A Warning To Future Man
either the most astonishing revelation in history... or its greatest hoax
There was a time when Amazing Stories was the crown jewel of science fiction. Founded by visionary editor Hugo Gernsback in 1926, the magazine routinely featured award-winning stories and the finest illustrations.
By 1938, Amazing Stories was a joke.
Gernsback was a great editor, but a terrible businessman. He went bankrupt in 1929 and sold Amazing Stories to McFadden Publications. New editor Thomas O’Connor Sloane initially sought to maintain Gernsback’s high standards, but failed to evolve his tastes with the times and by the late 1930s circulation had plummeted to fewer than 20,000 copies. McFadden, anxious to get rid of a turkey, sold Amazing to Ziff-Davis in 1938. Bill Ziff and Bernie Davis gave Sloane the boot and started looking for an editor who could turn the magazine’s fortunes around.
They found Raymond Arthur Palmer.
Palmer was a bit of a character. Born in 1910, a childhood accident permanently stunted his growth and left him with physical disabilities. He would later claim that he developed superior mental abilities, including psychic powers, as compensation.
As a teenager, Palmer fell in love with science fiction and became a prominent figure in early sci-fi fandom. He contributed to early fanzines like Science Fiction Diet and The Time Traveler, and cultivated a group of friends that included future Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackermann, and future DC Comics editors Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger. (Schwartz and Weisinger would eventually name a superhero after their old friend the Silver Age Atom — the one from Legends of Tomorrow who shrinks.)
Like many fans, Palmer dreamed of being a successful writer. Alas, his prose was mediocre at best, so he turned to the next best thing: editing and publishing. There he excelled. His finger was firmly on the pulse of the reading public, which allowed him to work his audience like a seasoned carnival barker. In many ways, he was the Stan Lee of 1938, back when the real Stanley Lieber was just a pimple-faced gopher at his cousins’s Mafia money laundering operation… er, I mean comic book company.
If anyone could boost the circulation of Amazing Stories, it was Raymond Palmer. Just to make sure he gave the magazine his full attention, Ziff-Davis made his salary contingent on sales.
Palmer decided the best way forward was to reorient the magazine to a younger, less sophisticated audience. Hard science fiction and speculative fiction were out, space opera and pulp adventure were in. To seal the deal, Palmer commissioned sexy and lurid cover paintings and illustrations — well, as sexy and lurid as the publishing world of 1938 could stomach.
The old guard of sci-fi fandom was disgusted by what the magazine had turned into, but they hadn’t been buying the magazine anyway so who gave a damn what they thought? The magazine needed new readers and Palmer was bringing them in. Circulation recovered to almost 90,000 copies.
Don’t get me wrong: Amazing Stories was still one of Ziff-Davis’s worst-performing magazines, but it was no longer on the chopping block.
Palmer used every trick in the book to keep those new readers around. Stories were paired with dashed-off “true facts” filler that reinforced their themes and concepts and made readers feel like they were doing something educational. The letters pages was expanded and correspondence was answered in a breezy informal style to encourage reader engagement. Popular characters and themes were carried over from issue to issue to encourage repeat custom.
Circulation continued to increase, but Palmer knew if he grew complacent it collapse at any moment. Consequently, he was always on the hunt for the next big thing.
In October 1943, Amazing Stories assistant editor Howard Browne was sorting through a pile of fan mail, looking for letters to run in the next issue. It was not a job Browne relished. He was the full editor of another Ziff-Davis magazine, Mammoth Detective, but since Mammoth was only quarterly he was frequently jobbed out to other publications. Browne hated that, and he especially hated working with Palmer, who he considered a low-class hustler.
Among the letters Browne opened that day was one so bad he had to laugh and read it out loud to the office.
Sirs: Am sending you this in hopes you will insert in an issue to keep it from dying with me. It would arouse a lot of discussion. Am sending you the language so that some time you can have it looked at by some one in the college or a friend who is a student of antique time. This language seems to me to be definite proof of the Atlantean legend.
Browne crumpled the letter into a ball and threw it into the trash, muttering “The world is full of crackpots.”
