Katherine Anne MacLean
is an American
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...
author best known for her short fiction of the 1950s which examined the impact of technological advances on individuals and society.
Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE is an English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society...
noted that she could "do the hard stuff magnificently," while Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon was an American science fiction author.His most famous novel is More Than Human .-Biography:...
observed that she "generally starts from a base of hard science, or rationalizes psi phenomena with beautifully finished logic." Her stories have been included in numerous anthologies and a few have had radio and television adaptations.
Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Glen Ridge is a borough in Essex County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough population was 7,527. In 2010, Glen Ridge was ranked as the 38th Best Place to live by New Jersey Monthly magazine....
, MacLean concentrated on mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...
and science in high school. At the time her earliest stories were being published in 1949-50, she received a B.A. in economics from Barnard College (1950), followed by postgraduate studies in psychology at various universities. Her 1951 marriage to Charles Dye ended in divorce a year later. She married David Mason in 1956. Their son, Christopher Dennis Mason, was born in 1957, and they divorced in 1962.
MacLean taught literature at the University of Maine
The University of Maine is a public research university located in Orono, Maine, United States. The university was established in 1865 as a land grant college and is referred to as the flagship university of the University of Maine System...
and creative writing
Creative writing is considered to be any writing, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, and technical forms of literature. Works which fall into this category include novels, epics, short stories, and poems...
at the Free University of Portland. Over decades, she has continued to write while employed in a wide variety of jobs—as book reviewer, economic graphanalyst, editor, EKG technician, food analyst, laboratory technician in penicillin research, nurse's aide, office manager, payroll bookkeeper, photographer, pollster, public relations, publicist and store detective.
It was while she worked as a laboratory technician in 1947 that she began writing science fiction. Strongly influenced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy was an Austrian-born biologist known as one of the founders of general systems theory . GST is an interdisciplinary practice that describes systems with interacting components, applicable to biology, cybernetics, and other fields...
's General Systems Theory
Systems theory is the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research...
, her fiction has often demonstrated a remarkable foresight in scientific advancements.
MacLean received a Nebula Award in 1971, and she was a Professional Guest of Honor at the first WisCon
Wiscon or WisCon, the Wisconsin Science Fiction Convention, is often called the world's leading feminist-oriented science fiction convention and conference. It was first held in Madison, Wisconsin in February 1977, and is held annually throughout the four day weekend of Memorial Day...
in 1977. She was honored in 2003 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as an SFWA Author Emeritus
Author Emeritus award is an honorary title bestowed by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. It was created "as a way to recognize and appreciate senior writers in the genres of science fiction and fantasy who have made significant contributions to our field but who are no longer...
The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy
(Avon, 1962), her first short story collection
A short story collection is a book of short stories by a single author, as distinguished by an anthology of fiction by more than one author. The stories in a collection can share a theme, setting, or characters and sometimes can also include work of poetry. Notable collections include Nine Stories...
, includes "The Diploids" (aka "Six Fingers"), "Feedback", "Pictures Don't Lie", "Incommunicado", "The Snow Ball Effect", "Defense Mechanism" and "And Be Merry" (aka "The Pyramid in the Desert").
Her second collection, The Trouble with You Earth People
(Donning/Starblaze, 1980) contains "The Trouble with You Earth People", "The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl", "Syndrome Johnny", "Trouble with Treaties" (with Tom Condit), "The Origin of the Species", "Collision Orbit", "The Fittest", "These Truths", "Contagion", "Brain Wipe" and her Nebula Award-winning "The Missing Man".
Short stories and novelettes
- "Defense Mechanism" (1949). This tale of hidden telepathic abilities was Katherine MacLean's first story to see print when it was published in Astounding Science Fiction (October, 1949).
- "And Be Merry" (1950). Originally in Astounding Science Fiction (February, 1950), this story was first anthologized in Groff Conklin
Edward Groff Conklin was a leading science fiction anthologist. He edited 40 anthologies of science fiction, one of mystery stories , wrote books on home improvement and was a freelance writer on scientific subjects as well as a published poet...
's Omnibus of Science Fiction (Crown, 1952) and has also been published under the title "The Pyramid in the Desert." In January 2006, MacLean reflected on the science behind the story:
- "And Be Merry" (Eat Drink and Be Merry for Tomorrow We Die) A lab biologist, female, takes advantage of her husband going off on an archeology trip, to use the privacy to experiment on herself for rejuvenation by a severe and dangerous method. Succeeding, she contemplates immortality, finding that safety from accidental death has become so valuable to her that she becomes a coward, cowering from all possible risk, seeing shelter in a hospital, and is only rescued from mindless panic by her husband finding her, realizing the source of her terror and rescuing her from immortality by claiming she has a slow growing tumor in an unreachable part of the body.
