Check the very first biography about Ray Palmer, the man who shaped 20th century SFF culture in Fred Nadis’ The Man From Mars, out on June 13 from Tarcher Books:
Meet Ray Palmer. A hustler, a trickster, and a visionary. The hunchbacked Palmer, who stood at just over four feet tall, was nevertheless an indomitable force, the ruler of his own bizarre sector of the universe. As editor for the ground-breaking sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories and creator of publications such as Other Worlds, Imagination, Fate, Mystic, Search, Flying Saucers, Hidden World, and Space Age, Palmer pushed the limits and broke new ground in science fiction publishing in the 1940s and 1950s… and was reviled for it by purists who called him “the man who killed science fiction.”
Palmer overcame serious physical handicaps to become the most significant editor during the ”golden age” of pulp magazines; he rebelled in his own inimitable way against the bland suburban vision of the American Dream; he concocted new literary genres; and he molded our current conspiracy culture decades before The X-Files claimed that the truth was out there.
I’m nuts about science fiction, and can’t help messing around with it.
—RAY PALMER, Imaginative Tales, November 1955
Since you are one of the few people who ever troubled to exercise his brain enough to understand my antique alphabet, I’m hoping you will do the same with this tale.
—RICHARD SHAVER, December 1943
Several writers were in the office that early winter afternoon of 1943. Howard Browne, Rap’s lanky assistant editor, was rummaging through letters, looking for samples to publish in “Discussions”—the letters page. As Robert Bloch’s story about the editor Stanhope had illustrated, crank letters were common at Ziff-Davis’s fiction group. Yet such letters, from way out in left field, can enliven an editor’s day. Browne read aloud excerpts from one crackpot’s correspondence for laughs and then tossed it into the garbage can. When he was done, Ray Palmer fished the crumpled pages out of the garbage, saying, “You call yourself an editor?”
The six-page letter was from a Pennsylvania steel worker, Richard S. Shaver, who likely had serious mental problems and believed he had discovered the key to an ancient alphabet, part of a language that he subsequently named “Mantong” (man tongue). The letter opened, “Am sending you this in hopes you will insert in an issue to keep it from dying with me.” Shaver claimed Mantong was a universal language, rather like an Esperanto for an ancient race that predated mankind, noting of it, “This language seems to me to be definite proof of the Atlantean legend.” Each letter and/or phonetic sound of the Western alphabet corresponded to a concept from this root language. (In Shaver’s language, for example, A represents “Animal,” E “Energy,” and P “Power,” so the word ape forms the meaning “animal with power and energy.”) After offering the entire alphabet, he added, “It is an immensely important find, suggesting the god legends have a base in some wiser race than modern man. . . . It should be saved and placed in wise hands. I can’t, will you? . . . I need a little encouragement.”
Palmer handed the crumpled pages back to Browne, and said, “Let’s run the entire thing in next issue’s letter column.”
Browne’s response, “As a fledgling editor anxious to learn the trade, I’d love to know why you want it run.”
Palmer smiled and said, “One of these days, I’ll tell you why.”
Rap had a hunch. It was early winter in Chicago. Out on the streets puffs of fog came from people’s mouths as they hurried in overcoats to jobs. Similar puffs came from the mouths of cattle herded by cowboys at the stockyards to the west. Out in Rap’s neighborhood of rambling houses in Evanston, the elm trees were bare. Nights were cold and stars sharp in the skies. Frost etched the windows. Thoughts deepened. Marjorie was pregnant and due to have their first child—only weeks after the letter arrived, their daughter Linda was born. Could he support an even larger family? Yes. Rap was commanding a good salary: $10,000 a year—far more than he had as a pulp writer. He was a lucky guy.
As always, though, Rap was restless. He was teeming with ideas and one of them was to more clearly connect his interests in things mystic with science fiction. Or more precisely, he wanted to connect science fiction with an unexpected reality. Why had people believed Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater broadcast of The War of the Worlds on Halloween 1938? As Rap, then the fledgling editor at Amazing Stories had explained it a few months later, it was because science fiction had stretched people’s minds, preparing them. “They accepted the reality of the danger because they believed in the possibility of invaders from other planets. No longer is man earth-bound, except in body. His mind has already recognized other worlds in addition to his own.” Later that same year, hadn’t he, Rap, noticed a strange light in the sky from the office’s twenty-second floor window? “It remained for maybe ten minutes, then faded. A mirage, you might say, but your editor got a great kick out of announcing the arrival of the Martians to his fellow editors on the staff of Radio News, Popular Photography and Popular Aviation.”
Five years later he was prepared to chase down this mirage. This strange letter from Richard Shaver gave him a feeling of promise. He had a hunch about Shaver and his bizarre alphabet. Just as a reporter could sniff out a story, Rap sensed a treasure trove in the recesses of his strange correspondent’s imagination. The letter would be a trial balloon. And if he was wrong, so what? He had printed one letter from a crackpot.
Shaver’s “alphabet” appeared in the January 1944 Amazing Stories. It included an editor’s note asking readers to try it out and see what percentage of root words made sense when the alphabet was applied—would it be higher than pure chance? Rap told readers, “Our own hasty check-up revealed an amazing result of 90% logical and sensible! Is this really a case of racial memory, and is this formula the basis of one of the most ancient languages on Earth?” Dozens of readers responded. Many discussed the philological value of Shaver’s discovery while others scoffed, curious why the interstellar root language depended so highly on English-based phonetics to impart its concepts.
If Palmer is to be believed, what began as a lark—or a dare—soon was to create a genuine personal crisis—with some paranoid overtones. It also marked the beginning of a long and trying friendship. Even prior to printing the alphabet, Rap asked Shaver to send in a story. They mailed letters back and forth. Within weeks, Rap received a ten thousand–word manuscript called “A Warning to Future Man.” Shaver introduced it with the note, “I would like to work for you, if you like any of my writing tell me what you want. I am a little rusty, I have been roaming for ten years, not writing. I have trouble typing, both mental and from frozen hands.”