Palmer was incensed, partly by Browne’s condescending attitude and partly because the letter sounded pretty interesting to him. He had always been interested in Atlantis, the intersection of science fiction and occultism, and the possibilities created by mixing fact and fiction. That discarded letter seemed like a foundation that he could build on.
To make a point Palmer strode across the office, retrieved the letter from the wastebasket, smoothed it out, and pointedly told Browne to never throw a good idea away.
The letter ran in the January 1944 issue of Amazing Stories. Its writer, Dick Shaver of Barto, PA, claimed that words in English and other languages could be broken down into individual phonemes that revealed their secret meanings. This supposedly confirmed that all languages had a common origin in the universal language of ancient Atlantis, “Mantong.”
On one level Mantong was a deceptively simple formula: “a” or “an” stood for animal; “d” or “de” stood for detrimental or disintegrant energy; “v” or “vi” stood for vitality or animal magnetism; “z” stood for “a quantity of energy of T neutralized by an equal quantity of D.”
On another level it was hideously complex: breaking words down into their component phonemes was more of an art than a science. If you did it right, though, you could discover the the true meanings of big (“be I generate”), morbid (“more be I die”), and obscene (“orifice see charm”). Or possibly Shaver (“I see a horrible human animal with detrimental power”).
Mantong wasn’t exactly going to set the world of comparative linguistics on fire, but it was a fun parlor game to goof around with. That’s exactly what Amazing Stories readers did, discovering secret meanings in all sorts of commonplace words and writing to the magazine to share what they found. Palmer would later claim to have received 50,000 letters in response to Mantong, though he was obviously exaggerating.
The flood of correspondence made Palmer realize he’d found a potential gold mine. He wrote to Shaver with words of encouragement, and asked if he had any other ideas that could be turned into stories.
Oh boy, did he ever.
I Remember Lemuria!
Shaver wrote back within a few days.
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.Richard Sharpe Shaver
Attached to his letter was a 10,000 word manuscript entitled “A Warning to Future Man” which expanded on the pseudoscience and pseudo-history behind Mantong.
Shaver claimed in bygone aeons the Earth had been settled by the “Elder Races,” advanced aliens who were forced to abandon the planet when the Sun began to emit “disintegrative energy” rays that aged their immortal bodies and drove them mad. Modern-day humans are the fortunate descendants of those who were left behind, who had evolved an immunity to the Sun’s toxic rays. Others who had been left behind were not so lucky, and devolved into sub-human robots, programmed by “disintegrative energy” to operate off of instinct, impulse, and id. These “detrimental robots” or “dero” had been sealed away in vast subterranean caverns, but used telepathic rays and other “god mech” left behind by the Elder Races to create war, crime and strife on the surface world for their own sadistic amusement.
“A Warning to Future Man” was almost everything Palmer could have asked for. It had the roots of a rollicking science fiction tale with ancient aliens and mutant villains and ray guns. It was peppered with crackpot theories about subatomic physics, chemistry, and biology. Even better, Shaver insisted it was all true, which gave Palmer a sensationalistic angle he could use for publicity.
There was only one problem: the manuscript was almost completely unpublishable, a dry recitation of facts about as riveting as an Army instruction manual. Palmer spent weeks honing the manuscript and transforming it into something readable.
- He grafted a bog-standard secret invasion plot onto Shaver’s grim tale of inevitable decline.
- He transformed the narrator from a modern-day man into an ancient lantern-jawed hero, and added a nubile young woman for him to rescue.
- He changed the setting to the “lost continent” of Lemuria, which readers already knew from the Theosophical pseudo-histories of Helena Blavatsky, James Churchward, and Augustus Le Plongeon. Lemuria and Atlantis seemed to boost sales whenever they appeared on the cover.
- All that crackpot pseudo-science was hard to read. Alas, it was so integral to the plot so Palmer couldn’t get rid of it. So he moved the bulk of it into forty lengthy footnotes that casual readers could ignore and dedicated readers could peruse at their leisure. This also made the story and its writer seem scholarly and scientific, when they totally weren’t.
