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del Rey, Lester

Entry updated 29 May 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1915-1993) Pseudonym of US author who 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; his actual name, according to the lawyers who settled his estate and other sources, was Leonard Knapp. In 2004 Stephen Holland presented US census evidence establishing to general agreement that Del Rey was born Leonard Knapp, the son of Wright Knapp, and was assisted through university by his uncle George Leonard Knapp. His claim that his father was a poor sharecropper of part-Spanish extraction was a fabrication, though it may be the case that his education did proceed in fits and starts before dwindling away after two years in college. After holding a variety of temporary jobs he began to write in the late 1930s, his first published work being "The Faithful" for Astounding in April 1938. This was rapidly followed by his classic Robot story, "Helen O'Loy" (December 1938 Astounding). Many of his early stories are remarkable for their sentimentality, but the best was the unsentimental suspense story Nerves (September 1942 Astounding; exp 1956; rev 1976), about an accident in a Nuclear-Energy power plant and the struggle to avert a major catastrophe. He stepped up his output after becoming a full-time professional writer in 1950, but this was accompanied by a decline in average quality. He produced several juvenile novels, some as Philip St John (a name he first used in 1939). He wrote also as Erik van Lhin, John Alvarez, Marion Henry, Philip James, Charles Satterfield and Edson McCann (the last two pseudonyms being used on collaborations with Frederik Pohl, who also used Satterfield on some solo stories).

Del Rey's most notable works of the 1950s and 1960s were: Preferred Risk: A Science Fiction Novel (June-September 1955 Galaxy; 1955) with Frederik Pohl, writing together as Edson McCann; the ultra-tough novel of Colonization Police Your Planet (March-September 1953 Science Fiction Adventures as by Erik van Lhin; cut 1956 as by Erik van Lhin; rev 1975 as by del Rey and Erik van Lhin); and an early novel on the theme of Overpopulation, The Eleventh Commandment: A Novel of a Church and its World (1962; rev vt The Eleventh Commandment 1970), set after a brutal World War Three has legitimized unlimited reproduction, with disastrous consequences. The second of the short-lived "Galaxy Magabooks" (see Galaxy Science Fiction Novels), Two Complete Novels: The Sky is Falling/Badge of Infamy (1963), contained two short novels: The Sky Is Falling (July 1954 Beyond as "No More Stars" with Frederik Pohl as by Charles Satterfield; rev 1963 for the Magabook; 1974 dos) and Badge of Infamy (June 1957 Satellite; rev 1963 for the Magabook; 1973 dos). Some novels which appeared under his name in 1965-1968 were actually written, from del Rey's extensive outlines, by Paul W Fairman, beginning with The Runaway Robot (1965) [see Checklist]. His final solo novel was Pstalemate (1971), about the predicament of a man who discovers that he has Psi Powers (in particular Telepathy), in the knowledge that all psi-powered individuals go insane. Weeping May Tarry (1978), as by del Rey with Raymond F Jones, is a novel by Jones extrapolating the theme of del Rey's "For I Am a Jealous People" (in Star Short Novels, anth 1954, ed Frederik Pohl).

Del Rey was a versatile but rather erratic writer who never fulfilled his early promise. His best work appears in the collections ... And Some Were Human: A Dozen (coll 1948; with "Nerves" cut, rev vt Tales of Soaring Science Fiction from ... And Some Were Human 1961), Robots and Changelings: Eleven Science Fiction Stories (coll 1957) and Gods and Golems (coll 1973); much of this is reprinted in The Best of Lester del Rey (coll 1978). More recently, through the Selected Short Stories of Lester del Rey, Volume 1: War and Space (coll 2009) and Selected Short Stories of Lester del Rey, Volume 2: Robots and Magic (2010), both volumes edited by Stephen H Silver, it has been possible to gain a much more rounded sense of his varied career. There is an interesting autobiographical commentary in The Early del Rey (coll 1975). Del Rey was given the SFWA Grand Master Award for 1990.

From the late 1940s, as well as doing a considerable amount of writing, del Rey was actively involved with various business and editorial projects. In the early 1950s he was editor of Fantasy Magazine, Rocket Stories (under the House Name Wade Kaempfert), Space Science Fiction and, for a time, Science Fiction Adventures, leaving all these positions after a dispute in 1953. He edited an anthology of juvenile sf, The Year After Tomorrow (anth 1954) with Cécile Matschat (?1895-1976) and Carl Carmer (1893-1976), and one of the many series of The Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year [see Checklist]. He selected the Garland Library of Science Fiction reprint series (45 vols, all 1975) and compiled Fantastic Science Fiction Art (graph 1975). After the death of P Schuyler Miller in 1974 he took over Astounding's book-review column (he had previously written reviews for Rocket Stories under the pseudonym Kenneth Wright, and had done occasional reviews for other magazines under his own name, notably If in 1968-1973). His fourth wife, Judy-Lynn del Rey (née Benjamin), whom he had married in 1971, was for some time on the staff of Galaxy and its companions – where he served as features editor 1969-1974 – and became sf editor for Ballantine Books in the mid-1970s; del Rey joined the company in 1977, when it began issuing its sf and fantasy lines under the imprint Del Rey Books – named in honour of her – and he continued to operate these lines alone after Judy-Lynn del Rey's death in 1986 until his retirement at the end of 1991. His history of sf, The World of Science Fiction: 1926-1976: The History of a Subculture (1979), focuses narrowly on the US pulp tradition. [BS/JC]

see also: Aliens; Astounding Science-Fiction; Cosmology; Crime and Punishment; Dystopias; Evolution; Galaxy Science Fiction; Games and Sports; Golden Age of SF; Hugo; Invention; Mars; Mercury; Moon; Mutants; Origin of Man; Prediction; Publishing; Religion; Satire; Skylark Award; Social Darwinism; Spaceships; Ultrawave; Venus.

Leonard Knapp

born Clydesdale, Minnesota: 2 June 1915

died New York: 10 May 1993



Jim Stanley

Selected Short Stories

individual titles

collections and stories

fiction ghosted by Paul W Fairman


works as editor

The Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year

works as editor: individual titles

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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