Lester del Rey

Lester del Rey (June 2, 1915 – May 10, 1993) was an American science fiction author and editor. He was the author of many books in the juvenile Winston Science Fiction series, and the editor at Del Rey Books, the fantasy and science fiction imprint of Ballantine Books, along with his fourth wife Judy-Lynn del Rey.

Lester del Rey
Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey at Minicon in Minneapolis, 1974
Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey at Minicon in Minneapolis, 1974
BornLeonard Knapp
June 2, 1915
Saratoga, Minnesota, United States
DiedMay 10, 1993 (aged 77)
New York City, New York, United States
Pen nameJohn Alvarez, Marion Henry, Philip James, Philip St. John, Charles Satterfield, Erik van Lhin
OccupationWriter, editor
GenreFantasy, science fiction
SpouseHelen Schlaz (second of four, m. 1945), Evelyn Harrison, Judy-Lynn Benjamin
Fantastic adventures 195012
del Rey's novella "When the World Tottered" was the cover story in the December 1950 issue of Fantastic Adventures, illustrated by Robert Gibson Jones
Galaxy 195103
del Rey's novelette "The Wind Between the Worlds" was the cover story in the March 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction
Dynamic science fiction 195212
del Rey's novelette "I Am Tomorrow" was the cover story in the debut issue of Dynamic Science Fiction in 1952
Fantastic universe 195409
del Rey's "short novel" "The Life Watch" took the cover of the September 1954 issue of Fantastic Universe
Satellite science fiction 195706
del Rey's novel Badge of Infamy took the cover of the June 1957 issue of Satellite Science Fiction
If 196109
del Rey's "Spawning Ground" was the cover story in the September 1961 issue of If

Birth name

Del Rey often told people his real name was Ramon Felipe Alvarez-del Rey (and sometimes even Ramon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heartcourt-Brace Sierra y Alvarez del Rey y de los Uerdes). He also claimed that his family was killed in a car accident in 1935. However, his sister has confirmed that his name was in fact Leonard Knapp, and the accident in 1935 killed his first wife but not his parents, brother, or sister.[1]


Del Rey first started publishing stories in pulp magazines in the late 1930s, at the dawn of the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction. He was associated with the most prestigious science fiction magazine of the era, Astounding Science Fiction, from the time its editor John W. Campbell published his first short story in the April 1938 issue: "The Faithful", already under the name Lester del Rey. The December 1938 issue featured his story "Helen O'Loy" which was selected for the prestigious anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. By the end of 1939 he had also placed stories in Weird Tales (edited by Farnsworth Wright) and Unknown (Campbell),[2] which featured more horror and more fantasy respectively. In the 1950s, del Rey was one of the main authors writing science fiction for adolescents (along with Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton). During this time some of his fiction was published under the name "Erik van Lhin".

During a period when del Rey's work was not selling well, he worked as a short order cook at the White Tower Restaurant in New York. After he married his second wife, Helen Schlaz, in 1945, he quit that job to write full-time. After meeting Scott Meredith at the 1947 World Science Fiction Convention, he began working as a first reader for the new Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where he also served as office manager.[3][4][5]

He later became an editor for several pulp magazines and then for book publishers. During 1952 and 1953, del Rey edited several magazines: Space SF, Fantasy Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures (as Philip St. John), Rocket Stories (as Wade Kaempfert), and Fantasy Fiction (as Cameron Hall).[6] Also during 1952, his first two novels were published in the Winston juvenile series, one with an Italian-language edition in the same year.[2]

In 1957, del Rey and Damon Knight co-edited a small amateur magazine named Science Fiction Forum. During a debate about symbolism within the magazine, del Rey accepted Knight's challenge to write an analysis of the James Blish story "Common Time" that showed the story was about a man eating a ham sandwich.[7] Del Rey was most successful editing with his fourth wife, Judy-Lynn del Rey, at Ballantine Books (as a Random House property, post-Ballantine) where they established the fantasy and science fiction imprint Del Rey Books in 1977.[8]

After science fiction gained respectability and began to be taught in classrooms, del Rey stated that academics interested in the genre should "get out of my Ghetto."[9][10] Del Rey stated that "to develop science fiction had to remove itself from the usual critics who viewed it from the perspective of [the] mainstream, and who judged its worth largely on its mainstream values. As part of that mainstream, it would never have had the freedom to make the choices it did – many of them quite possibly wrong, but necessary for its development."[11] For a number of years in the 1970s, Del Rey, himself, helmed the review column for Analog Science Fiction and Fact entitled The Reference Library.