Palmer found “A Warning to Future Man” fascinating. The rambling text described the outlines of a secret world Shaver had accessed. There were few characters, except for the letter writer, and a vague story line. The prose was weak, yet the story indicated a wild imagination at work. Shaver, a fan of fantasy authors Edgar Rice Burroughs and Abraham Merritt, knew his underground civilizations.
Beneath the earth, Shaver asserted, were vast caverns and remnants of ancient races. Interstellar beings, the Titans and the Atlans, had come to earth millions of years ago but had fled once they realized the sun’s rays damaged their health. Some remained behind, underground, along with technological artifacts. Many of these “abanderos,” affected by the detrimental energy from the sun, degenerated into evil deros bent on destroying mankind with evil ray machines. Others, the teros, were trying to help people with beneficial rays. These elder races were also the ancestors of modern humans.
Shaver’s strange world had imaginative flair and a curious logic. Perhaps less flair than Edgar Rice Burroughs, but more logic. It opened possibilities. Palmer wrote to Shaver on January 14, 1944, and said, “I am certainly going to buy it, and I will do much re-writing.” With some amusement, Palmer put some fresh paper into his typewriter and recrafted the letter of warning into the thirty thousand–word pulp story “I Remember Lemuria.”
Palmer placed great hopes in “I Remember Lemuria.” It offered a new course for Amazing Stories, a new mutation for science fiction, and a way to bring in a wider audience. Palmer held on to the new story for a while, as he wanted to build it up and persuade Ziff-Davis to give him free reign in its promotion. By May 1944 he was ready to start the hype. Rap noted, “For the first time in its history, Amazing Stories is preparing to present a true story. But it is a story you won’t find in the newspapers. . . . We, the editors believe the story. . . . We may bring down a hurricane of debate and perhaps even scorn on our heads. But let it come!” Browne and the rest of the staff had little faith in the “truth” of “I Remember Lemuria,” but Palmer insisted he was running with it. When he promised to cloak the “truth claims” in a reference to racial memory, Bernard Davis gave a go-ahead.
While Shaver had referred to an Atlantean civilization in his letter, in his revision of “A Warning to Future Man,” Palmer more firmly set the narrative in the underground realm of Lemuria. Lemuria, or “Mu” for short, to followers of Theosophy, is one of the great lost civilizations—an ancient continent swallowed by the Pacific, a twin of Atlantis. Tales of the lost civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria intrigued Madame Helena Blavatsky, who in 1875 had founded the highly influential Theosophical Society. Her teaching, purportedly, recaptured the lost wisdom of these root races.
Nineteenth-century scientist Philip Sclater first proposed the idea of Lemuria as a sunken continent. He was unsure why there were fossil remains of lemurs on mainland India and also on Madagascar, just off the coast of Africa, but not in Africa. In his 1864 article, “The Mammals of Madagascar,” he proposed the existence of a once great continent that had broken up into smaller islands and dubbed the hypothetical landmass Lemuria. Other scientists considered the notion of a land bridge or continent to explain other similarities in flora, fauna, and geological formations. Even before plate tectonics emerged, the Lemuria concept fell into disrepute and was interwoven with pseudoscience. Photographer and amateur archaeologist Augustus Le Plongeon claimed that his translations of Mayan writings confirmed the existence of Lemuria and Atlantis and the influence of refugees from these lost continents on other civilizations. British inventor and occultist James Churchward published several books in the 1920s describing the wonders of the civilization of Lemuria and examples of its written language.
When Palmer titled Shaver’s story “I Remember Lemuria,” he sought to attract readers who would know of Theosophy and Churchward’s works. The content of the story had little to do with occultist theory, though. Its sources were standard space opera added to the pulp writings of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Abraham Merritt.
“I Remember Lemuria” was featured in the March 1945 Amazing Stories. Readers sent in what became an enormous stack of letters to Ziff-Davis offering both praise and denunciation. It was phenomenal. More Shaver stories were to come. Shaver had worked out an entire universe adequate as a setting for a pulp saga. From 1945 to 1949, at least two dozen Shaver stories were published in Amazing. Most of them made the cover. Some were long enough to be published as novels. They were a strange amalgam: pulp science fiction that Palmer hyped as thinly veiled versions of the truth. While the Shaver stories amused some as good yarns and infuriated others as outrageous nonsense, Shaver’s paranoid vision beckoned to many as genuine. That he could convince so many to start looking in caves to search for abandoned technology and confront evil dero indicates the very permeable boundary between creativity and madness.
Palmer’s decision to pull Shaver’s letter out of the garbage can became fateful. A year later, Palmer would lose his younger brother at the Battle of the Bulge, but in Shaver, he gained not only a writer whose stories could sell magazines, but a friend who became the most important figure in his creative life for the decades that followed.
Mr. Shaver’s Universe
Shaver, born in 1907 and just a few years older than Palmer, had led a knockabout existence. Richard Shaver was the second youngest of five children. According to Shaver, during his childhood, his father, Zeba Shaver, bought, sold, and operated restaurants, moving the family from town to town. (Zeba, of Dutch descent, apparently had a prominent seventeenthcentury ancestor, Jean Mousnier de la Montagne, a Huguenot émigré to the Netherlands, who served as a physician and vice director of the Dutch colonies in North America.) Census accounts suggest that Zeba Shaver’s family did their moving among different towns in Pennsylvania, with Zeba variously employed as a steel mill press operator, jeweler’s clerk, furniture salesman, and as a chef at a college in Philadelphia.
The family had literary leanings. Taylor Shaver, one of Richard Shaver’s older brothers, churned out stories for Boy’s Life, and his mother, Grace, contributed poetry to women’s magazines and wrote “True Confession” style stories. His younger sister, Isabelle, later became an advertising copywriter. Shaver had been an early science fiction fan and like Palmer and others had bought the first issue of Amazing Stories. Shaver told Palmer that he “had a genius IQ in high school,” and that before turning to writing, he had been “an artist, rigger, tramp. etc.” As a young man, Shaver worked stints as a meat cutter and with a landscaping company that specialized in moving large trees. In 1930, when he was in his early twenties, he left Philadelphia. With financial help from his brother Taylor, he moved to Detroit and attended art classes at Wicker School of Fine Arts, worked as a life model for art classes, painted portraits on commission, and was possibly involved in bootlegging.
