As several people have pointed out on LJ, Anne McCaffrey died recently. It's sad to have lost such a wonderful world and culture builder. I've always had a special attraction to long series of speculative fiction. There's sort of a necessary evolution. The first book or so can stand on its own: it presents something the reader has not considered; it can be unique and distinct, all its own. However you cannot both keep continuity and maintain that. If your opening really is all it can be, then the events of the opening will establish context. Definitely for the characters in your opening, but often globally across the society. So, later books tell a kind of arbitrary story: the action and characters depend as much on arbitrary things that happened earlier in the series as anything inherent in the story being told. The opening may be about the world, some concept, something new. But later, the series is as much about how that concept affects people in the story as anything else. Keeping a series meaningful and enjoyable across this transition is hard. McCaffrey was a master at this.
Pern is almost certainly her most famous body of work. That accomplished the series transition multiple times. The beginning brought us into a new and unexpected world. Later books helped us imagine how such a world might spring out of something familiar. Still later books followed the discovery of the broader universe as the natives of Pern began to re-interprit their world.
Pern was certainly not the only world and cultural exploration that filled my desire for long series worth reading. There were many worlds to explore. I will miss her creations.
Sure, McCaffrey was not hard science fiction. Among the wonderful world building, there sure were some cringe-worthy moments. I recall a description of evading sonar detection on a space ship. And the later Pern books certainly had their moments. No creation is perfect; the imperfections add a beauty of their own. So I'll take this time to think about McCaffrey and all the other giants that gave my imagination a run for the money.