- Since Shaver insisted his story was true, Palmer recast it as a “racial memory,” a historic event that was encoded into our biology and could be psychically accessed under the right conditions, like Jung’s “collective unconscious” or the “Akashic Records” of Theosophy.
- Palmer then gave the completely rewritten manuscript a quick pass to make sure the prose was in something approximating Amazing Stories‘s house style.
- And finally, he gave the author a new name, transforming regular old Dick Shaver into “Richard Sharpe Shaver.” Because Richard sounded classier than Dick, and three names sounded classier than two.
The end result was a 31,000 word pulp novella entitled “I Remember Lemuria!” that saw print in the April 1945 issue of Amazing Stories. It was accompanied by a revised version of Shaver’s original Mantong letter, with a short glossary of decoded English words attached.
I myself cannot explain it. I know only that I remember Lemuria! Remember it with a faithfulness that I accept with the absolute conviction of a fanatic…
I can only hope that when I have told the story of Mutan Mion as I remember it you will believe — not because I sound convincing or tell my story in a convincing manner, but because you will see the truth in what I say, and will realize, as you must, that many of the things I tell you are not a matter of present day scientific knowledge and yet are true!
To me it is tragic that the only way I can tell my story is in the guise of fiction. And yet, I am thankful for the opportunity to do even this…Richard Sharpe Shaver, “I Remember Lemuria!”
Mutan Mion is an architect living in the underground city of Sub Atlan. His frustrated desire to become an artist drives him deeper beneath the Earth to Tean City in Mu. While there, he meets a faun girl with purple skin, Arl, and the two become lovers.
The ruling Titans of Mu take Mutan Mion and Arl into their confidence, revealing that Earth is teetering on the edge of collapse because a flaw in the Sun is causing it to emit “disintegrative energies” that rot the mind and cause the otherwise immortal Titans and Atlans to age. To save civilization, a mass exodus is being planned to a remote planet with a pristine star.
Before the evacuation can happen, Atlans and Titans who have already degenerated into “detrimental robots” or “dero” launch a coup, using telepathic fear rays to create widespread panic. Our heroes flee to Quanto, a planet ruled by the Titan Vanue, goddess of the mighty Nortan Empire, and convince her to intervene in Earth politics.
To facilitate the upcoming military operation, Mutan Mion is inducted into the Nortan Space Navy. He and Arl are put in a “growth school tank” which instantly fills their minds with advanced knowledge, but also binds them together chemically and spiritually in a strange, pseudo-sexual master/slave relationship.
The dero threaten to destroy the world out of spite if the Nortan fleet makes a move. In a daring commando operation, Mutan Mion infiltrates dero headquarters and sabotages the fear rays, turning them into sleep rays that knock out everyone on Earth. The Nortan fleet lands, arrests their enemies, and restores order.
With the dero finally defeated, Mutan Mion is tasked with writing a “message to future man” as a warning to generations to come.
“I Remember Lemuria!” features some compelling world building. There are the star-spanning Elder Races and their fantastic technology. There are the disgusting villainous dero, so easy to hate. There’s a legion of sexy half-animal “variform” women which are described in ways that are both weirdly horny and bizarrely sexless, like 1940s version of Monster Musume. There’s an alternative physics that seems a lot easier to learn that anything being taught in high school. And there here are numerous hooks for future stories: What ever happened to Mutan Mion? Where are the Elder Races and the dero now? What other fantastic tales might be encoded in our genes?
This is exactly the sort of stuff that resonated with the young readers Amazing Stories had been courting for years. It’s no wonder they ate it up with a spoon.
Of course, material that appeals to the young is often scorned by older, more sophisticated readers, and that’s exactly what happened here. Veteran sci-fi fans dragged Shaver over the coals and deservedly so. He showed a near-complete ignorance of how radioactivity worked, and his grasp on classical Newtonian physics was shaky at best. His “new physics” was cobbled together from Stahl’s phlogiston, Alfred Lawson’s Lawsonomy, and Albert Cushing Crehore’s vortex atom, with a dash of Zoroastrian morality tossed in for good measure. They hated the clichéd story. They hated that it was space opera pretending to be hard science fiction. They hated the one-dimensional characters. And they hated, hated, hated that it was presented as fact and not fiction.
