The intriguing life story of a pioneer in science-fiction publishing and fandom.
Nadis (Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America, 2005) successfully cultivates the gee-whiz aura of prewar American culture, where bright youngsters like Ray Palmer (1910–1977) saw the future within garish “pulp” magazines. The author notes that Palmer, whose devotion to the original sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories won him its editorship, became “one of the most controversial figures in science fiction history [due to] a taste for the unorthodox.” As with Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison (both of whom crossed Palmer’s path), Palmer thrust himself into the birth of sci-fi’s complex fandom in the 1920s and stayed through the explosive popularity of pulp in the 1930s and ’40s, the rise of paperback originals in the ’50s and then the decline of both industries (which for Palmer included a foray into smut publishing). Palmer, a loquacious, giddy booster of the genre despite terrible lifelong health problems, was both credited and blamed for driving the fusion of science fiction (which aspired to strict scientific principles in its early years) with mysticism and conspiracy theory. For instance, beginning in 1944, Amazing Stories introduced a bizarre serial concerning suppressed racial memories, the “Shaver Mystery,” named for its author, an eccentric with whom Palmer became close friends. Later, as the pulp marketplace contracted, Palmer began other magazines, starting with Fate, focused on early flying saucer sightings; he was also at the center of the controversies around Area 51 and Roswell, N.M. Nadis demonstrates how figures like Palmer and Shaver provoked convulsive, lasting literary movements despite their ostracism from mainstream letters. He produces a vivid cultural history, capturing subtle transformations in American attitudes through an examination of the voluble Palmer’s career and writings; however, the narrative style veers from droll to dry.
Worthwhile reading for those interested in the origins of today's sci-fi fan culture and the still understudied subject of marginal literary publishing.