As the Great Depression deepened and FDR’s blue eagles (the National Recovery Administration insignia) and the NRA motto “We Do Our Part” appeared on business windows to improve morale, radical politics became more popular throughout the country. Violent strikes were common, both in agricultural and industrial areas, such as Detroit. In 1932, John Schmies, a popular Communist candidate for mayor of Detroit, organized a march from Detroit to the Dearborn Ford factory to present worker demands; the protest ended in a riot and the deaths of at least four marchers. Identifying with labor, Shaver joined the John Reed Club in Detroit in 1930, made fiery speeches, and admired the notorious murals of leftist artist Diego Rivera completed at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1932–33. By 1933, New Deal legislation had decriminalized strikes, and organized labor gained new strength.
The same year, while employed as a spot welder at the Briggs Auto Body Plant, Shaver married one of his art teachers, Sophie Gurvitch. Sophie was an accomplished local artist who gained recognition at annual exhibitions in Michigan with canvases such as Morning and Composition: Diana. The following year, their daughter, Evelyn Ann, was born. As Shaver described this period, “I had studied writing and science and art, was married, almost owned a seven thousand dollar home and was well pleased with myself and the world.”
Shaver, then, was not simply a working stiff, but a bohemian intellectual of sorts. While visiting the art exhibits at the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World Fair, he might easily have ventured to the Dill Pickle Club near Bughouse Square in Chicago; the club had been started as a speakeasy by an IWW (International Workers of the World, or “Wobblies”) member, but lasted beyond Prohibition, providing a venue for free-thinkers, radicals, prostitutes, lawyers, and hoboes to gather between bouts of haranguing the passersby in the park. The door of the alley entrance was painted with the slogan: “Step High, Stoop Low, Leave Your Dignity Outside.” Inside, pulp artist Margaret Brundage, who daubed racy covers for Weird Tales, had met her husband, IWW member Slim Brundage, a Dill Pickle bartender.
Shaver’s life fell apart in 1934 when his brother Taylor died suddenly. Distraught, Shaver, still a young man in his twenties, became convinced that a demon named Max was responsible for Taylor’s heart failure. “The thing that killed him has followed me ever since—I talk to him— many times every day. . . . He has killed many people. . . . Others are holding him [Max] in check.” Taylor’s death crushed Shaver, who said their plans were “intertwined.” He told Palmer, “I drank a pint of whiskey right down after my brother died—and I guess it helped—but it was agony anyway for we were very close. I prefer the embalming fluid experience if I had my choice.” What others might call a psychotic episode began soon after when Shaver was on the factory line. One workday, when his welding gun was on, he began to overhear the thoughts of his fellow workers. He then realized their thoughts were influenced by very destructive, mocking voices that he could also detect. For example, he overheard one worker wondering how he could tell a girl that the guy she was dating was no good, then wondering whether bothering to tell her would do any good. The destructive voice wickedly quipped, “Put him on the rack. It’ll pull him apart in an hour.”
Shaver later deduced that these mocking voices that plagued all of humanity belonged to the underground civilization of the dero, or “detrimental robots”—descendents of the star settlers who had absorbed so much “dis particle” energy from the sun that they could only do evil. In Shaver’s mind anyone locked into a repetitive life pattern was a ro—a sort of organic robot—or, to shift metaphors, a zombie. New growth of thought was needed to break from the ro state. All this was hard won knowledge, born of years of confusion and disorientation. In an earlier time, Shaver would have stuck to the vocabulary of demonology and witchcraft. By the 1940s, he gift-wrapped his worldview in science fiction. First came awareness of the demon named Max, then the voices and visions, and then the final revelation of the dero underground. It all proved too much. He could no longer function coherently.
In 1934, at the height of the Depression, Shaver’s wife, Sophie, had him institutionalized in the Ypsilanti State Hospital. As if a scene from a melodrama, when he was released two years later, he learned that his wife was dead. She had accidentally electrocuted herself in the bathtub by touching the power wire on a new electric heater, a gift from friends. His young daughter, Evelyn Ann, now lived with his in-laws, Benjamin and Anna Gurvitch, who wanted nothing to do with Shaver. The following year he was declared “mentally incompetent” and the Gurvitch family was granted custody of his daughter. When she was growing up, they told the girl that her father was dead.
So began for Shaver a period of drifting that included at least one stint in jail in Canada—apparently after he had stowed away on a freighter—and at least one more visit to a mental hospital. He slept in flophouses and tramped through the woods. He recalls being thrown off a bus at a border crossing on the way to Montreal for lack of fare. It was a cold night. With only a bedroll, he headed into the woods, made a fire, and hung up the blanket to reflect heat his way. In the morning he kicked earth over the fire. His loneliness was aided by voices that occasionally praised him at this time saying, “You are certainly a woodsman, you are as comfortable out here as the people in their warm homes—and you put out your fire too.” Good rays also sent stim his way, offering sexual pleasure and pain relief following different injuries, such as a broken leg.
Shaver eventually recast this dark period of his life, which resembled an allegorical descent into hell, as a literal journey underground, a variant on a shamanistic initiation ending in illumination. First came a period of confusion and disorientation. Addled by the dero, “the subtle energy of the telepathy machines” and their “rays and forces,” he made bad decisions and admitted that he ended up in a state prison—although this more likely was an institution for the criminally insane. Alternately, he said he had been kidnapped and imprisoned by the dero underground for what he claimed was a period of eight years (which might cover 1934–42). There, or through the aid of mysterious projecting machines, he witnessed some of the deros’ depravities firsthand: in a letter to Palmer he mentioned how the dero would treat kidnapped women. “A beautiful girl is draped over a special kind of divan and wired full of sex stim [sexual stimulation devices]—then used casually as ornamental upholstery—to sit on—for it is pleasant to feel the stim through her body.”
