10 Great Science Fiction Authors That Used Pen Names

Science fiction authors often use pen names to sell more books or protect their non-literary reputations (which often end up paling in comparison to their literary reputations).

 

10
Stephen King
writing as Richard Bachman

I’m labeling Stephen King as a science fiction writer here because of his book Running Man.

At the beginning of Stephen King’s career, the general view among publishers was that an author was limited to one book per year, since publishing more would be unacceptable to the public. King therefore wanted to write under another name, in order to increase his publication without over-saturating the market for the King “brand.” He convinced his publisher, Signet Books, to print these novels under the pen name Richard Bachman.

9
Robert Silverberg
writing as Ivar Jorgenson, Calvin M. Knox, David Osborne, Don Elliot, and Robert Randall

Robert Silverberg won his first Hugo in 1956 as the “best new writer.”

That year, Silverberg was the author or co-author of four of the six stories in the August issue of Fantastic, breaking his record set in the previous issue. For the next four years, by his own count, he wrote a million words a year.

He used his own name as well as a range of pseudonyms during this era, and often worked in collaboration with Randall Garrett, who was a neighbor at the time. (The Silverberg/Garrett collaborations also used a variety of pseudonyms, the best-known being Robert Randall.) From 1956 to 1959, Silverberg routinely averaged five published stories a month, and he had over 80 stories published in 1958 alone.

In 1959, Silverberg turned his ability to write copiously to other fields, from historical non-fiction to softcore pornography. “Bob Silverberg, a giant of science fiction… was doing two [books] a month for one publisher, another for a second publisher, and the equivalent of another book for a magazine… He was writing a quarter of a million words a month” (Lee Child, BBC) under many different pseudonyms, including about 200 erotic novels published as Don Elliott.

In a 2000 interview, Silverberg explained that the erotic fiction:

… was undertaken at a time when I was saddled with a huge debt, at the age of 26, for a splendid house that I had bought. There would have been no way to pay the house off by writing science fiction … so I turned out a slew of quick sex novels. I never concealed the fact that I was doing them; it made no difference at all to me whether people knew or not. It was just a job. And it was, incidentally, a job that I did very well. I think they were outstanding erotic novels.

8
Harlan Ellison
writing as Cordwainer Bird, Jay Charby, Sley Harson, Ellis Hart, John Magnus, Paul Merchant, Pat Roeder, Derry Tiger, Harlan Ellis and Jay Solo

Ellison on occasion used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird to alert members of the public to situations in which he felt his creative contribution to a project had been mangled beyond repair by others. The first such work to which he signed the name was “The Price of Doom,” an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

7
Earl and Otto Binder
writing as Eando Binder

Brothers Earl and Otto Binder simply combined the first letters of the first name— “E” and “O” —to come up with “Eando.” They wrote over 160 pulpy science fiction stories together. In addition, Otto was a prolific comics writer, writing over 4400 stories and co-creating Supergirl.

6
Murray Leinster
writing as Murray Leinster

William Fitzgerald Jenkins wrote more than 1,500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays. He was an early writer of parallel universe and alternate history stories.

5
Michael Crichton
writing as John Lange

While he was still in medical school, Crichton wrote thrillers for, he claimed, “groceries and food.” He used the pen name John Lange because he planned to become a doctor and did not want his patients to worry he would use them for his plots.

4
C.J. Cherryh
writing as C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh began writing stories at the age of ten when she became frustrated with the cancellation of her favorite TV show, Flash Gordon. Now, she has written more than 80 books since the mid-1970s, including the Hugo Award-winning novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

Cherryh (pronounced “Cherry”) appended a silent “h” to her real name because her first editor felt that “Cherry” sounded too much like a romance writer. She used only her initials, C.J., to disguise that she was female at a time when the majority of science fiction authors were male.

She even has an asteroid, 77185 Cherryh, named after her. Referring to this honor, the asteroid’s discoverers wrote of Cherryh: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.”

3
Isaac Asimov
writing as Paul French

One of the Big Three (the other two being Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury), Isaac Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books. He wrote the six Lucky Starr juveniles as Paul French.

A claustrophile, he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces. Oddly, he never learned to swim or ride a bicycle. He has both an asteroid (5020) and a crater on Mars named after him.

Asimov contracted HIV in 1983 as a result of a blood transfusion from a triple bypass surgery. At the time, anti-AIDS prejudice was so strong that he was told to keep his ailment a secret, or the prejudice would affect his family members. He died in 1992.

2
Alice Sheldon
writing as James Tiptree, Jr.

Before she was a writer, Alice Sheldon worked as a spy at the CIA in 1950s. However, she didn’t like the work and quit three years after joining.

While she was getting her PhD in experimental psychology, she wrote and submitted a few science fiction stories under the name James Tiptree Jr., in order to protect her academic reputation. She used this pen name from 1967 to her death. It was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman. From 1974 to 1977 she also used the pen name Raccoona Sheldon.

In the last years of her life, she suffered from depression and heart trouble, while her husband began to lose his eyesight, becoming almost completely blind in 1986. In 1976, then 61-year-old Sheldon wrote a friend, expressing her desire to end her own life while she was still able-bodied and active, but saying that she was reluctant to act upon this intention, as she didn’t want to leave her husband behind and couldn’t bring herself to kill him. Later, she suggested to her husband that they make a suicide pact when their health began to fail. On July 21, 1977, she wrote in her diary: “Ting agreed to consider suicide in 4–5 years.”

Ten years later, on May 19, 1987, Sheldon shot her husband and then herself; she telephoned her attorney after the first shooting to announce her actions. They were found dead, hand-in-hand in bed, in their Virginia home.

She was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.

1
Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham
writing as James S.A. Corey

Before the Expanse books became the phenomenon they are now, the world of the Expanse was a role-playing game created by Ty Franck, who was George R. R. Martin’s assistant at the time. Franck teamed up with fantasy author Daniel Abraham and together they penned the first book in the Expanse, Leviathan Wakes, planning to turn it into a trilogy. Then they decided that it would be easier to sell their book under one name.

2 thoughts on “10 Great Science Fiction Authors That Used Pen Names

  1. Where are Catherine Lucille (C. L.) Moore and Henry Kuttner? Separately, Moore was the more renowned novelist, but together, under a few established pen names such as Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell, they wrote some of the most creative and intriguing short fiction ever seen in the SF genre, especially ”Vintage Season” and ”Mimsy Were the Borogoves.” They could also write with some of the most biting sardonic wit, e.g., ”When the Bough Breaks.” (Moore’s ”The Bright Illusion” always brings me, a hardened cynic, to joyous tears at its abrupt end. But we’re concerned here with the two as a pseudonymous duo.)

  2. Never omit the Murray Leinster (Will Jenkins) quirky and imaginative ”Sidewise in Time,” when he is written of. It occupies a special place in the incipient alternate/parallel universe SF genre.

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