Del Rey was a member of an all-male literary banqueting club, the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of Isaac Asimov's fictional group of mystery solvers, the Black Widowers. Del Rey was the model for "Emmanuel Rubin".[12]


"There is no writer in this field who is more steadfast in practicing the rule that fiction is first of all entertainment", Algis Budrys said in 1965. Reporting that the stories in a collection of del Rey's fiction could not be dated by reading them, Budrys stated that he had remained a successful writer because "del Rey has remained his own individual ... he writes for himself, and his readers". Budrys said that[13]

The typical del Rey character is an individual who is trying to do the decent thing to the best of his ability. The typical del Rey story problem is that of a good and faithful being trying to understand a complex situation which prevents his immediately knowing the decent thing to do. When he writes a story whose problem becomes apparent only in the last paragraphs, this is frequently the nature of his "trick" ending — the mood is not shock but sorrow; the payoff is not in some irrevocable destruction of this personality but in the reader's realization that even a decent individual must pay the price of ignorance.

Normally, del Rey even then leaves an opening for the protagonist to grow and go on in, and even his worst losers retrieve something — call it dignity.


Del Rey was awarded the 1972 E. E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction (the "Skylark") by the New England Science Fiction Association for "contributing significantly to science fiction, both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities that made the late "Doc" Smith well-loved by those who knew him". He also won a special 1985 Balrog Award for his contributions to fantasy, voted by fans and organized by Locus Magazine. The Science Fiction Writers of America named him its 11th SFWA Grand Master in 1990, presented 1991.[14][15]

Selected works


  • Marooned on Mars (1952)
  • Rocket Jockey as Philip St. John (1952)
  • Attack from Atlantis (1953)
  • Battle on Mercury as Erik Van Lhin (1953)
  • The Mysterious Planet as Kenneth Wright (1953)
  • Rockets to Nowhere as Philip St. John (1954)
  • Step to the Stars (1954)
  • For I Am A Jealous People (1954)
  • Preferred Risk (1955) with Frederik Pohl [as by Edson McCann]
  • Mission to the Moon (1956)
  • Nerves (1956)
  • Police Your Planet as Erik Van Lhin (1956)
  • Day of the Giants (1959)
  • Moon of Mutiny (1961)
  • The Eleventh Commandment (1962)
  • Outpost of Jupiter (1963)
  • The Sky Is Falling (1963)
  • Badge of Infamy (1963)
  • The Runaway Robot (1965)
  • The Infinite Worlds of Maybe (1966)
  • Rocket from Infinity (1966)
  • The Scheme of Things (1966)
  • Siege Perilous (1966)
  • Tunnel Through Time (1966)
  • Prisoners of Space (1968)
  • Pstalemate (1971)
  • Weeping May Tarry (1978) with Raymond F. Jones

Short fiction collections

  • ... And Some Were Human (1948)
  • Robots and Changelings (1957)
  • The Sky is Falling and Badge of Infamy (1966)
  • Mortals and Monsters (1965)
  • Gods and Golems (1973)
  • The Early del Rey (1975)
  • The Early del Rey: Vol 1 (1976)
  • The Early del Rey: Vol 2 (1976)
  • The Best of Lester del Rey (1978)
  • War and Space (2009)
  • Robots and Magic (2010)


  • Rockets Through Space (1957)
  • Space Flight, General Mills, Inc. 1958, 1957; Golden Press, 1959
  • The Mysterious Earth (1960)
  • The Mysterious Sea (1961)
  • The Mysterious Sky (1964)
  • The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: the History of a Subculture (1980)

As editor

  • The Year After Tomorrow with Carl Carmer & Cecile Matschat (1954)
  • Best Science Fiction of the Year #1-#5 (1972–1976)


