You've flown with dragons on #Pern...
Dwelt with the symbiont spore among the crystal of Ballybran...
Danced among the singing stones of Skarness...
And faced the terrifying prehistoric creatures of Ireta.
Author Anne McCaffrey was a master of crafting intriguing and immersive worlds, inhabited by mind-numbing numbers of cast and characters. Escapism in its purest form, fan Rick Meehan described McCaffrey's work in this way: "Your worlds have ways of making this world more bearable." With the announcement in 2015 that Warner Brothers had obtained the rights to the Dragonriders of Pern series, renewed interest is stirring in these classic sci-fi stories.
Over half of McCaffrey's books are set against the backdrop of the Federated Sentient Planets, an organization designed to keep order in the universe. Despite this, it has been stated (on Wikipedia no less, so not infallibly) that "although Pern's history is connected to the Federation, McCaffrey only used it as a backdrop for storytelling and did not consider her different 'worlds' to be part of the same universe."
However, just as fans notice tantalizing Easter Eggs in the Pixar films, connections amid McCaffrey's books are clearly evident to the avid reader. In this article, we will discuss one of McCaffrey's series and one of her individual books, as well as the fluid timeline that can be determined. Surprisingly, a Google search reveals that this timeline has yet to be laid out in any detail. Until now.
'Dragonriders': Calibrating the Timeline
If we're going to propose a timeline encompassing the majority of Anne McCaffrey's novels, it's logical to begin with her most well-known works. The Dragonriders of Pern series is currently comprised of 24 books and anthologies, some authored by McCaffrey's son, Todd. The books elaborate on a long internal timeline spanning nearly 3,000 years, beginning with the initial exploration of Pern. It is a quote from Dragonheart, however (replicated on Todd's official website), that lends itself to our current discussion:
Thousands of years after man first developed interstellar travel, colonists from Earth, Tau Ceti III, and many other origins settled upon Pern, the third planet of the star Rukbat in the Sagittarius sector.
They found Pern idyllic for their purposes: A pastoral world far off the standard trade routes and perfect for those recovering from the horrors of the Nathi Wars.
"Thousands of years" -- that's our ticket. The Pern novels take place "thousands of years" after the first interstellar travel. When, though, did that happen?
'Restoree': The Starting Point
McCaffrey's first novel, Restoree, was published in 1969. It holds no direct Easter Eggs from any of her other works - and its unlikely she intended any continuity at such an early date - but if we force this round peg into the square hole of our timeline, something interesting happens.
Sara, the title character, has been whisked away to the foreign planet Lothar at the hands of murderous aliens called the Mil. When her newfound allies decide to warn the people of Earth, the following conversation ensues:
"What kind of communication systems does your planet have? They must have some if they are experimenting in space flight," Harlan put in.
"Telstar!" I cried with sudden inspiration. "Why you'd reach every country in the world!"
Aha! The first Telstar communication satellite was launched on July 10, 1962. The second began orbit on May 7, 1963. Since Ferrill, a planetary leader, says to Sara as the mission to Earth is underway, "It's going to be an exciting era for both our planets, Sara, and I'm going to be a part of it," it seems safe to assume that the men of Lothar will be willing to share their world, and their technology, with the men of Earth. This fits quite nicely with Pern's description of the time that "man first developed interstellar travel."
We have thus established, using only two of McCaffrey's many works, a timeline beginning sometime after the mid-1960s and ending "thousands of years" in the future. It may be short on specifics, but it's a start.
Want more? If you're a die hard McCaffrey fan, you probably do. You want to know what fills in that thousands-of-years gap.
What about the other series? Where do the mysteries of Ireta, the thrall of the crystal singers, the B and B ships, the pacifistic Linyaari, and so many other curiosities fit in?
Have no fear, starfarer. Stay tuned for Part II of the Anne McCaffrey unified theory.
Which Anne McCaffrey series is your favorite?
Learn more about freelance writer and author Cara Siera at carasiera.wixsite.com/writing.