Ray Palmer helped found science fiction fandom, edited Amazing Stories from 1938 to 1950 and co-founded Fate, America's longest-lasting chronicler of weird mysteries (1948 - 2009). In The Man from Mars (Tarcher/Penguin), historian Fred Nadis tells Palmer's outrageous life story and parses how his obsessions "shaped the sensibility of an underground community." Palmer, Nadis argues, was the father to much modern mythology with his promotion of the late-1940s UFO craze and the work of Richard Shaver, who claimed to have discovered evidence of ancient civilizations in underground caverns manipulating mankind.

Nadis takes Palmer at his word more often than seems prudent. But the tale he relates is striking: how one misfit's bizarre obsessions, artfully pursued, can shape not only popular entertainment but the forms taken by the hallucinations and the paranoias of real people. Everyone who has ever donned a tinfoil hat or complained of alien abduction owes Palmer a peculiar debt.