That Time a Fake Science Fiction Author Won a Major Novel-Writing Prize

Illustration for article titled That Time a Fake Science Fiction Author Won a Major Novel-Writing Prize

Back in 1953, Galaxy Science Fiction and Simon & Schuster launched a huge contest to find a great new science fiction novel. The prize was $6,500 (a lot of money in those days). The winner? A brand new writer named Edson McCann. Except for one thing: Edson McCann did not exist.

Michael Ashley explains what happened, in his book Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970:

Horace Gold was in the middle of judging a $6,500 prize competition for the best new science-fiction novel, co-sponsored by Galaxy and Simon & Schuster. The competition had been announced in the March 1953 issue of Galaxy and the deadline for submissions was 15 October. The novels Gold was receiving were generally poor and he asked [Fredrik] Pohl if he could treat Gladiator at Law as an entry if he and [co-author C.M.] Kornbluth were prepared to submit it under a pseudonym. Pohl did not think this was playing fair and declined. However, soon after completing Gladiator at Law Pohl began a new novel, Preferred Risk, this time with Lester del Rey. Here the huge corporations of the future were the insurance companies, which had refined every action and consequence down to a scale of probabilities and actuarial tables. By now the plot variations were becoming a little staid, and this novel is not a patch on the previous two. Nevertheless, Gold liked it—or certainly preferred it to the submissions he had received. He persuaded Pohl and del Rey to allow Preferred Risk to be entered under a pseudonym and it was duly declared the winner. The novel, attributed to Edson McCann, ran in the June to September issues of Galaxy.


I found out about this via a post the other day on Black Gate, where Matthew Wuertz writes:

Never mind that the contest had already closed. Never mind the clause about the prize “guaranteed to the author of the best original science fiction novel submitted.” In my mind, “best of submitted” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great novel; it means it was the best of those submitted. Never mind [the promise] that “contestants will not be competing with most of the established ‘big names’ of science fiction.” Oh, wait; it was only two of the names, so perhaps that aspect held up....

The story behind McCann was that he was a nuclear physicist who was working on top secret projects; therefore, he couldn’t risk public appearances or book signings. Such a dedicated, honorable man!

As Wuertz points out, this is really rotten: “I’ve entered contests in the past; in fact, I’m in one right now. If I found out the winner wasn’t one of the entries, I would feel cheated.”


Later editions of Preferred Risk bore the names of the actual authors, and Edson McCann was able to go back to his top secret nuclear physics projects in peace.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, which is available now. Here’s what people have been saying about it. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.


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Something tells me that this has not been the only time a writing contest was rigged.