The 1950s is often reckoned to be the Golden Age of science fiction. It was a time when all the great names of the genre, like Asimov and Heinlein, Clarke and Bradbury, were at their peak, and before the New Wave of the 1960s started turning the genre in a new direction.
A good time for sf then? Well yes, but look at the names we’ve mentioned so far. Or start thinking of other great sf writers between the end of the Second World War and the rise of the New Wave. We’ll bet they have one thing in common: they’re all men.
It’s easy to assume that science fiction was an entirely masculine genre, written by men for men. Except there were women writing sf at this time. Women whose work has stood the test of time often better than their male contemporaries. Women writing sf that was original, innovative, distinct and distinguished. It’s just that they have tended to disappear from the histories of the period. Maybe it’s easier to stick to the most famous names, maybe it’s just coincidence that those famous names all happen to be men.
The women sf writers of this period tended to write short stories rather than novels, but then so did most of the men. Look in the forgotten corners of old anthologies or the contents pages of dusty magazines and you’ll find them. It’s just that all the attention, all the spotlights, are focussed on the men.
In her superb study of sf by women in this period, Galactic Suburbia, Lisa Yaszek identifies some 300 women who were writing science fiction at the time. These are just three of them, but they are three writers you really should be paying attention to every bit as much as A.E. Van Vogt or Clifford Simak or any of their fellows.
Rosel George Brown
Rosel George Brown only had a short career. She was shortlisted for a Hugo for Best New Writer in 1959, but died in 1947 aged just 41. But in that short career she wrote a bunch of eye-catching short stories, many of which were included in her collection, A Handful of Time, along with a couple of novels following the interstellar adventures of a female detective, Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue and The Waters of Centaurus. The latter was only published after her death.
There’s supposed to be a new collection, The Clingerman Files: Collected Works due out soon, and with any luck it will do something to restore the reputation of an unjustly neglected writer. Though for now you won’t go far wrong with a superb collection like A Cupful of Space. She was one of the mainstays of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction throughout the 1950s, writing sharp and beautifully constructed stories whose surface domesticity often disguised a creeping sense of dis-ease that has earned comparisons to Shirley Jackson.
Katherine MacLean won the Nebula Award for her novella, “Missing Man”, which was later expanded into the novel, The Missing Man, in which an engineer has his inside knowledge exploited to cause disasters. She is already an Author Emeritus with the SFWA and is being touted as a possible Grand Master, so in a sense she is the least forgotten of these three writers. In the 1950s she was one of the few women writers celebrated for the technological edge of her fiction, and her short story collections, The Diploids and The Trouble With You Earth People (there’s a more recent edition of some of her stories, Katherine MacLean Science Fiction Collection), are full of stories in which ideas are treated as stringently as any contemporary hard sf.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.