“Helen O’Loy”

Helen O’Loy is by Lester del Rey – yes, that Del Rey, as in Del Rey Books, Ballantine Publishing’s sci-fi arm.  Del Rey was born in 1915 and started publishing in the mid-30’s, at the dawn of the so-called “Golden Age of Science Fiction”.  His work both as an author and as an editor for Del Rey books, as well as many pulp sci-fi and fantasy magazines, garnered him recognition as one of the grand masters of science fiction.

Helen O’Loy was written in 1938, and is about two men who purchase and modify a home service android, which then displays rather more human emotions than the average robot.

Questions to think about when reading this story:

  1. Del Rey tells a fairly typical story of love found and lost, and the tension that happens in any love triangle.  Do you think this theme is well served by the science fiction element?
  2. The title character, Helen, is literally an object, but by humanizing her this story raises the questions of what it truly means to be human.  Is she, in the end, a possession, or an equal to the two men that created her?
  3. The social mores of our culture have changed significantly over the last 80 years, and del Rey’s attitude towards women is considered misogynistic in the modern day.  This has raised some controversy over the status of this story as one of the great science fiction stories of all time (it was included in the first volume of “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame”).  How do you feel about the way attitudes towards women are represented in this story, and about its continued acceptance as a great work of sci-fi?  What would you say to someone who is about to read this story about it?

Feel free to comment here, and I’ll see you at our next meeting.

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