Yet there was hope for Shaver in this bleak descent. In much of religious vision literature, whether chronicling the mystic experiences of ascetic monks, nuns, or shamans, the more fortunate seers, when they enter the underworld, are attended by a psychopomp, or guide, to lead them through hell’s horrors then onto glimpses of heaven. Shaver’s psychopomp also arrived. While serving a twenty-day sentence in jail in Newfoundland for stowing away on a ship, a “ray” (that is a “tero”) named Sue came to him. “Sue brought every animal and insect into my cell to make mystic love to me.” Heavenly pleasures mixed with hellish visions. He recalled a woman with a spider’s body visiting him in his cell, offering both horror and ecstasy. He reported, “It mounted me and playfully bit me—its fangs shooting me full of poison—tobacco juice you know—with appropriate sexual sensations of impregnation. After a time my skin began to pop with little spiders and they swarmed out of me by the million.” Sue, his kind visitor, also had a blind daughter with whom he fell in love. He called her Nydia. They became lovers. Nydia helped teleport him to an underground cavern where he saw amazing machinery and a chamber where the thought records and history of the Elder Races were recorded.
The Elder Races, before fleeing into outer space, had left behind fantastic machinery—or “antique” mech—that could be used for good (“integrative”) or evil (“detrimental”) purposes. These included tel-aug (thought augmentation) devices that could provide telepathic contact and project or influence thoughts. The dero controlled much of this technology. They often captured humans as slaves, roasted and devoured them, and enjoyed orgies with human captives prompted with stim-ray machines that evoked sexual arousal and could be adjusted to varying levels. Teros, descendents of the same races (as, apparently, were humans), yet still possessing some decency, tried to hold off the deros from their twisted plans. Two key words in the Shaver lexicon were dis to represent “disintegrative” energy, and “tamper.” No act was too petty for the deros to tamper with. If you were in a car crash, this was a result of tamper. If you could not find your keys in the morning, this was an act of tamper.
As in a worldview based on witchcraft, there were no accidents. Everything was the result of intent. All problems could be traced to the dero, while the tero could help fend off such attacks. (When Shaver wanted help from his tero friends he would make a ruckus, throw his shoes on the floor and yell to get their attention, then ask for their help.) This general vision of life on earth—that Shaver slowly amplified into a grand scheme that included a cosmology and new sciences—became the basis for the Shaver tales that began to appear in Amazing for the next five years.
His wanderings ended with a long stay at Ionia State Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane in Michigan. In May 1943, he was released into the custody of his parents, Zeba and Grace, in Barto, Pennsylvania. His father died the following month. Shaver began work as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel and remarried in early 1944. The marriage lasted only a few months; soon after, in October 1944, he met and married a young local woman, Dorothy “Dottie” Erb. This marriage helped ground him and ended his wandering—although he admitted at times to bouts of wanderlust. In this period of calm, he sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of Amazing Stories that ended with the plea, “I need a little encouragement.”
In the months and years that followed, he got plenty of encouragement. Palmer made him one of his better-paid authors, eventually upping his pay from the standard one cent a word to two cents.
Admiral Steber’s Devious Ploy
A year in the works, the first collaboration between Shaver as visionary and Palmer as rewrite man, “I Remember Lemuria” was published in March 1945. In his column “The Observatory” for that issue, Palmer boldly introduced Shaver’s tale as the first of a new type of story that would save science fiction. He began the column with reflections on the genre’s short history and then added to the long history of manifestos about how to save the genre. (Such fan preoccupations were common since expectations for this genre were that the ordinary always must be extraordinary. In a 1934 “Spilling the Atoms,” for example, Rap praised young editor Charles D. Hornig for promoting a new genre “mutation” labeled “visionary fiction” that would save science fiction from its then current rut.) In 1945 Palmer promoted a new mutation. He began by reminding readers that the underlying purpose of SF had been to serve as “a stimulus to the imagination, a seeking out of unknown mysteries that may someday become fact.” Hugo Gernsback had sought to “tell stories of tomorrow, of rocket trips to other planets, of strange new inventions and their effects upon civilization, of other dimensions, of time-travel, of evolution. His new magazine was the magazine of the future.”
This dream of chasing the future had ended. “On the threshold of 1945, we have finally realized that the future has caught up with us. Today rockets are no fantasy of the mind; the super civilizations dreamed of in the past are with us. Travel to the planets has not been accomplished, but . . . many groups have plans for ships that are to be built in the more-or-less near future.” He argued that the magazine that Gernsback started, Amazing, had merely become “the magazine of today . . . outstripped in its fiction by fact.” Palmer then noted “For several years we have been wondering as much as you what that new evolution in science fiction would be.” He proposed a powerful direction would be to print speculative articles about past mysteries.
What he really appeared to be suggesting was to blend science fiction with the occult. Amazing, he said, would begin to explore stories that relied on “racial memory”—a faculty that offered up uncanny knowledge to provide new insights into history and its stranger episodes. Writers would be a different sort of visionary, indicating, for example, what “happened” to Cro Magnon man, to the lost civilizations based at Angkor Wat or Easter Island, to reported races of giants or “little people,” and so on. The first example of the use of racial memory would be “I Remember Lemuria.” Palmer insisted that Shaver’s story was about to set the standard for all new science fiction.
The story originated, Rap assured his readers, and quite truthfully, in “one of the most mysterious corners of Man’s mind.” Of Shaver’s productions, Rap simply stated, “he insists [these] are true stories of ancient Lemuria and of the Elder and Lesser Gods, with the added flavor of fiction to make them acceptable to our magazine.” He concluded his discussion of Shaver and announced that five other Shaver stories would follow, all based on enormous letters Shaver had sent him. “It could be a hoax! If MR. SHAVER WERE THE CLEVEREST MAN THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN! . . . We confess we are bewildered, impressed, and excited . . . delighted at the series of stories from the typewriter of Mr. Shaver.” Was he sincere? Or was this all simply a carnival spieler’s patter offered to the assembled rubes?