- Finding she has no chance of evading eventual death, she immediately loses her obsession with safety, becomes interested in biochemistry again, and invents a new theory. (New at the time.) Mutation from background radiation does not just strike the sperm and egg making chromosome changes in the embryo and mutated progeny, it also strikes the chromosomes in each cell of any living creature, damages and mutates them also, and produces cancer. This cannot be prevented. She called it "somatic mutation" and used the new concept of body deterioration by slow radiation damage (age) to underpin her rediscovered recklessness, and be happy.
- Even now most biotechs have not fully accepted the implication that every cell in the body can generate an entire copy of the person. But perhaps a copy will be changed and mutated for the worse by exposure to ambient radiation and other mutagens. Perhaps a cell needs to generate a placenta around it to develop into an entire body. Something like that is holding up the biochemists from successfully making copies of individuals from body or blood cells. Not for long! I wrote three more stories with novel genetic ideas before 1953. Some have not been followed up by scientists yet.
- "Incommunicado" (1950). In this novelette about communication and computers, written by MacLean in 1947, she demonstrated an ability to foresee the future evolution of personal computers. Passages in this story anticipate such latter-day digital configurations as Google Book Search
Google Books is a service from Google that searches the full text of books that Google has scanned, converted to text using optical character recognition, and stored in its digital database. The service was formerly known as Google Print when it was introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October...
, Google Video Search, PDA devices, podcasting and portable music players. At a space station operated by a computer, the station's workers begin to unconsciously develop a musical rapport with their computer in a feedback loop. When published in the June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, cover artist Miller contributed one of the more striking Astounding covers of the 1950s, blending an emotional musical performance with cyber technology. The story was reprinted a decade later in Groff Conklin's anthology, Six Great Short Science Fiction Novels (Dell, 1960), followed by MacLean's collection, The Diploids (Avon, 1962). In January, 2006, MacLean recalled the reaction of electronic engineers to the story:
- In the 1930s and 1940s, scientists and boys planning to be scientists read Astounding (Analog) with close attention to the hottest most promising ideas and took them up as soon as they could get funded lab space. They did not openly express their gratitude to science fiction, because the funding depended on keeping claim to have originated the ideas they had put so much work into testing and verifying.
- A few years after the publication of my first written story, "Incommunicado," written 1947 and published 1950, I was taking a break from two weeks of typing, walking down Fifth Avenue, noticing vaguely that there were no coffee shops, and the storefronts were closed and it was dark. Passed a white granite entrance with signs announcing a convention of electronic engineers, and turned in hoping to find coffee, and a demo of hi-fi advances, and found a deserted desk, with signs announcing that one must sign in with name, industry and invitation number. A bit unwelcoming to a stray writer with no credentials in heavily funded industrial research and no formal invitation. Being stubborn and not wanting to return to the typewriter so early, I hastily looked around for a door to a lecture hall where I could sneak some listening time and get a line on current research, and be out of sight before the desk was reoccupied by the guardian of the gate.
- Too late, a man built like a fullback in a business suit was bearing down on me. "I see you don't have your badge. May I have your name? I'll look it up in the registry." He was huge, like John Campbell, the editor of Astounding. Just as intense and tight and unrelaxed. Wearing a formal suit. Behind him, chatting to each other and drifiting closer were two or three other impressive ambitious tense men in business suits. Definitely not the harmless willowy professor type. Industrial researchers were apparently built like Vikings and aggressive.
- I became aware I had not showered or even combed my hair since god knows when. I felt sticky, but I bluffed it out, extended my sweaty hand with matching vigor and said. "Katherine MacLean, I came in because I am interested in--"
- He interrupted. "Katherine MacLean! Are you that Katherine MacLean?" He gripped my hand and hung on. Who was that Katherine Maclean? Was I being mistaken for someone else?
- "Are you the Katherine MacLean who wrote 'Incommunicado'?"
- Speechless with relief, I nodded. I would not be arrested or thrown out if they would accept me as a science fiction writer. He kept his grip on my hand and turned around and bellowed to his group of chatting friends, "Guess who I've got here. The little woman who wrote 'Incommunicado'!"
- He turned me around and wanted me to shake my sticky hand with all of them. I wiped it on my jacket and stepped back. My hair felt sticky. My face felt sticky. I was ashamed of being so disheveled and unprepared to discuss electronic theory. While they were suggesting coffee and sitting down to talk, I explained I had a hot story on the typewriter and had to get back to it before I lost the train of ideas and escaped. I had not been aware that my playing with communication ideas would attract the attention of prestigious Bell Telephone researchers. I had left radio and wavelength theory to my Dad as one of his hobbies and learned early that I could get a nasty shock from playing with his wiring. I could not account for their enthusiasm. I went back to the typewriter and lost myself in the story again.
