Lester del Rey–Still Astounding after 100 Years!

Jun 2, 2015 by

Astounding Science-Fiction 38-04Although he claimed that his full name was Ramón Felipe Alvarez-del Rey, or sometimes Ramón Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heathcourt-Brace Sierra y Alvarez-del Rey y de los Verdes, Lester del Rey was actually born Leonard Knapp. Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Lester del Rey began writing professionally in the late 1930s. His first published work was “The Faithful,” published by Street & Smith in the April 1938 issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, one of the earliest numbers of the pulp to be edited by John W. Campbell. It was followed by del Rey’s classic robot story, “Helen O’Loy,” published in the December issue. In 1970, it was among the stories selected by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards.  As such, it was published in THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, VOLUME ONE, 1929-1964.

Throughout the late thirties and 1940s, del Rey wrote almost exclusively for Street & Smith, largely for ASTOUNDING. A smattering of his fiction also appeared in UNKNOWN, also edited by Campbell. Perhaps his best known work from this period is “Nerves,” a short novel about an accident in a nuclear power plant. During the 1950s, del Rey expanded his markets, turning out stories for AMAZING, FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, FUTURE, GALAXY, IF, MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES, and even detective magazines such as FAMOUS DETECTIVE STORIES and HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE. He also worked as the editor of FANTASY MAGAZINE, ROCKET STORIES, SPACE SCIENCE FICTION, and SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES.

In 1977, Lester joined the staff of Ballantine Books when it began issuing science fiction and fantasy under the imprint Del Rey Books, named for his wife, Judy-Lynn del Rey. He continued with Ballantine until his retirement at the end of 1991. He died in 1993. The publisher still operates under the Del Rey name.

(Lester del Rey’s first published work appeared in the April 1938 issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION, behind a cover painted by Howard V. Brown. A long-time science-fiction artist who painted almost all of the magazine’s covers from late 1933 through early 1938, Brown also created covers for Hugo Gernsback’s SCIENCE AND INVENTION and Standard’s STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES. PulpFest 2015 will be saluting Standard Publications during its festivities from August 13th through the 16th. Click here to learn how to register for the convention.)

Donuts & Space Opera! Happy Birthday, Doc Smith!

May 2, 2015 by

Amazing08-28Food scientist and author Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, often called “the father of space opera,” was born 125 years ago, on May 2, 1890. His first published work, “The Skylark of Space,” was written with the help of a neighbor, Mrs. Lee Hawkins Garby.

Smith began writing the first Skylark yarn in 1915, taking five-plus years to complete the work. At the time, there was no model for Smith’s tale. A grand story spanning across galaxies, it was serialized by Hugo Gernsback, beginning in the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Also appearing in that same issue was Philip Nowlan’s “Armageddon – 2419 A.D.,” the story that introduced Buck Rogers to the reading public.

Smith would go on to write two more Skylark stories for the pulps and a third, “Skylark DuQuesne,” that was originally serialized in the digest magazine IF: WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION, beginning in June 1965.

Although the Skylark stories served to introduce readers to space opera, it was Doc’s Lensman stories that truly defined the sub-genre. Consisting of seven novels published over a fourteen-year span, the series also began in AMAZING STORIES. “Triplanetary” started in the January 1934 issue and ran through the April number. Although the Lensman stories appeared in a number of books and pulp magazines, it is the final four novels of the series that truly define Smith’s great saga. Originally published in Street & Smith’s ASTOUNDING between September 1937 and February 1948, these novels owe a great deal to John W. Campbell, the magazine’s editor beginning in 1938.

Smith would publish other works of science fiction, including “Spacehounds of IPC,” “Lord Tedric,” and “Subspace Survivors,” but none would approach the scope of the Skylark tales and, even more so, the Lensman yarns.

E. E. “Doc” Smith, the food scientist who specialized in doughnut mixes and science-fiction, died on the last day of August in 1965. One-hundred twenty-five years old today, Smith’s work inspired a host of authors to fill the pages of AMAZING STORIES, PLANET STORIES, and other magazines and media with tales of action and adventure, some of them even set “a long ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . ”

(Frank R. Paul’s cover for the August 1928 issue of AMAZING STORIES, in which the first Skylark story appeared, is one of the most iconic images from the science-fiction pulps.)

