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.)