  1. ^ "People & Publishing". Locus. Locus Publications. January 2008. p. 8.
  2. ^ a b Lester del Rey at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-12. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  3. ^ Moskowitz, Sam (1966). Seekers of Tomorrow. World Publishing Company. p. 181.
  4. ^ Knight, Damon (1977). The Futurians. John Day. p. 180. ISBN 0-381-98288-2.
  5. ^ Davin, Eric Leif (1999). "From Wisconsin to Mars: A Conversation with Raymond F. Gallun". Pioneers of Wonder: 216.
  6. ^ Ashley, Michael (1975). The History of the Science Fiction Magazine, Vol. 3: 1946-1955. CBI. p. 331. ISBN 0-8092-7841-3.
  7. ^ Knight, Damon (1996). In Search of Wonder. Advent:Publishers. p. 284. ISBN 0-911682-31-7.
  8. ^ Davin, Eric Leif (1999). Pioneers of Wonder. Prometheus Books. p. 226. ISBN 1-57392-702-3.
  9. ^ Letson, Russell (1994). "Contributions to the Critical Dialogue: As an Academic Sees It". Science Fiction Fandom: 230–232.
  10. ^ Ashley, Michael (2007). Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980. Liverpool University Press. p. 295. ISBN 978-1-84631-003-4.
  11. ^ Davin, Eric Leif (1999). Pioneers of Wonder. Prometheus Books. pp. 14–15. ISBN 1-57392-702-3.
  12. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. Doubleday. pp. 380–383. ISBN 0-385-41701-2.
  13. ^ Budrys, Algis (December 1965). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 147–156.
  14. ^ "del Rey, Lester" Archived 2010-10-25 at the Wayback Machine. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  15. ^ "Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master" Archived 2011-07-01 at the Wayback Machine. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pp. 135–136. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.

External links

25th World Science Fiction Convention

The 25th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as NyCon 3 or Nycon 3, was held August 31-September 4, 1967, at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York, New York, United States.

The chairmen were Ted White and Dave Van Arnam. The guests of honor were Lester del Rey (pro) and Bob Tucker (fan). The toastmaster was Harlan Ellison. Total attendance was approximately 1,500.

31st World Science Fiction Convention

The 31st World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Torcon II, was held August 31 – September 3, 1973, at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.The chairman was John Millard. The guests of honor were Robert Bloch (pro) and William Rotsler (fan). The toastmaster was Lester del Rey. Total attendance was approximately 2,900.

7th World Science Fiction Convention

The 7th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Cinvention, was held September 3–5. 1949, at the Hotel Metropole in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States.

The Guests of Honor were Lloyd A. Eshbach (pro) and Ted Carnell (fan). Don Ford carried out the duties of Chairman, but was officially Secretary-Treasurer; Charles R. Tanner had the honorary title of Chairman. Total attendance was approximately 190; noteworthy attendees included Forrest J. Ackerman, Hannes Bok, Lester del Rey. Vince Hamlin. Sam Moskowitz, Rog Phillips, Milton Rothman, "Doc" Smith, and George O. Smith.

A Guide to Middle-earth

A Guide to Middle-earth was the first published encyclopedic reference book for the fictional universe of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, compiled and edited by Robert Foster. The book was published in 1971 by Mirage Press, a specialist science fiction and fantasy publisher, in a limited edition of 2000 copies (750 numbered hardcovers and 1250 unnumbered paperbacks). A paperback edition was issued by Ballantine Books in 1974.The author profile on the first edition describes Robert Foster as the then-"Tengwar Consultant" to the Tolkien Society of America, and the book incorporates material previously published in the science fiction fanzine Niekas.

A much-expanded edition incorporating entries for The Silmarillion was issued in 1978 by Ballantine under the title The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, and a further revised edition (ISBN 0-345-44976-2) was published in 2001 in time for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Lester del Rey praised the 1971 version for covering "literally everything you wanted to know about Middle Earth and were unable to discover before."

Del Rey Books

Del Rey Books is a branch of Ballantine Books, which is owned by Random House and, in turn, by Penguin Random House. It is a separate imprint established in 1977 under the editorship of author Lester del Rey and his wife Judy-Lynn del Rey. It specializes in science fiction and fantasy books, and formerly manga under its (now defunct) Del Rey Manga imprint.

The first new novel published by Del Rey was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks in 1977. Del Rey also publishes the Star Wars novels under the LucasBooks sub-imprint (licensed from Lucasfilm, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios division of The Walt Disney Company).

Edward E. Smith Memorial Award

The Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction, or "Skylark", annually recognizes someone for lifetime contributions to science fiction, "both through work in the field and by exemplifying the personal qualities which made the late "Doc" Smith well-loved by those who knew him." It is presented by the New England Science Fiction Association at its annual convention, Boskone, to someone chosen by a vote of NESFA members. The trophy is a large lens mounted on a simple plinth.The award was inaugurated in 1966, the year after Smith's death. Fifty-one people have been honored in 49 years to 2015 (Hal Clement received the award twice, in 1969 and 1997).

