Fred Nadis,
The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey
(Tarcher/Penguin, 2013)

Maybe he was only a little over 4 feet tall and hunchbacked from a childhood injury, but Ray Palmer stood tall. As the editor of Amazing Stories and later Other Worlds, Universe and, of course, Fate, he changed science fiction and fantasy forever. He had other accomplishments also, but let's talk about his contribution to science fiction first.

In 1928, when Palmer graduated from high school, science fiction was pretty much brand new, an art form not yet art and lacking in form. Most of it was based on the earlier work of H.G. Welles and Jules Verne. The American writings in the field were confined to just a couple of pulp magazines, Amazing Stories and Weird Tales. Palmer, who at this time suffered from what he called a "massive inferiority complex," was uncomfortable in crowds and felt he would never meet a girl or live a normal life.

Later on, he did indeed meet a girl, have a family and live what was as close to a normal life as a science fiction and fantasy-obsessed man could, but at this time he found solace in a brand new phenomenon, which he helped create: organized fandom. While he taught himself to write the sort of fiction he loved, Palmer began corresponding with other fans. This letter-writing campaign led him to create the Science Correspondence Club, which according to SF historian Mike Ashely, was the birth of organized fandom. The club began publishing The Comet, the first fanzine.

Palmer continued to build a career as both a pulp writer and the boy king of organized fandom and soon found himself the editor of Amazing Stories, where he turned a home for rigidly scientific stories into a madhouse of SF and fantasy. He loosened the rules -- the scientific element gave way to the storytelling element, the adventure and action part. It was the age of space opera, and the stories Palmer printed (many of them his own, under several different bylines) really sang.

When he discovered a madman named Richard Shaver, who bombarded him with letters describing a new language he had discovered and named Mantong (Man Tongue), which he claimed was a universal language and contained definitive proof of Atlantis. Palmer took Shaver's letters, turned them into fiction and published them, while encouraging the man to write stories for him. Shaver became a close friend and, while he never learned to write stories, he developed material that Palmer rewrote and published.

Next, Shaver came up with stories about Lemuria, which he swore were true, and for a while they created a sensation. Eventually, Shaver's tales created a magazine burnout, but by then Palmer had found a new horse to ride: in 1946, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold spotted several flying saucers over a mountain range in Washington State, and his report caused a sensation. Palmer, who by now was editing Fate magazine, had never been able to resist a sensation, so he hired Arnold to write for him and soon Fate was all UFOs all the time. Palmer rode the extraterrestrial wave as far as it could go. Even though he was not fully convinced that UFOs came from outer space, he was convinced that the extraterrestrial angle could sell magazines, which was his primary purpose.

Palmer was, in all, a fascinating man, and this is a fascinating book. It should be noted that Rambles.NET's own Jerome Clark served as a source for the book and is quoted in its pages. Clark, who knew Palmer and worked for him at Fate, wrote a fine essay-review of The Man From Mars in The Fortean Times, which I recommend you all track down and read.

After you read The Man From Mars, of course, which I also highly recommend.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 July 2013

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