Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

MacLean, Katherine

Entry updated 5 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1925-2019) US author who took a BA from Barnard College, New York, did postgraduate study in psychology, became a quality-control lab technician in a food factory, and subsequently served as a college lecturer in creative writing and literature. Much of MacLean's output consisted of short stories, most of which, including her first, "Defense Mechanism" in October 1949, appeared in Astounding; as in much of her later work, Psi Powers are central. She generally wrote under her own name, although some early stories – like "Syndrome Johnny" (June 1951 Galaxy Science Fiction) – were as by Charles Dye (Charles Dye was her husband 1950-1953; see his entry for details) and one appeared as by A G Morris; she was later married 1956-1962 to David Mason. MacLean was in the vanguard of those sf writers who attempted to apply to the Soft Sciences the machinery of the hard sciences in a generally optimistic reading of the potentials of that application; her range and competence in dealing with technological matters may in part reflect the wide range of occupations in her extra-literary life. Despite this subject matter her tone was generally that of Hard SF, and her work was unconnected with the later New-Wave uses of the same basic material. MacLean was one of the earlier Women SF Writers, but it would be neither desirable nor possible to read her stories as "women's" sf: in a field which was, in 1950, markedly male-chauvinist she competed on equal terms, not restricting herself to "feminine" themes or protagonists, and not generally using a male pseudonym. A number of her stories were assembled in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy (coll 1962) and The Trouble with You Earth People (coll 1980).

Many of MacLean's early stories have been anthologized. Perhaps the best-known are "Pictures Don't Lie" (August 1951 Galaxy), which tells of the arrival of an alien Spaceship which seems normal (though with certain telltale anomalies) according to advance radio signals but turns out to be little more than microscopic; "The Snowball Effect" (September 1952 Galaxy), an amusing Satire on social engineering in which a ladies' knitting circle expands to become the strongest political pressure group in the USA and potentially the world; and "Unhuman Sacrifice" (November 1958 Astounding), an important piece of anthropological sf (see Anthropology) in which a visiting exploration/contact team on another planet misreads a painful initiation ceremony as needless when its purpose is to prevent a damaging biological change. Also notable is the Hills of Space series, dealing with the settling of the Asteroids by refugees, fugitives and the poor; it includes "Incommunicado" (June 1950 Astounding), "The Man Who Staked the Stars" (July 1952 Planet Stories as by Charles Dye), "Collision Orbit" (May 1954 Science Fiction Adventures), "The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl" (January 1975 Analog) and a long-projected novel, provisionally titled «The Hills of Space», but not seemingly ever published.

MacLean's first novel, Cosmic Checkmate (March 1958 Astounding as "Second Game"; exp 1962 dos; exp vt Second Game 1981), with Charles de Vet, combines Space Opera with interesting speculations on a society whose hierarchy is built around skill at a particular Board Game (see Chess; Games and Sports). Missing Man (fixup 1975), which contains the 1971 Nebula-winning story "The Missing Man" (March 1971 Analog), deals with the exploits of an Esper whose Telepathy is a kind of sonar device enabling him to trace people emitting emotional distress signals; he cooperates with New York's Rescue Squad to go to their aid. Unusually for sf, the novel depicts New York with affection. Dark Wing (1979), with Carl West, less convincingly presents a world in which Medicine is forbidden: a teenager learns to become an outlaw surgeon by studying a medical kit. MacLean's career was always intermittent, and it seemed she had finally retired around 1980; but from 1994 she published occasionally in collaboration with Carl West, her third husband. In 2003 she was honoured by SFWA as Author Emeritus (see SFWA Grand Master Award), and in 2011 received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. [JC/PN]

see also: Aliens; Physics; Religion; Sociology.

Katherine Anne MacLean

born Glen Ridge, New Jersey: 22 January 1925

died 1 September 2019


collections and stories


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies