Three November Deaths

Yes, I know that November is the month of death, but we didn’t have to take it that literally, did we? Because in addition to losing a neighbour to cancer, this November has seen the loss of some remarkable people I did not know personally.

First of all, science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey has died aged 85.

Anne McCaffrey was one of the first SFF writers whose works I read in English as a teenager. I started with the Crystal Singer/Killashandra duology (later there was a third part) and then dug into the other stuff, including Pern. Though my favourite of her works was the Talented series (To Ride Pegasus, Pegasus in Flight, The Rowan, Damia, etc…). God, I loved those books as a teenager.

My interest in Anne McCaffrey’s novels waned as I grew older and it is certainly no accident that most of the McCaffrey books in my collection have copyright dates in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I suspect she is one of those writers who is best discovered and read as a teenager, because the magic won’t work as well in later life.

Nonetheless years later, Anne McCaffrey’s essay Hitch Your Dragon to a Star: Romance and Glamour in Science Fiction, first published in 1974, provided some invaluable quotes for my MA thesis as well as some equally invaluable insight in how difficult it was to introduce both realistic female characters as well as believable romance subplots into the male dominated science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s (though I still don’t like A Womanly Talent, sorry).

In many ways, Anne McCaffrey paved the way for the genre-crossing fiction of today, for she not only combined fantasy and science fiction but also introduced romance elements into the SF genre. She will be missed.

There’s another death to mourn, because today we also lost Austrian singer, songwriter and comedian Georg Kreisler, who died at the age of 89. He wrote many wonderful satirical songs, the best known of which is the delightful “Geh’n ma Tauben vergiften im Park” (Let’s go poisoning pigeons in the park).

November is a bad month for German language singers and songwriters in general, because last week another of the greats, Franz-Josef Degenhardt died days before his 80th birthday. His best known song is “Spiel nicht mit den Schmuddelkindern” (Don’t play with the dirty children), which will resonate with anybody who has ever been told just that by parents and guardians.

And yes, I know that the song is metaphorical. But as a kid, it was simply great to see an adult who got it.

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6 Responses to Three November Deaths

  1. He wrote many wonderful satirical songs, the best known of which is the delightful “Geh’n ma Tauben vergiften im Park” (Let’s go poisoning pigeons in the park).
    As soon as I saw that, I thought of Tom Lehrer’s song, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and sure enough, there seems to have been a connection between the two. According to this interview with Lehrer:

    The idea’s the same. I don’t know German well enough to get it, but the idea’s the same. But it’s a waltz; it’s the same kind of song. And in fact, when I got over there, they thought that I had stolen it from him, so I was able to, on my TV show there, which I did, I was able to get a dig at him, which was very nice. Instead of yelling, instead of criticizing him, I said that I would like to thank George Kreisler for introducing my songs to the German public. […] They all got it, because they thought that I had stolen from him. And the other one is “I Hold Your Hand In Mine”, which is called “Die Hand” or “Der Hand”, I forget which gender it is. It’s almost exactly the same, but the tune is quite different. In fact, I like his tune better than mine

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the links, Laura. That’s very interesting and I never knew that.

      Georg Kreisler was Jewish and spent about twenty years in the US before returning to Austria in the 1950s, so he spoke English and may well have known the Tom Lehrer songs. And German translations of popular English language songs were very common well into the 1980s, because plenty of people couldn’t or wouldn’t understand the English lyrics. There are some songs from my childhood which I knew in German before I knew them in English. I always assumed that the original artists knew about the German versions and received royalties. But then, Kreisler did use a different melody for the pigeon poisoning song in the style of the traditional Heurigen ballads sung in the inns of Vienna.

      Kreisler definitely did borrow the words and tune of the Heinrich Heine/Friedrich Silcher Ballad of the Lorelei and performed the song as a parody of sappy German folk music pop (which the Lorelei ballad never was) while dressed up as the folk music singer Heino. But then Lorelei was long out of copyright.

  2. Estara says:

    Anne McCaffrey and her UK paperback editions were what really made me aware that there were female sf writers apart from the men who so far been all I had known of, before I came over to the UK in 87/88 as an au-pair (since I didn’t see many English Books in our small town – or even in Nuremberg, not that my mother would have known the few shops that had them). I feel like a part of my teenage/twen identity, who discovered fantasy/sf as a continuation of the fairy tales I loved, is gone.

    • Cora says:

      I discovered Jenny Wurts at around the same time as Anne McCaffrey (in fact, I’m sure I picked up Crystal Singer and Daughter of the Empire on the same day, purchased with birthday money) and C.J. Cherryh, Susan Schwatz and Carole Nelson Douglas a little later. A.C. Crispin, too, though I didn’t know she was a woman until recently.

      Luckily, Bremen had an indie bookstore with a very good English language section, including SF and fantasy, at the time. They still survive in very reduced form and the marvelous foreign language section died years ago. Their selection was eccentric, e.g. they didn’t carry any cyberpunk at all and either no or very little Heinlein. But someone there had a good hand for women SFF writers, because I discovered quite a few in the spinner racks of that shop.

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