Anne McCaffrey, creator of Pern, planet of telepathic dragons and their riders, is a builder of other complex universes. She is also creator of the psi Talent world of the Rowan, the crystal world of Killashandra Ree, the universe of brainship Helva, the Dinosaur Planet, the sapient planet Petaybee, Doona and other worlds. She also writes non-science fiction mysteries and romances with strong female protagonists. Mathew D. Hargreaves' Anne Inez McCaffrey: Forty Years of Publishing (1992) and its 1994 addendum are invaluable at sorting out the various McCaffrey universes.
Her themes include bonding, birth, adolescent emergence, and adult transformation. Loss, disfigurement, and recompense are concerns in the early novels. She is a keen interpreter of family dynamics. Her imagery is drawn from music, Irish and other folklore, cuisine, classical mythology, and most particularly natural and human flight. In fact, the central premise for many McCaffrey novels is a means of flight, particularly space-travel. Flight is her metaphor for the development of human worth generally, and for artistic flowering specifically. Imagination and love are her most essential themes.
McCaffrey's earliest acknowledged story, "Lady in the Tower" (F&SF, April 1959; reprinted in Get off the Unicorn), introduced far-future psionic Talents who guide spacecraft. The Rowan, a brilliant, lonely Prime Talent, overcomes mental obstacles to travel light years to join the love of her life, Jeff Raven. To Ride Pegasus and stories in Get Off the Unicorn explore the near-future history of the psionic Talented. The Rowan fulfills McCaffrey's intent of expanding "Lady in the Tower," while Damia portrays the Rowan's daughter nearly destroyed while following her mother's footsteps. Damia's Children and Lyon's Pride tell of the Rowan's extended family in their encounters with the enemy alien Hive and the friendly Mrdini. Family dynamics is a strong theme underscored with imagery drawn from animal and insect reproduction.
The Hive and the Tower series, with the Talent books, explores issues of youthful emergence and transformation, using imagery of birds and mythical beings. McCaffrey characterizes adolescents and adults finding their unique place in the universe and discovering love at the same time—an enduring theme.
The transformation theme arises in another early work, Restoree, in which a terrestrial woman is kidnapped and flayed by aliens who butcher and eat sentients. Humanoid aliens restore and beautify her (hence the title). Restoration has previously resulted in mindless monsters, so the heroine is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. Together with a dashing alien man, she escapes, and the two become lovers. Some readers have criticized the book as melodramatic and sexist; a better reading is to recognize McCaffrey's tongue-in-cheek shots...