 

The Golden Age of Astounding Science Fiction

Jul 27, 2014 by

Astounding Science-Fiction 39-02When John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding Stories, he began working to create a science-fiction magazine for mature readers. Writers, both new and old, began to respond: Lester Del Rey with “The Faithful” and “Helen O’Loy;” Jack Williamson with “The Legion of Time;” and L. Ron Hubbard with “The Tramp.” Campbell himself joined in with “Who Goes There,” as did Clifford D. Simak, who had left science fiction, and new writers L. Sprague de Camp and Eric Frank Russell. Seasoned professionals such as Arthur J. Burks, Raymond Z. Gallun, and Manly Wade Wellman also joined in.

But Campbell had been merely tilling the soil in the first year of his editorship, preparing it for the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden Age in 1939. The stage was set when the February Astounding Science-Fiction featured the magazine’s first cover by Hubert Rogers. A free-lance illustrator long associated with Adventure, Rogers would paint nearly sixty covers for Campbell’s Astounding.

Astounding Science Fiction 39-07Although the outpouring of exceptional fiction continued in the early months of 1939, it is the July issue that is most often cited as the start of Astounding‘s golden age. Behind an effective cover by artist Graves Gladney, the reader would find the first prose fiction by A. E. van Vogt as well as Isaac Asimov’s first story for the magazine. August’s and September’s issues continued the trend with the first stories of Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon. October’s number began the serialization of E. E. Smith’s “Gray Lensman,” along with another tale by Heinlein.

Under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction was the genre’s trend setter, introducing many of the field’s top authors and publishing some of its most memorable stories. On Friday, August 8th, beginning at 10:30 PM, please join 2013 Munsey Award winner, Professor Garyn G. Roberts, editor of The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy; Professor Tom Krabacher of California State University, Sacramento, a member of the Pulp Era Amateur Press Society who has written and lectured on the history of pulp magazines and has long owned a lengthy run of Astounding, back to the late thirties; and PulpFest organizer, movie and pulp historian, author, and the editor of Blood ‘n Thunder, Ed Hulse who will dissect Astounding’s 1939 issues and the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden AgeA slide show featuring the 1939 issues of Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction will accompany the trio’s presentation.

Click on the illustrations to learn more about the images.

Unknown Worlds of John Campbell

May 24, 2014 by

Unknown 39-03In the February 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction, John W. Campbell announced, “. . . the second Friday of every month, a new magazine will appear. Unknown will be to fantasy what Astounding has made itself represent to science fiction. It will offer fantasy of a quality so far different from that which has appeared in the past as to change your entire understanding of the term.”

Debuting in February 1939 and publishing a complete novel in each issue, Unknown featured many works now considered classics of the fantasy genre—Anthony Boucher’s “The Compleat Werewolf,” L. Sprague DeCamp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” L. Ron Hubbard’s “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky,” Fritz Leiber’s “Conjure Wife” and the early Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Norvell W. Page’s Prester John stories “Flame Wind” and “Sons of the Bear-God,” ” Theodore Sturgeon’s “It,” Jack Williamson’s “Darker Than You Think,” and many others.

Over its 39-issue run, the magazine went through a variety of permutations including the elimination of cover art beginning with the July 1940 number. “We’ve made the July cover look very dignified. We’re going to ask your news dealer to display it with magazines of general class—not with the newsprints . . . . It is unique and appeals to adult minds . . . . I feel most would enjoy Unknown if given a chance to try it.” The magazine would be enlarged to letter-size and get a new name in  late 1941 as Street & Smith sought better display space. Despite the changes, the renamed Unknown Worlds would be cancelled following the issue dated October 1943. Although a letter-sized magazine reprint anthology entitled From Unknown Worlds was issued in 1948, no additional issues of the publication considered the best fantasy magazine of all time would appear.

From Unknown Worlds

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.