cover image The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey

The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey

Fred Nadis. Penguin/Tarcher, $28.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-3991-6054-7

One of science fiction’s greatest gadflies gets his due in this lively and entertaining biography. Raymond A. Palmer—who signed himself “Rap”—was one of science fiction’s earliest fans and launched the genre’s first fanzine, The Comet, in 1930. Eight years later, he was offered the plum job of editing Amazing Stories, which had debuted in 1926 as the first science fiction magazine. As Nadis recounts, Rap boosted the magazine’s flagging circulation by publishing space operas that appealed to younger readers. In 1945, he published a story by Richard Shaver, a psychologically troubled writer who believed that humanity was being controlled by an evil ancient subterranean race. For the next four years, “Shaver mysteries” dominated the magazine, and Rap’s insistence that they were true increased sales, but brought howls of outrage from fans who felt he was encouraging crackpots from the lunatic fringe. Eventually, Rap left science fiction to found Fate, Mystic, and a string of “true” paranormal and UFO magazines. Nadis quotes liberally from Rap’s editorials and reader letters to paint a vivid portrait of the postwar science fiction scene and fan culture. Rather than try to solve the mystery of how much Rap truly believed of what he published, Nadis presents his subject as an energetic provocateur who “offered unorthodox ideas to shake things up, overturn preconceptions, and create mystique.” (May)