Science fiction and fantasy have a long history of authors writing under pseudonyms. Sometimes, it’s because they are so prolific, their editors fear they’ll flood the market. Others, chiefly women, have found it easier to break into the market with a gender-ambiguous name (if not one that is outright male), because, especially years ago, sales departments feared a female name on the cover would negatively impact sales. Whatever the reason, here are 15 SF/F writers who proved that you can’t judge an author by the name on the cover.
C.J. Cherryh, aka Carolyn Janice Cherry
Carolyn Cherry began writing at an early age, and submitted her first novel, Brothers of Earth, to DAW Books in the 1970s. Editor Donald Wollheim felt that her last name, Cherry, screamed “romance author,” and asked her to change it. Her first published work, Gate of Irvel, came out under the name “C.J. Cherryh,” which she’s maintained ever since. Also, the “C.J.” part was intended to obscure the fact that a woman was behind all those dense, challenging works of sci-fi and fantasy. Sigh.
James S.A. Corey, aka Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham
When Leviathan Wakes came out in 2011, the cover carried the name of a mysterious new author: James S.A. Corey. Readers quickly learned Corey isn’t one person, it is two: Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. The co-writers decided that it would be easier to sell their book under one name. They assembled it from James and Corey, Abraham and Franck’s respective middle names, and Abraham’s daughter’s initials. (Abraham was already no stranger to pseudonyms, publishing his epic fantasy under his own name, and urban fantasy as “M.L.N. Hanover.”
Joe Hill, aka Joseph Hillstrom King
What do you do when you want to be a writer, but your father is already one of the most famous authors in the world? This question troubled Joseph King, son of Stephen. Not wanting editors to publish anything that turned out to be terrible just because of his family name, the young author began submitting stories as Joe Hill, shortening his first and middle names (it’s also a reference to a labor leader by the same name). After a decade, Hill confirmed his identity, long after he established himself as a major author in his own right. Of course, considering he basically looks like a clone of dear old dad, it’s questionable whether anyone who met him in person was ever fooled.
John Lange, aka Michael Crichton
When Michael Crichton first began writing, he was a medical student, and adopted the name John Lange because he “felt that [he] would continue as a doctor and ought to protect patients from the fear that they might pop up in the pages of a thriller.” But Crichton turned out to be far too good a writer; he never practiced medicine, and with the publication of his eventual breakout book, The Andromeda Strain, he opted to publish under his given name.
U.K. Le Guin, Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most famous living science fiction authors, but when she sold her story “Nine Lives” to Playboy, her editors asked her to change her name to U.K. Le Guin, fearing that a female author would make their readers “nervous.” Le Guin remembered it as the only time, “I met with anything I understood as sexual prejudice, prejudice against me as a woman writer.” She’s never used a pseudonym again, and “Nine Lives” appears under her own name in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters.
Murray Leinster, aka William Fitzgerald Jenkins
Murray Leinster was an extremely prolific science fiction writer who began his career in the pulps, and he needed multiple pseudonyms just to avoid flooding the markets he wrote for. His real name was William Fitzgerald Jenkins, and he worked for the U.S. government during the first and second World Wars. Jenkins didn’t limit himself to science fiction; he wrote for mystery and western magazines, and even romance pulps, under the name Louisa Carter Lee. When he sold multiple stories to the same issue of any particular magazine, he frequently credited the second story to the name Will F. Jenkins.
Robin Hobb, aka Megan Lindholm
Robin Hobb is a major fantasy author, who you may know under her real name: Megan Lindholm. Early in her career, Lindholm was a moderately successful writer of historical and contemporary fantasy novels, but when she delivered a new fantasy that was unlike anything that she’d written before, her publisher, HarperCollins, noted that it wasn’t “a Megan Lindholm novel.” They decided that they should put another name for the cover and launch the book as a “debut.” They eventually settled on Robin Hobb, derived from Robin Hood. Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice appeared in 1995, and became a major hit.
Alex Marshall, aka Jesse Bullington
Recently, Alex Marshall burst onto the fantasy scene with A Crown for Cold Silver, billed as the work of an “established” genre writer. Orbit’s publicity play fueled much speculation about his identity. A few month’s before the publication of book two, A Blade of Black Steel, another Orbit author, Jesse Bullington announced that he was in fact Alex Marshall. Bullington’s earlier books were very different from Marshall’s epic fantasy, and he wanted to release the book “under a pen name would let readers approach it without any preconceptions.”
