Have I talked about Lester Del Rey on here before? Yes, but it’s been a long time. So I have to do it again. He was an author and editor (Del Rey books still carries his name) and he wrote a bunch of great stories. I think I first bumped into him while cruising Gutenberg (maybe manybooks or feedbooks?) for free scifi. This was probably back in my prenook, prekindle days (2005-8?) when I had an eBookWise, which was my first ereader. It was super comfortable to use. Seriously, that thing may have been a bit heavy, but it was backlit long before eink devices figured out how to install a light bulb, its battery lasted like 4-5 times as long as the PDAs of the era, and it was easy to grip and change pages with one hand. The only downside was that it was a pain to get books loaded onto it. I digress.
Anyway, I didn’t have a ton of extra cash so I was always scouring the net for freebies. This was about the time I discovered A Princess of Mars and Solomon Kane, too. I read all the time and my pulp addiction was really taking off. So I happened upon three Del Rey works: Police Your Planet, Badge of Infamy, and Victory.
Let me start with Victory. I don’t remember much of the story itself, but I remember it being all space battle-y and fun. I also remember from this one the very idea of flying spaceships without a computer. I hadn’t really considered that before, being raised around computers my whole life. That thought really sparked my imagination.
Badge of Infamy really appealed to my libertarian streak. A doctor helps save the life of his best friend outside of a medical lobby-approved environment (it was an emergency). For this great crime, he is stripped of his doctor credentials and made into a societal outcast. His also-doctor wife basically disowns him but doesn’t divorce (So that they can reconnect later, spoiler). Despondent and oppressed, he sneaks his way onto a mars-bound spaceship to start a new life. On the red planet, he becomes involved in a revolution. Also, and this is a HUUUUGEEE spoiler, so don’t read the italics if you think it will ruin your enjoyment. He totally discovers that smoking martian space-weed is the cure for space lung cancer! How pulp is that?
Police Your Planet is probably the most pulpy of these three and would make an awesome movie. Just forget the rather tame covers that have besmirched the various paperback editions you find online. Our stalwart hero had had a number of manly jobs (newspaper man, prize fighter, I think a cop…) on Earth but he gets kicked off (probably for doing the right thing) with a yellow ticket, which means he can never return. On Mars he’s forced into a life of gambling, then a life of law enforcement, then political thuggery, and finally revolution. (Del Rey apparently didn’t like authoritarians or corruption) All the while there’s a woman who in turn tries to kill him , marries him (Plot Device!), and finally falls in love with him. The plot does not slow down for even one second. Honestly, Hollywood, why reboot more boring franchises when you could throw awesomness like this at the silver screen?
PS. Lester Del Rey also wrote a story called “Let ’em Breathe Space” which is possibly the best-named story of all time.
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