Amazing Story: Fred Nadis’ The Man From Mars Reveals One of the Godfathers of Geekdom




With Hypericon, this weekend's homegrown science-fiction convention, and a full slate of more tightly focused geek culture gatherings scheduled throughout the year, one can’t help but wonder just where the explosion of science-fiction-and-fantasy-fueled culture came from. As with genetic traits like blue eyes or red hair that can be traced to a common ancestor, so it is with a huge swath of geekish fan culture. In this case, many of the trails lead to a diminutive, hunchbacked bundle of creative energy named Ray Palmer.

As chronicled in Fred Nadis’ new book, The Man From Mars — Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, Palmer’s fingerprints are found on a tremendous amount of American pop culture. As an early science fiction fan in the 1930s, Palmer promoted the spread of the genre through some of the first fanzines. Palmer developed his natural wit and charm on the printed page as a way to offset his crippling injuries from a childhood accident.

In 1937, he became editor of the sci-fi pulp magazine Amazing Stories. Palmer promoted a wild and crazy slam-bang style of futuristic fiction, establishing himself and the magazine as the polar opposites of John W. Campbell and his editorship of the more conservative and literary Astounding Science Fiction.

After World War II, Palmer pushed Amazing Stories in the direction of fusing science fiction with paranormal “fact,” a mixture that caused a furor in sci-fi fandom and led to many labeling him as “the man who killed science fiction.” He eventually left the pulp world behind and founded Fate and Mystic, two magazines that became rollicking crack-pot bibles for flying saucer enthusiasts, would-be ghost hunters and intrepid crypto-zoologists in midcentury America.

Ray Palmer didn’t invent science fiction fandom, pulp magazines, UFO mythology or American conspiracy culture. But he latched onto each of them with the tenacity of a bulldog and the instincts of a carnival barker. Ultimately, what makes his story so fascinating is the careful tightrope walk he was able to navigate between being a true believer and gleeful trickster. He was a larger-than-life character who was never afraid to tug at the curtain of respectability and dogma, and encouraged his readers to do the same. Palmer always expected to find a fake wizard manipulating the controls, primarily because he spent most of his life doing the same.

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