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Ley, Willy

Entry updated 28 November 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1906-1969) German-born scientist and scientific writer who emigrated to the USA in 1935. In Germany he had published his first book, Die Fahrt ins Weltall ["Journey into Space"] (1926); his second, the anthology Die Möglichkeit der Weltraumfahrt: Allgemeinverständliche Beiträge zum Raumschiffahrtsproblem ["The Possibility of Interplanetary Travel"] (1928), assembled essays by Hermann Oberth, and other members of the extremely influential Verein für Raumschiffahrt [the German "Society for Space Travel"], which persuasively argued the great potential of Rocket propulsion; several contributors went on to become famous for the construction of the V2 missile. Die Möglichkeit was one of the inspirations behind the film (and book) Die Frau im Mond (1929; vt The Girl in the Moon). He then published his only novel, Die Starfield Company: Ein technischer Zukunfsroman ["The Starfield Company: A Technical Scientifiction"] (1929), which dramatizes his arguments about the feasibility of Space Flight. After Ley's move to the US in 1935, his well-researched, precise science articles became a notable feature of the SF Magazines, especially Astounding Science-Fiction (from 1937) and Amazing Stories (from 1940); he also contributed to the non-genre Air Trails Pictorial (later Air Trails and Science Frontiers) before and during John W Campbell's 1946-1948 reign as editor. He became Science Editor of Galaxy Science Fiction in September 1952, having in March of that year begun there a science column which would last until his death. On the two early occasions (1953 and 1956) when science-fact articles were a Hugo category, he won each time. He wrote four sf stories as Robert Willey, beginning with "At the Perihelion" for Astounding in February 1937.

Ley was also a prolific author of books on science, especially on Rockets and Space Flight. Perhaps his best-known (and certainly most beautiful) book was The Conquest of Space (1949), with splendid illustrations, many in colour, by Chesley Bonestell; it won the nonfiction category of the International Fantasy Award in 1951, and was followed by The Exploration of Mars (1954) with Wernher von Braun, also illustrated by Bonestell. Lands Beyond (1952) with L Sprague de Camp, a survey of Atlantis and other destinations real and imagined (see Fantastic Voyages), won the same award in 1953. Conquest of the Moon (1953), with Wernher von Braun and Fred L Whipple, was well enough remembered to receive a Retro Hugo in 2004. Of the science-fact writers intimately connected with Genre SF in his time, only De Camp, Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov could rival Ley. One of the Moon's craters is named in his honour. [PN]

see also: Space Habitats; Sun; Tom Corbett: Space Cadet.

Willy Ley

born Berlin: 2 October 1906

died Jackson Heights, New York: 24 June 1969


nonfiction (selected)


Romantic Zoologist

individual titles

nonfiction works as editor


previous versions of this entry

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