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Lester del Rey

AKA Ramon Felipe Alvarez del Rey

Born: 2-Jun-1915
Birthplace: Saratoga, MN
Died: 10-May-1993
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Founder of Del Rey Books

Author Lester del Rey produced a considerable amount of fantasy and science fiction, both short and novel length, but he is perhaps best known in his role as editor. Along with his fourth wife, Judy-Lynn del Rey, he founded and presided over the Del Rey science fiction line and helped launch the careers of such authors as Piers Anthony, Katherine Kurtz, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Stephen R Donaldson, and Barbara Hambly. In addition, del Rey served as editor (and assistant editor) for Fantasy magazine, SF Adventures, Space SF, and Rocket Stories among others. Although del Rey was considered at his best in the short story format, he wrote many novels, most notably Preferred Risk (co-authored with Frederik Pohl, 1955), Police Your Planet, and The Eleventh Commandment.

Lester del Rey was born in Saratoga, Minnesota in 1915 as Ramon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heathcourt-Brace Sierra y Alvarez-del Rey y de los Verdes. Del Rey’s father was a poor sharecropper of partly Spanish ancestry; his mother died shortly after his birth. Between his family’s financial difficulties, and the onset of the Great Depression, del Rey had a tough time obtaining an education, although he did manage to finish high school and put together two years at George Washington University before dropping out.

Del Rey’s writing career started off, like a handful of other writers, when he became disgusted with the low quality of many of the science fiction stories published in his day and protested that even he could write a better story. Goaded by his girlfriend to make good on his statement, del Rey wrote "The Faithful" and sent it off to ASTOUNDING editor, John W. Campbell. Sometime later Campbell mailed him back a $40 check in payment. Encouraged by this development (it was a generous sum in 1938), del Rey generated a few more stories, but to no response. Eventually however Campbell sent him a note of encouragement and urged him to send more submissions. Del Rey complied and went on to become one of the magazines most significant contributors, contributing also to its sister publication, the fantasy pulp Unknown Worlds. From the late 1940s onward, del Rey also did a considerable amount of work as an editor, the role that would eventually make him quite influential.

By l947 del Rey had written enough solid short fiction to generate his first book, the anthology And Some Were Human. By 1950 he was able devote himself full time to writing (and editing). In addition to his science fiction and fantasy, del Rey also produced considerable juvenile science fiction, and some non-fiction. In 1953 he left a number of his editing positions (Fantasy Magazine, Rocket Stories Space Science Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures) after a dispute.

In 1971 del Rey married Judy-Lynn Benjamin. The union was his fourth marriage. Del Rey's first two previous marriages had ended in divorce and third wife, Evelyn Harrison had died in a car accident (1971). Judy-Lynn del Rey, an associate editor at Galaxy Science Fiction (a position she had taken over from del Rey), switched to Ballantine Books in 1973 (del Rey followed her) where she garnered increasing respect and attention as many of the books/authors under her charge rose to the bestseller list. In 1977 Ballantine launched a new imprint bearing her name, Del Rey, and Lester and Judy-Lynn were placed in charge of the new project -- with Del Rey Books going on to became the most successful of all science fiction publishers.

Unfortunately Judy-Lynn del Rey died in l986. An achondroplastic dwarf, she had long struggled with physical challenges (including frequent pain), and her death had been preceded by an earlier brain hemorrhage. After the loss of Judy-Lynn, Lester del Rey was said, by some, to fall further and further behind in his work with his wifes driving force to keep him on task. Nonetheless he continued on, alone, for another five years, before finally retiring. Lester del Rey died on May 19, 1993 in New York City Hospital where he had been admitted a week earlier with cardiac problems. He was seventy-seven years old.

Recognition for del Rey had included the 1972 E. E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction (the Skylark Award); the 1985 Balrog Special Award; the 1990 Nebula Grand Master Award; and the title of SFWA Grand Master in l99l. In addition to the many books done by del Rey alone and in concert with others (see bibliography), he put his name to several books written by Paul W. Fairman, who worked from story outlines created by del Rey. These included The Runaway Robot (1965) and Tunnel Through Time (1966).

Wife: Helen Schlaz (#2, m. 1945)
Wife: Evelyn Harrison (#3, m. 23-Jul-1954, d. 28-Jan-1970 automobile accident)
Wife: Judy-Lynn del Rey (#4, m. 21-Mar-1971, d. 1986)

    High School: (GED)
    University: George Washington University (1930s, dropped out)

    Nebula 1990 Grand Master

Author of books:
Nerves (1942)
And Some Were Human (1948)
Marooned on Mars (1951)
The Wind between the Worlds (1951)
Rocket Jockey (1952, as Philip St. John)
Attack from Atlantis (1953)
The Mysterious Planet (1953, as Kenneth Wright)
Battle on Mercury (1953, as Eric van Lhin)
Step To the Stars (1954)
Rockets to Nowhere (1954, as Philip St. John)
The Year After Tomorrow (1954, with Carl Carmer and Cecile Matschat)
Preferred Risk (1955, as Edson McCann)
Mission To the Moon (1956)
Police Your Planet (1956, as Eric van Lhin)
The Cave of Spears (1957)
Robots and Changelings (1958)
Day of the Giants (1959)
Tunnel Through Time (1960)
Moon of Mutiny (1961)
The Eleventh Commandment (1962)
Outpost of Jupiter (1963)
The Runaway Robot (1965)
Mortals and Monsters (1965)
Rocket from Infinity (1966)
The Infinite Worlds of Maybe (1966)
The Scheme of Things (1966)
Siege Perilous (1966)
Prisoners of Space (1968)
The Man without a Planet (1969)
Pstalemate (1971)
The Sky Is Falling (1973)
Gods and Golems (1973)
Badge of Infamy (1976)
Weeping May Tarry (1978, with Raymond F Jones)
The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: The History of a Sub-Culture (1979, nonfiction)

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