“I Remember Lemuria” included a foreword by Richard Shaver, in syntax that sounds suspiciously like Ray Palmer’s, stating, “I myself cannot explain it. I know only that I remember Lemuria! . . . What I tell you is not fiction! How can I impress that on you. . . . I invite—challenge!—any of you to work on them; to prove or disprove, as you like. . . . I care only that you believe me or disbelieve me with enough fervor to do some real work on those things I will propound.”
The actual story, a collaborative creation, shows some imaginative flair, a sweetness of tone, and as is expected of pulp, some over-the-top moments. Based on the “thought records” that Shaver accessed, it is set thousands of years in the past before the Titans fled the earth and its poisonous sun. The narrator, Mutan Mion, is a “lab product,” i.e. one of Sub Atlan (just below Atlantis) civilization’s test-tube babies. Mutan is a mildmannered art student who presents a failed masterpiece to a teacher and is urged to descend deeper into Mu for wisdom and “true growth.” The way is via a giant elevator with an entrance shaped like a fanged beast’s mouth—the classic hell gate of medieval mystery plays. Deeper in the earth, in Tean City, Mutan marvels at all the new species or “variforms” that Technicons have created from intergalactic hybridizing projects. “Creatures of every shape the mind could grasp and some that it could not. All were citizens; all were animate and intelligent—hybrids of every race that space crossing had ever brought into contact, from planets whose very names are now lost in time.” He feels privileged to visit the realm where the Titans and Elder Atlans live.
On a telescreen, the six-armed Sybyl of Info, a forty-foot Titaness, directs Mutan to the Hall of Symbols, once again with a fanged serpent’s mouth as its entrance gate. There he contemplates amazing artworks and is interrupted by the “sound of a pair of hooves that clicked daintily to a stop beside me.” He meets Arl, a fawn-girl. This young and attractive medical student serves as his guide and becomes the story’s love interest. (In a drawing he sent to the Ziff-Davis art department, Shaver conceived Arl as a full-bodied showgirl with a tail that might just as well have been a hootchie-kootchie dancer’s fan.) Mutan sits in on a lecture with her and learns that Tean City’s scientists have determined that radioactive metals from the sun have poisoned not only the upper atmosphere but also the water. An exodus is planned to a new star. But an evil group within the government, under the sway of degenerate dero, is preventing the migration.
Pretending to only be going on a holiday cruise, Mutan, Arl, and other students escape to a sunless planet inhabited by the Nortans, an interstellar and “pure” species of handsome blond giants. There, the colony’s giant and sexually stunning Princess Vanue, with her powerful life force and erotic energy gains the immediate allegiance of all males. Vanue takes the escaped students to a conclave of Nortan Elders to plan the rescue of the Sub Atlans. Vanue also commissions Mutan to create a “Message to Future Man” to warn them of the dangers of the sun’s poisoning.
In order to break the sexual spell that has entrapped Mutan, the Nortans place Mutan and Arl in a tank of warm liquid, where they splash and play; Vanue’s maids then wire the couple together. “Fastening breathing cups over our mouths; thrusting needles into our veins and attaching them to the ends of thin tubes; placing caps of metal with many wires connected to generators and other machines on our heads; covering our eyes with strangely wired plates of crystal.” The couple then experiences an ecstatic communion that leads to spiritual growth. “So it was that Arl and I were married by an actual mingling of the seeds of our being, and not by any foolish ceremony.” In this mech womb they sleep and wake as if gods. After this mechanically aided wedding ceremony, the Nortans launch their invasion of the inner earth.
Battles ensue underground. The invaders discover ruined cities and evidence of weird atrocities, such as butcher shops full of “Atlan girl breasts.” Mutan, who apparently shared Ray Palmer’s libertarian politics, remarks, “So much for our illusion of benevolent government! How long had it been composed of hideous, grinning cannibals. . . . I saw now the fatal weakness in centralized government.” Although the Nortans drive out the evil deros, it is not certain that all have been defeated. As the story ends, the Elder Races are evacuating the planet, and Mutan prepares his warning to future man on “timeless plates of telonion.” The keynote of this warning was to beware of the sun’s rays, and to be aware that disintegrant and integrant energies were locked in a never ending battle.
The story included nearly forty footnotes to clarify Shaver’s thoughts and the validity of his statements. It appeared to typical science fiction readers that either Rap with his theories of “racial memory” had finally gone over the deep end, or that he was creating an elaborate hoax. Not even he was sure. Yet careful readers of this Amazing Stories could see that throughout Rap was playing with the categories of truth and fiction. In the same issue, Rap published his story “Moon of Double Trouble” under his pseudonym A. R. Steber. At the back of the volume, in the “Meet the Authors” column, a fresh biography of Steber ran alongside a goofy photo of Rap wearing a monocle and posed in an oversized admiral’s uniform.
The counterfeit biography began: “I was born in a log cabin on the frozen steppes of Siberia, July 4, 1867. . . . My youth was largely spent in the pursuit of wolves, not because I loved the beasts, but because their fur was necessary to provide me with warm trousers.” The yarn continued to detail Steber’s stint as a soldier in Russia and his subsequent espionage work for the French that ended when the Gestapo chased him out of Holland. With surreal logic, it continued, “Almost immediately I joined a salmon canning company’s technical research staff and became part of an expedition into the Pacific.” The essay mixed further international intrigue with banal details then concluded, “One phase of my life I have thus far neglected to mention dates from February 14, 1938 at which time I became the editor of Amazing Stories, in which position I have been ever since, and which accounts for all the foregoing fiction—for which I hope I will be forgiven!” Did the phrase “all the foregoing fiction” refer only to the biography, or to the entire issue with its Shaver story? Further muddying the waters was the tagline on the table of contents for Steber’s story “Moon of Double Trouble”: “If one of the babblings of a madman turns out to be true, does that mean all the rest must be so?” Palmer would have had to run a giant advertisement saying, I’m messing with you, folks, to make the doubled message any clearer.