- The point is, that scientists not only read Astounding-Analog, they were fans of the writers and understood all the Ideas, even the obscure Ideas that were merely hinted at.
- "Feedback" (1951). A sociological setback occurs when conformity becomes a closed circle, prompting even more conformity; a teacher who speaks in favor of individuality is regarded as subversive. Originally in Astounding Science Fiction (July, 1951).
- "Syndrome Johnny" (1951). Published before it was even certain that DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...
carried genetic information, this story is about a series of engineered retroviral
A retrovirus is an RNA virus that is duplicated in a host cell using the reverse transcriptase enzyme to produce DNA from its RNA genome. The DNA is then incorporated into the host's genome by an integrase enzyme. The virus thereafter replicates as part of the host cell's DNA...
plagues, initially propagated by blood transfusion
Blood transfusion is the process of receiving blood products into one's circulation intravenously. Transfusions are used in a variety of medical conditions to replace lost components of the blood...
, that are genetically re-engineering the human race. First published in Galaxy Science Fiction
Galaxy Science Fiction was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1950 to 1980. It was founded by an Italian company, World Editions, which was looking to break in to the American market. World Editions hired as editor H. L...
- "Pictures Don't Lie'" (1951). Radio contact with extraterrestrial ship arriving on Earth. Originally in Galaxy Science Fiction (August, 1951), it was adapted to radio, television and comic books. The adaptation on the UK series Out of This World
Out of This World is a British science fiction anthology television series made by ABC Television and broadcast in 1962. A spin-off from the popular anthology series Armchair Theatre, each episode was introduced by the actor Boris Karloff. Many of the episodes were adaptations of stories by...
was telecast August 11, 1962. The EC Comics version of this story was "Chewed Out!", illustrated by Joe Orlando
Joseph Orlando was a prolific illustrator, writer, editor and cartoonist during a lengthy career spanning six decades...
for Weird Science
Weird Science was a science fiction anthology comic book that was part of the EC Comics line in the early 1950s. Over a four-year span, the comic ran for 22 issues, ending with the November–December, 1953 issue...
12 (March-April 1952). In expanding the basic premise and adding comedic elements, scripter Al Feldstein
Albert B. Feldstein is an American writer, editor, and artist, best known for his work at EC Comics and, from 1956 to 1985, as the editor of the satirical magazine Mad. Since retiring from Mad, Feldstein has concentrated on American paintings of Western wildlife...
established the setting as Blytheville, Arkansas
Blytheville is the largest city in and one of the two county seats of Mississippi County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 15,620 at the 2010 census....
. On several occasions MacLean noted that she ranked EC's interpretation as superior to her own story.
- "The Snowball Effect" (1952). A sociology professor, challenged to prove his theories of the dynamic growth of organizations, rewrites the rules of a smalltown sewing circle to have "more growth drive than the Roman Empire." He is far more successful than he ever anticipated. Originally in Galaxy Science Fiction (September, 1952).
- "Games" (1953). A boy becomes the characters in his make-believe games. Originally in Galaxy Science Fiction (March, 1953).
- "The Diploids" (1953). In this novella, a young lawyer suspects he may be an alien because of certain physical and biochemical abnormalities but discovers that he is a commercial human embryonic cell line, sold for research and illegally grown to maturity. Originally in Thrilling Wonder Stories (April, 1953). Also titled "Six Fingers."
- "Second Game" (1958). This collaboration by MacLean and Charles V. De Vet, published in Astounding Science Fiction (March, 1958), was nominated for a 1959 Hugo.
- "Unhuman Sacrifice" (1958). Published in Astounding Science Fiction (March, 1958), reprinted in Damon Knight
Damon Francis Knight was an American science fiction author, editor, critic and fan. His forte was short stories and he is widely acknowledged as having been a master of the genre.-Biography:...
's anthology A Century of Science Fiction (1962). The attempts of a missionary to spread the word on an alien planet are frustrated by the aliens' life cycle.
- The Missing Man (1975). MacLean was awarded the Nebula Award
The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...
for her novella "Missing Man". The novella takes place in a balkanized New York City where an engineer working for the city's disaster planning section has his inside knowledge exploited to cause disasters. The novella first appeared in Analog (March, 1971). Novel version The Missing Man was published by Putnam in 1975.
- For Martin Greenberg's Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (Southern Illinois University Press, 1981) she wrote "The Expanding Mind," a memoir of her youth and the impact of science fiction on the mind of a young girl.
- 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.