The Infinite Worlds of Lester del Rey

One of the Golden Age science fiction novels that I fondly remember reading as a child was Step to the Stars (1954) by Lester del Rey (1915-1993). I have recently rediscovered this and other classic novels at the Richmond city library. The cover art, depicting sleek, winged spaceships and silvery rotating space stations, is typical for the period. I have always retained a soft spot for illustrations like this, especially the works of Chesley Bonestell.

I am interested in science fiction for young readers partly because I hope to introduce some of my children to it, but also because it’s nice to pick up a purely escapist page-turner. Admittedly del Rey’s space novels from the fifties are a little facile for adult readers. That said, a book that I just finished, The Infinite Worlds of Maybe (1964), featured a more complex theme – not travel between worlds or travel in time but the idea of journeying to different “planes” of terrestrial existence. These parallel worlds exist contemporaneously, but represent evolutionary or historic alternatives. In one instance you have a society inhabited by intelligent, albeit relatively primitive, simians riding on tame dinosaurs; in another you have the American Civil War occurring in the middle of the 20th century; there is a shining utopia that is completely obsessed with material comfort; finally, a world in which is plunged into a harsh ice age.

However metaphysically farfetched del Rey’s book may be, once can take it as an entertaining and ingenious adventure as one would the best works of H. G. Wells. Along those lines, another clever story, that seems to presage Clarke’s Rendevous with Rama (1973) is del Rey’s novel Rocket from Infinity (1966), about an inhabited alien planetoid that enters the solar system.

For related commentary, see Journeys in Early Science Fiction and Islands of Space.

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