Thursday, April 30, 2020

Katherine MacLean (1925-2019)

Aka Charles Dye, G.A. Morris
Author, Essayist, Artist, Teacher, Laboratory Technician
Born January 22, 1925, Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Died September 1, 2019, Arundel, Maine

Since the end of the world came, I have been cleaning, straightening, and organizing, including things on my blog. I'm still trying to catch up from last year, and I just learned that science fiction author Katherine MacLean died in 2019. She had just one story in Weird Tales. Called "Chicken Soup," it was a collaboration with Mary Kornbluth, and it appeared in the winter issue of 1973 under editor Sam Moskowitz. (1)

Katherine Anne MacLean was born on January 22, 1925. Her parents were Gordon Maclean, an engineer, and Ruth (Crawford) MacLean, both American-born but of English and Irish descent. Katherine was the youngest of three children. Although the MacLean family called Queens and Brooklyn, New York, home from as early as 1900 to as late as 1940, Katherine was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and baptized at All Saints Episcopal Church in West Orange, New Jersey. Something of a prodigy, she declined a position at a neuroscience laboratory at age fifteen, instead choosing to pursue a college education. (2) She received a bachelor's degree in economics from Barnard College. Later, she and her family lived in Maine.

Katherine MacLean started writing science fiction in 1947 while working as a laboratory technician. Her first published story was "Defense Mechanism," which appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in October 1949. She averaged two or three stories per year for the next quarter century or so, and her work was and is widely admired. In 1972, she won a Nebula Award for her novella "The Missing Man," originally in Analog, March 1971. Two of her stories, "Pictures Don't Lie" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Aug. 1951) and "The Carnivore" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Oct. 1953), have been adapted to film. Audiences heard an NBC-radio version of "The Snowball Effect" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Sept. 1952) on the show X Minus One on August 14, 1956. You can hear it today by clicking here. Her short story "Contagion" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Oct. 1950) includes a warning for us:
But the likeness of Earth was danger, and the cool wind might be death, for if the animals were like Earth animals, their diseases might be like Earth diseases, alike enough to be contagious, different enough to be impossible to treat.
God help us if disease ever jumps to us from an alien animal here on Earth.

Katherine MacLean taught English and writing at the University of Maine and had about half a dozen novels and collections to her credit. Her stories have appeared in many anthologies, too, especially of stories by women authors. In 2011, she won the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, "intended to honour [sic] notable sf [science fiction] and fantasy authors who in the view of the judging panel either did not receive or no longer receive as much attention as they deserve." (Quote from the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.) She was married three times, to science fiction authors Charles Dye and (Samuel) David Mason, finally to Carl West. She had one son, Christopher Mason, who announced her death, which came on September 1, 2019, in Arundel, Maine. Katherine MacLean was ninety-four years old.

Katherine MacLean's Story, with Mary Kornbluth, in Weird Tales
"Chicken Soup" (Winter 1973)

Further Reading
Introduction by Pamela Sargent to "Contagion" by Katherine MacLean in Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Stories by Women About Women (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), page 18.

(1) For my original article about her, dated July 1, 2013, click here.
(2) Katherine MacLean's interest in psychology may have led her to an early interest in L. Ron Hubbard's "new science of the mind," dianetics. Hubbard's first version of what became his book Dianetics was published in Astounding Science Fiction in May 1950; Katherine had three stories in the same magazine between October 1949 and June 1950. "For a time," wrote a science fiction encyclopedist, "dianetics created a furore among readers and many writers. Katherine MacLean became immersed in auditing. James Blish expressed enthusiasm, but later opposed the theory. Van Vogt abandoned writing to run a West Coast dianetics institute." From "04.09 Fringe Cults," the very last entry in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Brian Ash (New York: Harmony Books, 1977), pages 341-342.

Katherine MacLean's novella "The Missing Man" first appeared as the cover story in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact in March 1971. It won her a Nebula Award. An expanded, novel-length version followed in 1975. Frank Kelly Freas was the cover artist here.

Her first book was The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy, published by Avon Books in 1962. The cover artist is unknown.

Revised May 3, 2020.
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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