Skylark recipients

Helen O'Loy

"Helen O'Loy" is a science fiction short story by American writer Lester del Rey, originally published in 1938 in Astounding Science Fiction.

Hour of the Wolf (radio show)

Hour of the Wolf is a long-running radio program devoted to speculative fiction. Named after an Ingmar Bergman film of the same title, the program was originally hosted and produced by Margot Adler in 1972. Since 1974 it has been hosted by Jim Freund on WBAI in New York.Freund's guests on the show have included speculative fiction writers such as Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Lester Del Rey, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Christopher Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frederik Pohl, Baird Searles, Norman Spinrad, Kurt Vonnegut, Gahan Wilson, Roger Zelazny, and many others.The program ended its 38-year run in the Saturday 5-7 AM time slot on the morning of November 13, 2010, with Adler joining Freund for the occasion. In early December 2010 the show began a new run on early Thursday mornings from 1:30 - 3:00 AM. In February 2017 the slot was extended to run from 1:-3: AM, returning its duration to two hours.

Hydra Club

The Hydra Club was a social organization of science fiction professionals and fans. It met in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s.

It was founded October 25, 1947 in the apartment of Judith Merril and Frederik Pohl on Grove Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York. As nine founders were present, the club took its name from the legendary nine-headed monster, the Hydra.

Among its members were Lester del Rey, David A. Kyle, Frederik Pohl, Judith Merril, Martin Greenberg, Robert W. Lowndes, Philip Klass, Jack Gillespie, David Reiner, L. Jerome Stanton, Fletcher and Inga Pratt, Willy Ley, George O. Smith, Basil Davenport, Sam Merwin, Harry Harrison, Jerome Bixby, Groff Conklin, Bea Mahaffey, Murray Leinster, Jack Coggins, and J. Harry Dockweiler.An article by Merril about the club in the November 1951 Marvel Science Fiction was accompanied by Harry Harrison's drawing caricaturing 41 members:

Harrison's caption adds, "The remaining twenty-odd members showed up too late at the meeting."

Judy-Lynn del Rey

Judy-Lynn del Rey née Benjamin (January 26, 1943 – February 20, 1986) was a science fiction editor.Born with dwarfism, she was a fan and regular attendee at science fiction conventions and worked her way up the publishing ladder, starting with work at the science fiction magazine Galaxy.Judy-Lynn was a friend of Lester del Rey, marrying him after the death of his third wife. After moving to Ballantine Books, she revitalized the publisher's once-prominent science fiction line, and soon after brought in Lester to edit Del Rey's fantasy line. With their success, she was given her own imprint, called Del Rey Books. She also edited an original science fiction anthology series, Stellar. As an editor, she was known for her rapport with authors; she was beloved by them. Philip K. Dick called her a "master craftsman" and "the best editor I've ever worked with", and Isaac Asimov described her as "incredibly intelligent, quick-witted, hard-driving" and "generally recognised (especially by me) as one of the top editors in the business". She was also instrumental in obtaining the rights to publish novels based on George Lucas's then-unreleased movie Star Wars, which would earn Ballantine/Del Rey several million dollars.

She suffered a brain hemorrhage in October 1985 and died several months later. In 1986, she was posthumously awarded the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor, but Lester del Rey declined the award in her name, saying that she would have objected to the award being given to her just because she had recently died.

Marooned on Mars

Marooned on Mars is a juvenile science fiction novel written by American writer Lester del Rey. It was published by John C. Winston Co. in 1952 with illustrations by Alex Schomburg.

Marooned on Mars was commissioned as one of the first five volumes in Winston Science Fiction, a series of 35 novels published in the 1950s for a readership of teen-aged boys. The typical protagonist in these books was a boy in his late teens who was proficient in the art of electronics, a hobby that was easily available to the readers.

Moon of Mutiny

Moon of Mutiny is a juvenile Science fiction novel by author Lester del Rey published in 1961 by Holt, Rinehart & Winston as the final part of the Jim Stanley Series (the first two books being Step to the Stars and Mission to the Moon). The story takes place mostly on the Moon following the adventures of the main character Fred Halpern after he is expelled from Goddard Space Academy for insubordination, and tries to find his way back into space.

It was probably most popular as a part of the Winston Juvenile Science Fiction set which included 36 books by such authors as Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova, Poul Andersen, including five by del Rey. The dust jacket features an illustration by 5-time Hugo award winner Ed Emshwiller.

