The Best of Lester Del Rey
Lester Del Rey
Terry Brooks recalls Lester del Rey as being "not physically imposing, barely over 5 feet, rather hollow-cheeked and frail-looking." But "when Lester looked at you, he peered through his thick glasses in the same way a botanist might study an interesting specimen." A legendary editor whose exploits included scooping up untried unknowns like Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings, and Brooks himself (not to mention the coup of snagging the rights to Star Wars),
the eccentric del Rey is one of SF's elite old guard, widely respected for years as a publisher and critic. But, as Brooks points out in this book's introduction, del Rey also slugged it out in the trenches, writing for John W. Campbell and others in the glory days of Unknown, Astounding Science Fiction, et al. ("In those days of long
ago, any sale to John W. Campbell was something of a triumph," del Rey recalls.)
This collection pulls together del Rey's best short works from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, including many of his personal favorites and more than a couple that sprouted from ideas passed on by Campbell himself. Some of the 16 stories here show their age in places, but all reflect del Rey's inventive, often opinionated, top-shelf mind. Whether it's a classic tale of boy-builds-robot,
boy-falls-in-love-with-robot, or a Rip Van Winkle-style riff on an elven tinker who's frustrated by modern alloys, del Rey always stuck to the big ideas that brought him--and us--to sci-fi in the first place. --Paul
Science fiction's most protean personality -- writer, editor, critic, publisher -- sets off an incomparable fireworks display in these tales of robots and humans, animals and aliens, ghosts and gods, science and the supernatural!
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A Del Key Book.
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright (c) 1978 by Lester del Rey
Introduction: The Magnificent. Copyright (c) 1978 by Frederik Pohl All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Baliantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York and
simultaneously in Canada by Baliantine Books of Canada, Ltd., Toronto, Canada.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 78-62267 ISBN 0-345-27336-2
Manufactured in the United States of America First Baliantine Books Edition: September 1978 Cover art by H. R. Van Dongen “Helen O‟Loy,” copyright (c) 1938 by Street & Smith Publications,
Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, December 1938.
The Day Is Done,” copyright (c) 1939 by Street & Smith‟ Publications, Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, May 1939. The Coppersmith,” copyright (c) 1939 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Unknown, September 1939.
“Hereafter, Inc.,” copyright (c) 1941 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Unknown Worlds, December 1941.
The Wings of Night,” copyright (c) 1942 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942. “Into Thy Hands,” copyright (c) 1945 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, August 1945.
“And It Comes Out Here,” copyright (c) 1951 by World Editions, Inc., for Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1951.
The Monster,” copyright (c) 1951 by Popular Publications, Inc., for Argosy magazine.
The Years Draw Nigh,” copyright (c) 1951 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951. “Instinct,” copyright (c) 1952 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc.,
for Astounding Science Fiction, January 1952.
“Superstition,” copyright (c) 1954 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc., for Astounding Science Fiction, August 1954.
“For I Am a Jealous People,” copyright (c) 1954 by Baliantine Books, Inc., for Star Short Novels.
The Keepers of the House,” copyright (c) 1955 by King-Size
Publications, Inc., for Fantastic Universe, January 1956. “Little Jimmy,” copyright (c) 1957 by Fantasy House, Inc., for Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1957.
“The Seat of Judgment,” copyright (c) 1957 by Fantasy House, Inc., for Venture Science Fiction, July 1957.
“Vengeance Is Mine,” copyright (c) 1964 by Galaxy Publishing
Corporation for Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1964.
TO BETTY BALLANTINE,
my long-time editor, with my deepest affection.
THE UNQUESTIONED KING of-the
night-time air in New York radio is a skinny
and sardonic fellow named Long John Nebel.
Long John‟s marathon talk show runs from
midnight till dawn every night of the week,
and what it covers is everything. I don‟t just
mean “everything.” I mean everything.
Politics. Religion. Sex. Flying saucers.
Bermuda triangles. War. Science fiction.