Despite these cues, most readers took Palmer’s breathless introduction about clearing up unknown mysteries as dead serious. In offering Shaver’s work as racial memory, Palmer was essentially calling it “channeled” material. (More precisely, mysterious ray projections from underground thought records.) In doing so, Palmer had crossed the line separating weird fiction from occultists’ tales of Mu. Yet Shaver’s channeled material had none of the high sounding diction of most Spiritualist or occult publications. Violating the codes of both fantasy and the occult, the piece was their bastard offspring—a kind of prodigy, or monster.
It made a sensation. Apparently at Shaver’s urging, and his insistence that he would bring in the help of the tero, Palmer had persuaded Ziff-Davis to commandeer some of the valuable pulp paper planned to be used in Mammoth Detective and instead print an extra 50,000 copies of Amazing. They all sold: 180,000 copies in total. Readers were fascinated and appalled. Bernard Davis went from being furious to mightily pleased. Circulation increased for the next issues with the promised Shaver stories, and it remained high. Amazing was flooded with letters either denouncing Shaver and Palmer or backing up this product of racial memory. Some letters that Palmer printed, on both sides of the issue, he likely wrote himself. Palmer continued to tend to the Shaver Mystery in issues that followed. Letters poured in. Circulation spiked. Palmer, choreographing this non-hoax/hoax, was having a great time.
The Mountains of Madness
Neither Ray Palmer nor Richard Shaver was the first pulp science fiction writer to conjure up the “weird” or to borrow from and dabble in the occult or in vision literature. The field had always encouraged wild imaginations. Edgar Rice Burroughs not only invented Tarzan, but also the adventurer John Carter, who traveled by astral means to Mars. Alien races or mutant humans were frequently endowed with telepathic and other “psi” (i.e. psychic or paranormal) powers. In Slan, A. E. Van Vogt wrote of a heroic super race with telepathic tendrils hidden in their hair; when it was published in Astounding in 1940, the Slan saga sparked fan fervor, and some fans experimented with new hairdos to imitate Slan tendrils.
The wild premises of science fiction and fantasy required writers to borrow ideas liberally from science, mythology, religion, and the occult. Some of these authors, such as L. Ron Hubbard, were deeply involved in magic rites. Others, like Harold Sherman, who published the somewhat tepid comic adventures of a man from outer space, “The Green Man” and “The Green Man Returns” in Amazing, also quietly pursued arcane studies of occult materials such as the Book of Urantia.
The hollow earth narrative with roots in myth and science was a natural for SF authors to adopt. Virtually every culture includes tales of journeys to the underworld. The Greek myth of Orpheus’s descent to the underworld is only one pagan version of this ordeal. In the Christian tradition, in the twelfth century, the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (1149) includes the “Vision of Drythelm” in which a bright being escorts the apparently dead Drythelm (a family man who had fallen ill) through the afterlife. Drythelm walks through a valley with roaring fires on one side, and ice and hail on the other. He then travels through darkness to the mouth of hell where he sees demons drag sinners into a burning sulfurous pit; other souls shoot up like sparks and fall back again. Demons attempt to drag Drythelm in as well, but his guide intervenes. The angelic guide then boosts Drythelm up a wall where he glimpses a garden that is a foretaste of heaven. He is allowed to walk through the meadows but not to approach an area of bright light from which comes angelic music. The supposedly dead Drythelm woke up the next day, frightening the wits out of his mourning family, and then promptly left to live the life of a monk.
Drythelm’s tale and further vision literature embellishing the landscape of the afterlife provided the map for Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, Inferno (1314) and numerous mystery plays that featured hell and its denizens. With the onset of the scientific revolution, hell lost some of its fury and encouraged new literary depictions, chief among them, the “hollow earth” saga. The notion that the Earth might be hollow gained a serious patron in astronomer Sir Edmond Halley. In 1691, Halley presented to the Royal Society his theory that beneath the surface of the earth were three nested, hollow spheres, each turning independently on its axis, with light sources and life potentially inside each. This far-fetched theory was based on a desire to explain the bewildering variations in the earth’s magnetic fields that made navigating by compass far from cut and dried.
Halley’s theory and the older lore of the underworld became fodder for new romances. Baron Ludvig Holberg’s Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground (1741) describes a hero who, while exploring a cavern, falls for miles and miles, begins to float, encounters flying monsters, and then lands on the inner planet of Nazar. On Nazar, he wanders through various bizarre countries on an adventure like Gulliver’s. Between assignations, Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt penned his own tale of the inner earth, Icosameron Or, the Story of Edward and Elizabeth: Who Spent Eighty-one Years in the Land of the Megamicres, Original Inhabitants of Protocosmos in the Interior of Our Globe (1788). In the tale, an incestuous brother and sister are swept below the earth in a watery maelstrom. Underground, they meet hermaphroditic dwarves who live in a complex society and depend on suckling on each other’s breasts for nourishment. The brother and sister become, like the dwarves, nudists and set about populating the underground land with human offspring.
In the nineteenth century, as the colonial enterprise filled in many of the blanks on the map of the world, dozens of novels employed narratives in which brave explorers discovered utopian societies hidden inside the hollow earth. In a circular dated 1818, American soldier John Cleves Symmes proposed an expedition to the North Pole to find the entrance to the hollow earth. He sought funds for an enterprise involving “one hundred brave companions” to set out from Siberia, using reindeer and sleds, and insisted they would find “a warm and rich land.” Using the pseudonym Adam Seaborn, Symmes also published the novel Symzonia (1820). In it, a sealing expedition finds an entrance near the South Pole and sails into the inner earth. Eventually the doughty crew lands among utopian, vegetarian farmers and learns of the order of their society.
By the late nineteenth century, such utopian novels began to overlap with science fiction and occultist tracts. Dozens of inner earth novels were published, including Jules Verne’s influential Journey to the Center of the Earth, in 1864, translated into English in 1872. John Uri Lloyd’s Etidorhpa (1895) offered to an initiate named “I-Am-the-Man” a visionary tour of an inner earth that bloomed with mushroom forests and occult wonders. This protagonist was led by an eyeless, sexless, gray-bodied being who communicated by telepathy and would have been viewed as an alien if presented in a narrative half a century later.
