Study and Discussion Questions for Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" [1938]

Lester del Rey [b. 1915; d. 1993] was born as Ramon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Smith Heathcourt-Brace Sierra y Alvarez-del Rey y de los Verdes.  He came from a relatively poor sharecropper family, but attempted a college education despite economic hardship.  He dropped out of George Washington University after two years, and worked a variety of part-time and temporary jobs before beginning to write in the late 1930s.  His first two stories, "The Faithful" and "Helen O'Loy," appeared in Astounding SF in 1938, as did his perhaps best known story, "Nerves" [1942], which is about a meltdown in a nuclear power plant. 

He became a full-time professional writer around 1950, developed a healthy editing career moving among a number of small and generally short lived sf and fantasy magazines [Fantasy Magazine, Rocket Stories, Space Science Fiction, etc] before becoming sf editor for Ballantine Books in the 1970s.  He got the Ballantine job through Judy Lynn Benjamin [his fourth wife] who also had a long, successful editing career. In 1977, Ballantine named its sf and fantasy line of books Del Rey Books after Judy Lynn del Rey and hired Lester del Rey as their series editor.  He was given a Nebula Grand Master award in 1990.  Consider the following issues as you read and review "Helen O'Loy": 

      1. Since Dave and Phil ultimately reject the twins and both--it seems--fall in love with Helen, it seems reasonable to assume that Helen represents, for these characters and their author, the perfect woman.  What, for this 1938 story, are the specific characteristics of the perfect woman?
      2. How does Lena, the housekeeping robot, direct our attention to the developing themes of the perfect woman and the self-conscious, emotional robot?  What is the impact of Phil's statement, "Lena has sense enough, but she has no emotions, no consciousness of self"? (50).
      3. How do Archy van Styler and his infatuation with the servant girl function in the story?
      4. How does Phil's notion that, "Maybe all thought is a series of conditioned reflexes" (56) establish a fundamental conflict in the story?  That is, don't Phil's comment and the drug therapy that ends Archy van Styler's infatuation with the servant girl both suggest that human emotions are simply "conditioned reflexes"?  Does the story confirm this theory or deny it?