by Julian May, found me.

This introduced a set of widely different characters – misfits in a future society – who travel back 6 million years into Europe’s past. Like most novels I read in the 80’s and 90’s I found one character in particular that resonated with the way I was feeling. (Bryan Grenfell) Beyond that, I loved the ideas of a futuristic “world”, the time-travel to the past and particularly the mind-powers of many of the peoples in the book. I got the other three books in the Exile series as soon as I could and loved the lot.

Later, May wrote a new book called “Intervention” which described the build up to and contact (or revealing) by the other races in the galaxy, much of which relates to the human development of mind-powers. This was followed by the Galactic Milieu trilogy that detailed the development of the relationships between species and introduction to the larger society of all beings. In each of these four books, the story is wound around the lives of the Remillard family, who produce the most powerful mind-powers and both aid & threaten the whole galactic stability. (These four books are actually a prequel to the Saga/Exiles series.)

Recently I decided to re-read the entire set of eight books, and I chose to do it in chronological order by the events in the books, rather than the order I had originally read them – as they had been written/published. I won’t recommend reading them as Exile Saga then Galactic Milieu or vice versa. Both ways “work” and offer insights to the other books. Make your own choice!

Intervention (1987)                                                              Earth 1945 – 2013

Jack the Bodiless (Galactic Milieu #1, 1991)                        2040 – 2054

Diamond Mask (Galactic Milieu #2, 1994)                            2062 – 2077

Magnificat (Galactic Milieu #3, 1996)                                   2078 – 2083

The Many Coloured Land (Saga of the Exiles #1, 1981)     “2110” (6 million years BC)

The Golden Torc (Saga of the Exiles #2, 1982)                   “2110-2111”

The Non Born King (Saga of the Exiles #3, 1983)               “2111”

The Adversary (Saga of the Exiles #4, 1984)                      “2111”

There are five categories of ‘metapsychic‘ powers in the series:
Creativity: the ability to create illusions, change shape and manipulate energy.
Coercion: the ability of to influence or actually mind control other people.
Psychokinesis: (or PK) the ability to move physical objects (e.g. telekinesis, levitation).
Farsensing: the ability to communicate with others and to sense remotely (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance).
Redaction: the ability of psychic (or physical) healing and mind reading.

I was very impressed the way these powers were defined, detailed and explained, throughout the books.

I liked the style or set-up used in Intervention & the G.Milieu books. Each section starts off in 2113 with Rogatien Remillard (“Uncle Rogi”) writing his memoirs – a biography/history of the Remillard family. Then each chapter is the “chronicle” with other events of that time to fill in the story fully. Rogi himself has minor powers and the self-rejuvenating (or “Immortality”) gene common to some of his family, which allows him to be a witness to the whole time-line. Starting with the peaceful Rogi and his dominating brother, we follow the family line as they develop powers, attempt to bring a form of world peace and the introduction of humans to the alien races of the Milieu. Later the extended family variously threaten or bring together the milieu, as human worlds are settled and many aren’t sure if they want to be part of an alien culture/society. The final stage is the metapsychic rebellion lead by Marc Remillard, and his brother Jon who stands up to him.

The Saga books are a straight forward story covering a shorter period of time in detail, primarily from the point of view of  “green group” who came “back” together. Using a one-way time-gate, non-metapsychic humans have been retreating to the pliocene to live a simpler or different life. Once they arrive they find a dual race of exotics (metapsychic near-humans) from another galaxy have crash landed there previously.  The Tanu use technology to boost their minor or latent powers to full operancy, and this also works for humans. They incorporate travellers into their society – sometimes willingly, but often by force and coercion – primarily as a workforce and for breeding stock. The Fivulag are operants (primarily creativity) who regularly fight against the Tanu, but don’t utilise humans. Three of the green group are special – Aiken (latent creativity & PK), Felice (latent coercion & redaction) and Elizabeth (former operant farsense & redact) – because they attain (or regain) full operancy. Aitken wants to rule the world, Felice wants revenge on the Tanu (or anyone else) who try to dominate her, and Elizabeth wants to run away and find peace. The books follow the development of their power(s) and those around them as they overthrow the Tanu and try to build new societies. There are also links to Celtic mythology here – suggesting that the tanu and fivulag relate to the “stories” of elves and dwarves in our human history. It doesn’t blatantly hit you over the head with the idea, but it is a well detailed theme in the background.

I’ve only given a general summary of the books here – it’s easy to find reviews and more detail on the internet. I loved the powers, the explanations and development of human potential, the politics (much more interesting than real world stuff), alien races, the mysteries presented, solutions found and the hints that point to other books in the whole set. There are well visualised settings, interesting and detailed characters, long ranging themes and mysteries, gems of amusement, sadness and joy. There are plenty of suggestions that May had planned her ideas before everything came out, because the Milieu series meshes so well with the earlier written Saga/Exiles. I’d love to read a follow on to the Pliocene Saga!