Pulp Paranoia

Science fiction, conspiracies, and a uniquely American mythology.

The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, by Fred Nadis, Tarcher, 289 pages, $28.95.

One winter day in 1943 an odd letter arrived at the offices of the sci-fi pulp magazine Amazing Stories. The author, a steelworker named Richard Shaver who had spent some time in mental institutions, claimed to have uncovered “an immensely important find”: the ancient alphabet of a “wiser race” that preceded humanity on Earth. An amused staffer read some entertainingly weird bits of the correspondence out loud, and dropped the document into the trash.

His boss immediately retrieved it. “You call yourself an editor?” he asked.

The man who salvaged and then published the papers was Ray Palmer, the Milwaukee-bred subject of Fred Nadis’s new biography The Man From Mars. Palmer’s editorial instincts turned out to be sound: Shaver’s letter may have been ludicrous, but it inspired a lot of reader interest. And it made Shaver a part of the Amazing Stories stable, an association that proved very profitable for Palmer’s magazine.

Shaver followed up with a 10,000-word manuscript he called “A Warning to Future Man,” a purportedly true account of the ancient beings who lived beneath the ground. Palmer rewrote this into a 30,000-word story called “I Remember Lemuria,” and started promoting it heavily. “For the first time in its history,” he wrote in the May 1944 issue, “Amazing Stories is preparing to present a true story. But it is a story you will not find in the newspapers.” The piece finally appeared at the end of the year: a wild account of aliens who had come to Earth long ago, then retreated to a subterranean world when they learned that the Sun’s rays could kill them. Eventually most returned to the skies, but the remnants they left behind became two grand forces, the evil “deros” and the good “teros,” who between them were responsible for virtually everything that happened in our world.

Palmer arranged for an expanded print run of that edition of the magazine. It sold out and prompted about 50 times as many letters as an ordinary issue. The episode known as the Shaver Mystery had begun. Shaver kept sending his visions to Palmer, and Palmer kept polishing them into pulp fables and publishing the results as true. In Palmer’s hands, Shaver’s worldview became a sprawling, immersive tale that deliberately blurred the boundary separating fact from fiction. (Even within the stories themselves, it wasn’t always clear what was supposed to be revealed truth and what was just a pulp flourish.)

“While the Shaver stories amused some as good yarns and infuriated others as outrageous nonsense,” Nadis recounts, “Shaver’s paranoid vision beckoned to many as genuine.” Some readers started searching caverns for the dero and tero technology they read about in Shaver’s tales.

(read the rest of this article at The American Conservative)

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  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Happy New Year!! I'm off to the in-laws for gumbo, black eye peas, and bourbon. Hope I don't fall off the roof taking down the Christmas lights.

  • Hyperion||

    You bastard! I want gumbo... Hyperion haz a sad...

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    This article wasn't about "The Mighty Mite", The Atom!

    WHAT TOMFOOLERY IS THIS?!?

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Was The Atom of DC's Silver Age named in honor of this fellow? Seems plausible! In recent episodes of the CW TV network's "Arrow," we have seen a young CSI assistant named Barry Allen and a middle-aged lady-lawyer named Jean Loring. Will Iris West (for Allen) and Ray Palmer (for Loring) appear someday?

  • PapayaSF||

    According to Wikipedia, yes, the character was named after him. Note that Palmer was hit by a truck as a child, and a failed operation left him as a hunchback who never grew more than about four feet tall. "Mighty Mite," indeed.

  • The Knarf Yenrab||

    I want Walker's job.

  • PapayaSF||

    Yeah, me too. Nice review, Jesse.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I totally dig Fortean shit, especially UFO's. Saucers were my boogeyman when I was a kid, and when I'd ask my mom if they were real she'd honestly say 'I don't know.' Which sucked if you were an impressionable little kid who just got done reading Communion.

    Anyways, reading this article reminded of something that ended recently with the death of its publisher James Moseley, a little fanzine called Saucer Smear. It was a great read of the latest shysters and sightings, and Moseley never took himself seriously. Moseley and his long-last pal Gray Barker were long-timers too; plugged into that sub-culture for decades all they back to George Adamski and his Venusian pie-tin 'spaceships.'

    He will be missed.

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