Rocket Jockey (novel)

Rocket Jockey is a juvenile science fiction novel by Philip St. John (a pseudonym of Lester del Rey) with cover illustration by Alex Schomburg. The story follows the heroic efforts of young man Jerry Blaine in his efforts to win the famous rocket race, the Armstrong Classic. Rocket Jockey is a part of the Winston Science Fiction set, a series of juvenile novels which have become famous for their influence on young science fiction readers and their exceptional cover illustrations by award-winning artists.

Science Fiction Adventures (1952 magazine)

Science Fiction Adventures was an American digest-size science fiction magazine, published from 1952 to 1954 by Science Fiction Publications. It was edited by Lester del Rey, under the pseudonym "Philip St. John", and was targeted at a younger audience than its companion magazine, Space Science Fiction. Contributors included Algis Budrys, Raymond Z. Gallun, Robert Sheckley, and del Rey himself, who published his novel Police Your Planet under the pseudonym "Erik van Lhin". Damon Knight contributed a book review column beginning with the fifth issue. Cyril M. Kornbluth's novel The Syndic was serialized in 1954. Artwork was provided by H.R. van Dongen, Kelly Freas, and Paul Orban, among others.

Lester del Rey left at the end of 1953, and his place was taken by Harry Harrison, but the magazine lasted for only three more issues.

Space Science Fiction

Space Science Fiction was a science fiction magazine published by Space Publications, Inc. of New York and The Archer Press Ltd. of London that ran for eight issues from May 1952 to September 1953. Space was edited by Lester del Rey and featured a book review column by George O. Smith. Del Rey's conflicts with the publishers ensured that the magazine would have a short run, in spite of the superior quality of the stories. Illustrator Alex Ebel contributed to this magazine over the course of his career.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964 is a 1970 anthology of English language science fiction short stories, edited by Robert Silverberg. Author Lester del Rey said that "it even lives up to its subtitle", referring to the volume's boast of containing "The Greatest Science-Fiction Stories of All Time".

It was first published by Doubleday and subsequently reprinted by Avon Books in July 1971 (Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 70-97691; ISBN 0-380-00795-9), and later by Orb.

The book was first published in the UK in 1971 by Victor Gollancz Ltd and in paperback by First Sphere Books in 1972 (in two volumes, split after "First Contact").The content of the book was decided by a vote of the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, choosing among short stories (up to 15,000 words long) that predated the Nebula Awards. Among the top 15 vote-getters, one (Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star") was disqualified in order to prevent any writer from being represented twice; it was replaced by the 16th-place finisher ("Arena"), and the resulting list of 15 stories was included in the collection. Silverberg then used his judgment, rather than the strict vote count, in selecting 11 of the next 15, for a total of 26 stories.

In 1973, it was followed by The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two: The Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time. Further volumes were published, consisting of early Nebula winners, thus straying outside the original "pre-Nebula" concept.

The Sky Is Falling (Del Rey novel)

The Sky Is Falling is a short novel by Lester del Rey.

The first and shortest version was published in Beyond Fantasy Fiction in July 1954 under the title "No More Stars" with the pseudonym Charles Satterfield. It first appeared in book form in 1963 with Badge of Infamy as "Two Complete Novels" in a Galaxy paperback original. The first book-length version was published in 1973 by Ace Books.

The Sword of Aldones

The Sword of Aldones is a sword and planet novel by American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, part of her Darkover series. It was first published by Ace Books in 1962, dos-à-dos with her other novel The Planet Savers. Bradley revised and rewrote the novel publishing it as Sharra's Exile in 1981.

In his 1977 review of the re-release of The Sword of Aldones, Lester del Rey wrote, "It presents a somewhat different Darkover than we find in later novels. But even the early stories have the wonderful allure of this strange world.

Winston Science Fiction

Winston Science Fiction was a series of 37 American juvenile science fiction books published by the John C. Winston Company of Philadelphia from 1952 to 1960 and by its successor Holt, Rinehart & Winston in 1960 and 1961. It included 35 novels by various writers, including many who became famous in the SF field, such as Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova, and Lester del Rey. There was also one anthology, The Year After Tomorrow, edited by del Rey and others. There was one non-fiction book Rockets through Space: The Story of Man's Preparations to Explore the Universe by del Rey which details the factual science and technology of rocket flight. Many of the dust jackets became science fiction classics; the artists included Hugo Award winners Ed Emshwiller and Virgil Finlay along with Hugo nominees such as Mel Hunter and Alex Schomburg.

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