Science. Art. Music. You name it, it has been
the subject of a Long John talkfest. And over
the years, among his chosen nuclear guest
family who join him after midnight to chew over the topic of the day, one voice has stood out. Whatever the subject, he has an opinion, and insights and facts to back it up. He has done the show 400 times at least, not counting reruns on tape, and he is so well known to the insomniacs of New York (and most other states) that he is usually introduced only as The Magnificent. He doesn‟t need to be given a name, because the listeners know him so well. But he has one. It is Lester del Rey.
Of course, there are countless thousands of people who have known Lester del Rey very well for a long time who have never heard him on Long John‟s show. They are people like you and me: science-fiction
readers. We‟ve known Lester for forty years, or even longer
All if we remember those polemical letters in Astounding‟s “Brass Tacks” department in the „30s.
Like most sf writers, Lester came to the field as a reader. He liked what he read. After some thought, he concluded that he would like writing it, too. He had never written a science-fiction story at the time. That didn‟t seem to matter. He reasoned that if he thought of an idea no one else had thought of before, and told it concisely and literately, with some attention to interesting characters and colorful backgrounds, John Campbell would buy it. So he did. And so John did; it was called “The Faithful.” That was the first story Lester sold John Campbell. It certainly wasn‟t the last. The Golden Age of Astounding was all the more lustrous for “Nerves,” “Helen O‟Loy,” and all those others from his hard-driven typewriter.
Once he had formed the habit, Lester did not stop with Astounding. He wrote for all the other magazines, too, and when a few years later a couple of publishers took all their courage in their hands and began to experiment with science-fiction books, Lester was one of the first to get his sf nicely packaged in hard covers. He wrote a couple, then a flood, of novels especially for the book publishers. There are grown
men (and grown women, too) all over the country who cut their literary wisdom teeth on sf juveniles by Philip St. John, Erik Van Lhin, and Kenneth Wright-all of whom were, in fact, Lester del Rey. Scott Meredith, then a young (but obviously canny) literary agent, grabbed Lester as a client, and shortly thereafter as an employee, and as Meredith‟s Number One assistant, Lester guided the careers of scores of other writers. When the science-fiction magazine market mushroomed in the early 1950s Lester became the editor of one of the most interesting-strike that; of four of the most interesting- magazines around. He did most of that pseudonymously, too. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was Philip St. John, editor of Science Fiction Adventures. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he was Wade Kaempfert, editing Rocket Stories; and then he had the whole weekend to himself, under his own name, to edit Space Science Fiction and Fantasy Fiction Magazine.
I first met Lester del Rey when both of us were impossibly apple-cheeked youngsters. I was editing two cut-rate science-fiction magazines for Popular Publications, and Lester, on one of his rare visits to New York, brought to my office a couple of stories that John Campbell had had the unwisdom to turn down. In my youthful foolishness, I did the same. Well, you can excuse Campbell, because he had everybody in the field clamoring to get into his magazines. Maybe you can forgive me, too, because I was inexperienced. But how can you excuse Lester for what he did then? Since two editors had declined the stories, he figured there was something wrong with them. He put them aside-and now, four decades later, they‟re still aside, in fact lost irretrievably.
A war came along, scattering us all for a while. And then, in 1947, there was a world science-fiction convention in Philadelphia. We all saw each other again, met new friends, had a fine time. All in all it was a fine weekend; and Lester and I liked it so well that we conceived the idea of making it permanent.
Lester was living in New York City by then, and so was I, and we got ourselves and a coterie of friends together and created The Hydra Club, New York‟s longest-lived sf writers‟ chowder-and-marching
society. Long after both Lester and I had left the city and stopped attending, the club carried on of its own momentum. One of the leading lights of Hydra was the late Fletcher Pratt, a marvelous, lovable, feisty man who had once been a bantamweight prize fighter and converted himself into the writer who produced the best one-volume history of the Civil War ever in print (among very much else that is noteworthy). Fletcher and Inga Pratt owned a great old monster of a house on the New Jersey shore. Lester and I (and our wives) were frequent weekend guests, and grew fond of the Monmouth County area. In 1951 I moved to Red
Bank. In 1954 the del Reys came out to visit the Pohls for a weekend. They stayed seventeen years.