Within the science fiction/fantasy genre, immediate predecessors to Richard Shaver include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Abraham Merritt, and H. P. Lovecraft. Edgar Rice Burroughs had almost single-handedly made pulp magazines a successful medium with the publication of his John Carter of Mars stories in 1912 in Argosy All-Story, followed by the first of his Tarzan of the Apes stories that same year. His Pellucidar series, printed in the 1910s and 1920s, featured the rather dully named but steadfast duo of mining millionaire David Innes and inventor Abner Perry who drill deep into the earth with a corkscrewlike vehicle, the Iron Mole, to discover the mysterious prehistoric land of Pellucidar. There they battle dinosaurs, dragons, and demonic men who control wolf packs and live in trees. Worst of all, however are the telepathic lizards, the Mahar, an all-female species that keeps human slaves for food and cruel entertainments. Innes, the true hero of the book, rescues a fair maiden, Dian the Beautiful, from a dragon and mounts a liberation movement. The book, however, ends with a cruel twist. Attempting to return to the surface with Dian, Innes is trapped with a Mahar on the Iron Mole and the book ends with this odd couple lost in the wastes of the Sahara Desert. Palmer, a huge fan of Burroughs, persuaded him to write for Amazing Stories. Amazing offered new works by Burroughs, including “The Return to Pellucidar” which appeared in the February 1942 issue—only one year prior to Palmer’s discovery of Shaver.
Of his predecessors, Shaver spoke most highly of Abraham Merritt. Comfortably wealthy from his income editing William Randolph Hearst’s mass circulation magazine The American Weekly, Merritt was an eccentric collector of the primitive arts who raised orchids and psychotropic plants, married twice, and wrote florid fantasy stories, heavy on atmosphere, in the manner of L. Rider Haggard with titles such as “Through the Dragon Glass,” “The Moon Pool,” “The Face in the Abyss,” and “The Snake Mother.” Often they involved journeys into netherworlds. Science fiction historian Mike Ashley insisted that in Merritt’s fantasies, “There was always the hint that the strange worlds were governed by an alien science unknown to humans.” Shaver claimed that Merritt’s tales, published in Argosy All-Story, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and Weird Tales, were true, as, clearly, Merritt too was an initiate of the underground civilizations.
H. P. Lovecraft also wrote stories of strange civilizations living beneath the planet, one of which, “At the Mountains of Madness,” features an exploration party to the Antarctic that comes across the ruins of an alien city, and then the entrance to caverns and tunnels where the “Elder Things” had departed for an underground ocean. Only two of the explorers escapes, in an airplane, and one, turning back, catches a glimpse of some unspeakable horror and goes mad.
None of these early SF authors claimed their wild concoctions were true. To Shaver, though, Lovecraft’s “mountains of madness” were real. Speculating on Shaver’s likely schizophrenia is not unreasonable. In 1919, psychoanalyst Victor Tausk published the now-classic article “The Origin of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia,” apparently with patients such as Richard Shaver in mind. Tausk identified a unique group of schizophrenic patients. These patients all were convinced that distant enemies were victimizing them through the use of “influencing machines,” or strange devices whose workings could not entirely be explained. The machine, Tausk reported, was generally of a “mystical nature. The patients are able to give only vague hints of its construction.” As technology advanced, new developments were incorporated into these delusional apparatuses. These devices could flash images creating 2-D hallucinations, they could interfere with thoughts and feelings or remove them “by means of waves or rays,” they could create “sensation that in part cannot be described, because they are strange to the patient himself,” as well as “erections, and seminal emissions, that are intended to deprive the patient of his male potency and weaken him.” Whatever the gender of the patient, the enemies, in all cases that Tausk knew of, were identified as males and were “predominantly physicians by whom the patient has been treated.”
Tausk suggests that such diseases moved through stages beginning with a recognition of change, specifically of “abnormal sensations” that ultimately led to a sense of “estrangement.” The patients, he wrote, “become strange to themselves, no longer understood themselves.” This awareness of unpleasant changes and “strangeness” eventually crystallized in a notion of an outside force creating the changes, and usually that force is regarded as an “influencing machine manipulated by enemies.”
This general outline fits Shaver’s pattern of first hearing voices, alongside his developing sense of estrangement. Only later did he trace his disturbances to the distant, underground, dero civilization and their amazing ray mech with which they disrupted thoughts and caused other mayhem. Likewise, Shaver identified psychiatrists as a species of dero. He warned Palmer on various occasions never to get locked up in a prison or mental hospital. “DON’T GET IN ONE. You can’t get out. Your friends can be very sly and evil—if they think you are cracked—they—your own wife will lie to you—and say she met the most wonderful doctor—and she wants you to see him and she insists—you can’t refuse your dear wife. . . . The hospitals—mental are one of their favorite hells where they [dero] torment their victims for years without anyone listening to the poor devil’s complaints.”
Tausk’s insights into schizophrenia provide a key to understanding one aspect of science fiction’s appeal—its offerings of mysterious, even disorienting technologies. Tausk notes of the influencing machines, even if the “patient believes he understands the construction of the apparatus . . . it is obvious that this feeling is, at best, analogous to that of a dreamer who has a feeling of understanding, but has not the understanding itself.” This makes the patient analogous to the science fiction reader (perhaps being led around a warp-drive spaceship), who luxuriates in descriptions of influencing machines (aka “super science”) shaping the universe in unexpected, alien ways. The science fiction reader, however, does not find such prophesied technology hostile but comes to grips with it and so is inoculated against “future shock.”
In Shaver’s case, science fiction (via editor Palmer) could be said to have helped him negotiate his own likely schizophrenia. Shaver’s cosmos of integrative forces in a never-ending battle with disintegrative forces mirrored his inner landscape. Science fiction was his chance to name and come to terms with what he sensed as hidden manipulators—whether distant rays, voices, or chemicals run amok in neurons. Science fiction offered hope. In the marriage scene in “I Remember Lemuria,” when Mutan and Arl are placed in the vat of liquid and wired together they gain bliss and deep wisdom. Opposites are integrated. The influencing machines, in this case, are not detrimental but integrative, bringing the couple into communion, providing a sense of spiritual growth as well as sensual pleasure.
