Katherine MacLean (1925-2019)

Katherine MacLean

Katherine MacLean died September 1 her son, Christopher Mason, reported on Facebook. She was 94.

While she worked as a laboratory technician in 1947 MacLean began writing science fiction. Her first published story, “Defense Mechanism,” appeared in Astounding in 1949 and the majority of her short fiction was published during the following decade. “Second Game,” written in collaboration with Charles V. De Vet was a Best Novelette Hugo nominee in 1959.

In the Seventies MacLean produced three novels, one of them a fix-up combining several of her shorter works.

She was married to Charles Dye from 1951-1953; later married David Mason, 1956-1962; and her third husband was Carl West.

For Eric Leif Davin’s Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, MacLean supplied him with a detailed description of her negotiations with John W. Campbell in regards to the publication of her earliest stories. She had to be convinced by Astounding’s associate editor L. Jerome Stanton that Campbell wasn’t stringing her along by asking for revisions out of an unwillingness to publish a story by a woman. Indeed, he would buy three of her earliest stories and publish them under her full name.

Critics and colleagues praised her sff highly: Damon Knight wrote, “As a science fiction writer she has few peers; her work is not only technically brilliant but has a rare human warmth and richness.” Brian Aldiss said she could “do the hard stuff magnificently,” while Theodore Sturgeon observed that she “generally starts from a base of hard science, or rationalizes psi phenomena with beautifully finished logic.”

In 2017, Samuel R. Delany campaigned to make her a SFWA Grand Master:

Since it is not about quantity, but quality and influence, that is why the award should be given her. As I wrote to her when I the award was announced for me:

“Among the great absurdities of the SF world is that I am a grand master and you are not. Happy birthday and much love.” By not honoring her, we make our awards mean less. Her single collection of short stories (The Diploids) and her Nebula Award winning novel [sic] (Missing Man) pointed a new generation of writers the way sentences had to be put together to tell a story both humanly and intellectually satisfying, and an older generation recognized it.

MacLean’s novella “The Missing Man” won a Nebula Award in 1971. The expanded novel-length version was nominated for a Nebula in 1976. In 2003 MacLean was honored as an SFWA Author Emeritus. In 2011, she received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

Fritz Leiber and Katherine MacLean in 1952.

13 thoughts on “Katherine MacLean (1925-2019)

  1. The Davin book sounds very interesting, it’s a shame I looked it up quickly and realized it’s sold as a textbook (at textbook prices!).

    Very sorry that it often takes a death to bring earlier SFF writers to my attention, but I’m looking forward to filling in another gap in my reading.

  2. The original Snowball Effect. The radio version has a lot of different details, It’s better in some ways, worse in others.

    She wrote some very intelligent sf.

  3. What I’ve been able to read of her stuff is terrific and during my presidential tenure, her name got mentioned to me by several people who thought she should have been made a SFWA Grand Master.

    Unfortunately, quantity seems to be an unspoken criteria for that as well as quality when wrestling to get a name accepted by all parties who’ve got some voice in the matter, and she didn’t have as many publications as some. (I’d argue that such a criteria is a place where the system disadvantages women and will continue to do so as long as they’re the ones doing the majority of the household/family maintenance, often along with a full time job, but I’ve learned that change comes so slowly sometimes you have to pick which walls to beat your head against.)

    Very sorry to hear this; would love to see other links to additional work by or about her.

  4. I also remember large chunks of Missing Man vividly. ISTM that it was one of the first genre works from the PoV of someone neuroatypical(?) then — we previously had “Flowers for Algernon” (and its novel form, which I never tried to read), and “The Clinic” (Sturgeon), but I’m not coming up with any others before 1975.

  5. OK — My name is Christopher, not “Carl.” I am Kate MacLean’s son. My father was the SiFi Fantasy author (Samuel)David Mason 1924-1974. She had no other children. Christopher Mason 2/8/2020

  6. I tend to be out of things. Katey was one of the four people to whom I dedicated my most recent book a collection of short stories. She was the only one who was still alive. I mailed copies to her but after several months the post office returned them as not picked up. Today I discover that she is gone, the last of my great teachers. I learn it after almost a year.
    I last saw her when she visited us here in Berkeley. She taught me so much, but what I remember is her personality. One long trip by car from Washington to Philadelphia in which we were so intent on the communication that we drove west for 149 miles instead of north before we noticed.

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