Fans called Rick Lai “Rickopedia” and “Mr. Encyclopedia” on all things...

Fans called Rick Lai “Rickopedia” and “Mr. Encyclopedia” on all things pulp, Credit: Lai family

As Parkinson’s disease played the villain in his life, pulp fiction author Rick Lai turned in some of his best work from his Bethpage home.

Fans called him “Rickopedia” and “Mr. Encyclopedia” on all things pulp, from Fu Manchu to Flash Gordon. His imagination could combine disparate fictional worlds, like the Phantom of the Opera with gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. The scholar side could lay out facts for his opinions, such as why supernatural detective Anton Zarnak should have the voice of "Dracula" actor Bela Lugosi.

“He would research a book or a series to the nth degree … and then he would write his own stories set in that universe,” said Peter Rawlik, a friend and author. “It would be superdetailed — very, very dry humor, with a wonderful twist ending that was multilayered.”

PulpFest, a fan convention, honored him with the Munsey Award in 2022: “Rick’s brilliant and provocative flights of fantasy informed, inspired, and even infuriated readers, but kept them coming back for the next article or book.”

Lai, a computer programmer by training, died of Parkinson’s disease on April 30 at age 68, too humble to accept that family and friends thought of him as a hero.

Daughter Allison Lai remembers he never raised his voice but helped her through the mistakes of youth, like when she failed to read books during the summer for a back-to-school report.

“He always made me feel like everything would be OK,” said Lai, of Chicago.

When he was a child, Rick Lai read all the time and grew up on TV shows, from film noir to “The Thousand-Headed Man,” the first Doc Savage novel he bought at age 12.

Bullied in grade school, he bore it without complaint, remembers older brother Billy Lai, of Dix Hills. When Billy wanted to chase the bullies, the sibling recounted, Rick was like an adult, saying, “It’s not worth it.”

Lai earned enough college credits in high school to enter Fordham University in the Bronx as a sophomore. His history degree in 1976 was followed by a master’s in accounting at Long Island University in Greenvale, where he also studied computer science.

As a computer programmer and manager, he developed business and payroll software, working at LILCO, Computer Associates and Infor, where he retired from in 2018.

But his real love was submitting essays and short stories to pulp fan publications. He described his first short story as a “spaghetti Western involving all the American criminals of literature.”

His reputation rose after "Chronology of Shadows" was published in 2007, his version of a timeline that accounted for inconsistencies in the old stories of the Shadow’s anti-crime exploits.

Three years later, Lai was diagnosed at age 55 with Parkinson’s, a progressive disease that affects mobility and a host of other primary functions. He told family he would make the best of it, even translating a French pulp novel for U.S. publication.

“When physically he wasn’t able to go to as many places, mentally he was able to live in whole other worlds,” his daughter said.

Publishers put his name in the titles of several books, including "Rick Lai’s Secret Histories" and "Rick Lai’s Shadows of the Opera."

“They treat me like I’m this incredible cult writer,” Lai said with a bemused smile during a Lovecraft eZine video podcast, calling himself “extremely obscure.” “I’d rather not have my name in the title. It’s not like I’m Stephen King here.”

Besides his daughter and brother, Lai is survived by his wife, Bogumila Lai, of Bethpage, and son, Thomas Lai, of Massapequa.

A Mass was celebrated May 4 at Church of St. Martin of Tours in Bethpage, followed by burial at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.

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