Ray Palmer and his protégé Richard S. Shaver are two of the most outlandish personalities in the history of science fiction -- and in a field crowded with world class eccentrics, that’s saying something!
Fred Nadis’ new book, The Man From Mars, gives the reader only the barest of tastes of what the Ray & Rich Traveling Medicine Show was like, but it should be enough to amuse and educate the average reader.
Those of us who are long time sci-fi fans are already well acquainted with the shenanigans disclosed, and a little bit of on-line research will provide one with connections that fill the story out in full detail. But this ain’t a bad starting point.
To summarize: Ray Palmer was a Midwest prodigy who, at age nine, suffered first a horrible spinal injury then a series of medical emergencies and infections related to it. Determined not to succumb to his disability (as an adult he was a hunchback well under five feet in height), he honed his mind and his body to the utmost of his abilities. Despite his physical handicap he worked as a sheet metal fitter and was an avid bowler.
Mentally, he took off like a rocket. Like many writers, his long periods of recovery from surgery and illness spurred him to read and think at great length, and his fierce determination only strengthened his will power.
Growing up at the same time Hugo Gernsback introduced “scientifiction” via Amazing Stories magazine, Palmer soon gravitated towards sci-fi and by age eighteen was the editor in chief of Amazing Stories itself. Palmer brought his own gee-whiz fannish sensibilities to the magazine and while Amazing Stories was not highly regarded among fans for its literary quality, it was accepted as part of the sci-fi community.
Then Palmer rescued the ravings of Shaver from his slush pile, re-wrote and revised his material, and nothing remained the same.
Nadis well documents Palmer’s tendency to play both sides against the middle in any intellectual debate, presenting “I Remember Lemuria” as a work of fiction but one based on the true “experiences” of Shaver (although Shaver would be first to admit he only recollected these experiences long after they had been buried in his sub-conscious). The “Shaver mystery” (as it became known) was about a war between ancient entities in vast underground caverns battling for the control of the human race, one side for good, the other side for evil; nothing that hadn’t been done before (viz. H.P. Lovecraft) but always as fiction, not fact.
Sci-fi fans of the era did not like their non-fiction chocolate mixed up with their fiction peanut butter and howled in protest at Palmer & Shaver’s loopy lost memory mysticism, but non-fans ate it up and the magazine’s readership burgeoned.
And just as the “Shaver mystery” was starting to lose steam, pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing UFOs near Mount Shasta and Palmer was off on a brand new chase, this one to lead him out of science fiction and into the realm of the modern ufology / mysticism / conspiracy theory movements.
Palmer is one of the founders of the whole flying saucer mythos, yet is routinely overlooked by researchers in that area, probably because his outlandish personality and contradictory stances make him difficult to pigeon hole.
Which is a pity, because as much of a huckster as Palmer was, it’s clear he was also a seeker of the truth, albeit it in directions far afield of accepted scholarly or spiritual disciplines. He died a generation too early to have seen the arrival of the internet, but one can sense he would have been perfect for that media.
The book is fairly well written, not quite as lively as the subject, but interesting. There are a few errors that I spotted, mostly minor stuff such as misidentifying covers, etc., that don’t undermine the broad strokes of the story but do make me wonder about each fact presented that hasn’t been verified elsewhere (while Palmer is not well known to the public at large, there is voluminous documentation of his professional publishing career).
A good gift for any sci-fi or flying saucer fan, for the science fiction historian, or as a library check out for the casual reader.
 Full disclosure: While I never had the chance to meet Ray Palmer, I corresponded with Richard S. Shaver via the pages of Title, a letter-zine of the 1970s. Shaver was as well read, polite, and coherent a correspondent as one could hope to encounter even if he was crazier than a woodpecker in a petrified forest.
 To put first time visitors at ease with his decidedly odd appearance, Palmer often jokingly introduced himself as a “man from Mars”.
 Gernsback having lost the title in a bankruptcy, and the new publisher being ill-equipped to capitalize on the market.
 Later it would be discovered that the period of his life in which Shaver recollected these lost ancestral memories was the same period of time he was undergoing hydro and shock therapy in various mental institutions, so go figure…