Andrew North, aka Andre Norton, aka Alice Norton
Alice Mary Norton grew up reading and writing, and eventual found work as a librarian, but not before a detour into publishing. Her publisher felt that a male name would sell better, and so her first novel, The Prince Commands, a historical fantasy, was released under the name Andrew North. She later began publishing her stories as Andre Norton, and in 1934, she legally changed her name to her invented moniker, which went on to grace the covers of dozens and dozens of influential works (not to mention a young adult book award).
Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell, aka C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner
C.L. Moore was a popular writer of weird and planetary romance stories during the 1930s. It was also the pen name for Catherine Lucille Moore. She had opted for an abbreviated name not to help her break into the publishing world, but because she was afraid of being fired: her boss held a low opinion of pulp magazines. When she eventually met her future husband, Henry Kuttner, he was surprised—he’d assumed that C.L. Moore was a male author. When the two married, they began collaborating, using a variety of pseudonyms: C.H. Liddell, Lawrence O’Donnell (used to write one of their best known stories, “Vintage Season”), and Lewis Padgett, (which they used to write Mimsy Were the Borogoves).
K. J. Parker, aka Tom Holt
For years, the true identity of K.J. Parker was the most closely guarded secret in genre publishing, even as he—she?—racked up a number of awards along the way. It wasn’t until last year that the secret finally broke: Parker was really Tom Holt, author of historical novels and comedic fantasy ala Terry Pratchett. Holt explained that after 17 years (and countless think pieces delving into the scant—and, it turned out, largely fictional—details of “Parker’s” life to determine whether they were male or female), it was time for the truth to come out. K.J. Parker is still publishing today. So is Tom Holt.
J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith, aka Joanne Rowling
It’s an understatement to call the Harry Potter novels a phenomenon, but when Rowling’s publishers initially printed them, they asked her to publish as J.K., rather than Joanne, fearing that their anticipated male target audience would be turned off by a female author. Rowling has no middle name, and chose the letter K, for Kathleen, her grandmother. Following the success of that series, Rowling turned again to a pen name, Robert Galbraith, to write gory crime novels, far removed from the kid’s tales that made her name. Her other name. Galbraith published “his” debut, The Cuckoo’s Calling, in 2013. Critics noted the quality of the novel, and began to investigate the person behind the pseudonym. Eventually, the secret got out thanks to a loose-lipped lawyer, who spilled to his wife, who told a friend, who tweeted it to a literary critic. The subsequent investigation revealed that not only did Galbriath and Rowling share the same agent and publisher, but their writing styles were identical. Sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling, theretofore a well-reviewed but modest-selling debut, went through the roof.
Cordwainer Smith, aka Paul M.A. Linebarger
Paul Linebarger enjoyed a successful academic career after he earned his PhD in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University, eventually teaching at Duke University, where he was a notable expert on east Asia. During the second World War, he helped set up the army’s psychological warfare section, and served in China, eventually obtaining the rank of Colonel. In 1950, he began publishing short stories, beginning with “Scanners Live in Vain,” under the name “Cordwainer Smith” (derived from two different types of skilled artistry, shoemaking and ironworking) in order to keep his professional and pulp lives separate.
James Tiptree, Jr., aka Alice Sheldon
Alice Sheldon is probably the most famous example of an SF/F author using a pseudonym to conceal her identity. For years, she published under the name of James Tiptree, Jr., who had a reputation for being a highly secretive author. Sheldon lived in secretive worlds herself: during World War II, she was active in intelligence, and worked for a short time at the Central Intelligence Agency. After completing her PhD, she turned to writing and decided that she wanted to keep her academic and writing lives separate: James Tiptree Jr. was born; Sheldon reasoned that a male name would be more respected in the genre world than a female one. Tiptree’s identity remained a secret for years, until 1976, when she mentioned that her mother had died. Dilligent fans combed newspapers for obituaries, and made the connection: James Tiptree, Jr. was really Alice Sheldon. Sheldon came out to friends in the writing community, and was eventually tracked down and outed by the fan community at large. As for the name itself, “Tiptree” was Sheldon’s favorite brand of fruit preserves; Tiptree preserves are still sold in the U.K. today.