Similarly, the story “I Remember Lemuria,” helped to some extent to “cure” Shaver and win him a wife. While courting Dottie, Shaver reports that with her dog next to her in bed she fell asleep reading the manuscript of “I Remember Lemuria.” She promptly dreamed that she was the fawngirl Arl, and woke up startled, feeling the tail of the dog sleeping next to her and thinking she “still had a tail.” A private world ceases to be private when shared. Shaver conquered Dottie and Palmer first, and then the readers of Amazing. While some depict Palmer as exploiting Shaver, or encouraging his delusions, Palmer in fact helped Shaver reengage with the world, bringing out the artistic products of his own vibrant imagination.
Years later, Palmer divulged that Shaver had spent up to eight years in a catatonic state in the state hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan (this long stint was more likely in Ionia State Hospital). During this time, according to the staff, “he had removed himself from reality, living in a shadowy imaginary world in his own mind. He even had to be fed. All his adventures in the caves were in his own mind. So they said.” Characteristic of Palmer, this “fact” only further proved the validity of Shaver’s claims. Palmer argued that the catatonic Shaver had left his body for another realm. Metaphorically and perhaps psychically, Shaver went underground. There he discovered a hidden battleground, sought integration, and in dramatizing his struggle, managed to carry on a creative life—and ultimately influence popular culture.
The Bard of Barto
Several months prior to publication of “I Remember Lemuria,” Palmer and Shaver arranged Rap’s visit to Barto, Pennsylvania, so that the two coconspirators could finally meet. Shaver had admitted that both he and Dottie were nervous, commenting, “Dot, who is keeping house for me, says she don’t know whether to act like a lady when you come or act normal. But if she makes chicken and waffles like I just had for dinner, you won’t care what she acts like.”
Arranging the visit to coincide with one of his periodic trips to New York City, in late February, Palmer took the train to Manhattan, where he stopped at Ziff-Davis’s small office and met editors, agents, and other members of the science fiction community, including stops for coffee in Greenwich Village. After a taste of New York City, Palmer took the train to Pennsylvania and then proceeded to Shaver’s isolated home in Barto, arriving at around midnight. He had felt the best way to gain Shaver’s confidence was to act as if he thoroughly accepted all of Shaver’s premises about the universe. Rap admitted in letters that he had never experienced contact with the rays but did not question Shaver’s constant contact with them.
Shaver and Dottie made a meal for him, despite the late hour. The two men talked and Dottie’s awkwardness vanished. (She later told Shaver she was pleased that Ray was a regular guy.) Dottie did not have much faith in her husband’s ideas of underground civilizations, although she did believe in ghosts and witchcraft and had a relative who spun out stories about a hex doctor with a weird machine as well as underground beings. Still, as Dottie later told a Shaver fan, “We differ slightly on things.” But she was devoted to her husband and pleased at his new writing career. During his visit, Palmer learned more of Shaver’s past. They discussed their idea of creating an organization dedicated to the Shaver Mystery and of writing a book. Palmer inspected a few of the many manuscripts Shaver had in the works, and they talked about Mantong and related matters. Just as important, Palmer encountered uncanny evidence that Shaver was not just a deluded maniac.
Late that night, in his room at the Shaver’s house, his thoughts perhaps drifting to his wife and their toddler, Linda, Palmer was disturbed to hear five distinct voices conversing with his host in the neighboring room. He heard them informing Shaver that about four miles beneath the earth and four miles away, a woman had been torn to pieces. The voices concurred that it had been “horrible” and such things “should not be.” Like a character in an Edgar Allan Poe or H. P. Lovecraft story stuck for the night in a haunted mansion, Palmer sat up and cried, “What’s this all about?”
The voices switched to a foreign language. Then the little girl said of Palmer, “Pay no attention to him. He’s a dope!” No one called Palmer a dope. He couldn’t explain what he’d heard, but Palmer wasn’t about to reject it just because that was what a normal person would do. After a sleepless night, he searched the next day in Shaver’s room for hidden devices but didn’t find any. He was no dope. This could be something. He spent another day with Shaver and an eventless night. Shaver commented, “They think you’re pretty much of a dope . . . but that’s because they don’t know you well enough to realize you’re one of the insiders.”
Palmer returned from Pennsylvania to Chicago on the train, passing through the barren winter landscape while puzzling over the reality of Shaver’s inner life. Should he have called it racial memory? Had Shaver really been in caves? Perhaps in a parallel dimension? He had been privately showing Shaver’s stories to many correspondents and getting their reactions for months. Some, like the typist Shaver had hired to help clean up his handwritten manuscripts, Bob McKenna, wanted to march down into the caverns. Others thought they were both nuts.
Although not the merry party in the woods that Shaver would have liked to offer Palmer, the visit had been a quiet success. Soon after, Shaver wrote how pleased he was that “now that we know each other better the last doubt of each other has been finally resolved, is the way I feel about it.” He also exclaimed at how great the cover of Amazing looked with Robert Gibson Jones’s rendition of “I Remember Lemuria”—he insisted it was far better than that month’s cover of Planet Stories. In the same letter he also apologized for any awkwardness in the visit, commenting that neither he nor Dottie were “fifth avenue” types. “You were the first visitor I and Dot have had—that is—a visitor whose critical eye we had any respect for. So put our deficiencies down to our lack of a social life—and remember our intent. Dot and I mean the best by you.” Perhaps recognizing that Palmer needed reassurance, he complimented him on his bravery in finally revealing the secrets of the caverns and added, “I see the firm, intelligent idealism activating you in your thought as I read your work woven around mine.”
“I Remember Lemuria” was in Amazing. The gates had opened. Shaver, serving as Palmer’s psychopomp, was leading him and fans of the Shaver Mystery deeper into the inner earth.
The Man From Mars © Fred Nadis 2013