At least it was only one story. What harm would it do?
Well, “I Remember Lemuria!” was never going to stop at one story. It doubled the circulation of Amazing Stories to 180,000 copies overnight. That sort of success called for an encore presentation, and Palmer was happy to commission one.
Richard Sharpe Shaver
Before we discuss what happened next, let’s take a step back and ask: who, exactly, was writing these stories? We already sort of know about Palmer, but who was Richard Sharpe Shaver?
Richard Shaver, or “Dick” to his friends, was born in 1907 in Berwick, PA. Dick was a bright young boy, but as he grew older he started having trouble fitting in. You probably know his type: quiet, retiring, more than a little bit twitchy. He seemed fine when his family was around to provide emotional support, but tended to fall to pieces when left to his own devices. As a result he was drawn to jobs where he didn’t have to do a lot of thinking or socializing, like meat packing or landscaping.
In the late 1920s the Shavers relocated to Detroit when oldest son Taylor got a job as an inspector with the Federal Immigration Service. Dick went with them, but had trouble adapting to his new home.
Dick had writing his blood. Mother Grace wrote romance stories for women’s magazines; older brother Taylor wrote adventure stories for Boy’s Life; sister Isabella was an advertising copywriter. Dick also had artistic aspirations, but wasn’t quite sure writing was for him.
To find a creative outlet he enrolled in the Wicker School of Fine Art, and to afford the tuition he worked part-time as a model. Soon he fell in love with one of his teachers, beautiful and intelligent Sophie Gurvitch. The attraction was mutual. Soon Dick and Sophie were doing everything together: walking in the park, going to art shows, picketing Ford plants, handing out pamphlets from the Young Communist League… Did I mention Sophie was a Commie? She was a total Commie. And, while they were together, so was Dick.
Sadly, advocating for the abolition of the capitalist class doesn’t pay the bills and the Wicker School shut down in 1932. Dick and Sophie tied the knot a few weeks later on July 5th, and Dick went to work at the Briggs auto body plant in Highland Park. It was only supposed to be temporary, just until Sophie could find work in New York, but wound up becoming permanent.
In 1934 Dick’s older brother Taylor Shaver died unexpectedly, and his grieving family moved back to Pennsylvania. Alone in the city with no one but the pregnant Sophie for company, Dick sank into a deep depression and lethargy that he treated by consuming massive quantities of alcohol.
First he began to entertain paranoid delusions, claiming his brother had been murdered by the Detroit mob. Then he started hearing voices. At first they were the voices of his co-workers, and he suspected a freak accident had turned his welding gun into some sort of telepathic radio receiver. Then he realized the power was inside himself, and he started hearing other voices. These new voices were planning horrible events: crimes, industrial accidents, even wars. At some point the voices realized Dick was listening in, and turned their full attention to destroying him. They called him a Communist, a homosexual and a hermaphrodite. They told no one he loved him, and whispered terrible secrets about his family and friends.
They more the voices tore Dick down, the more he drank. Concerned for his mental health, Sophie sent her husband to visit his family in Pennsylvania for a few weeks in July. He returned at the end of August after the birth of his daughter, Evelyn, but it was clear his condition had not improved.
Then, at some point Dick did… something. Reading between the lines it sounds like he tried to commit suicide, but since no one never spoke openly about the event we can’t know for sure. Whatever he did, it terrified Sophie so much she had him involuntarily committed to the Ypsilanti State Mental Hospital. There doctors tried to snap Dick out of his madness with the most cutting edge therapies available: colloidal baths, needle showers, jet douches, hot fomentations, Swedish massage, and ultraviolet light therapy. Strangely, nothing seemed to do the trick. He fell deeper depression, and no longer trusted his own wife and family.
Your friends can be very sly and evil if they think you are cracked… your own wife will lie to you… You can’t refuse your dear wife, particularly because you are at that very time controlled by the dero ray — the mental hospitals are one of their favorite hells where they torment their victims for years without anyone listening to the poor devil’s complains for the ‘patient is having delusions’…Richard Sharpe Shaver
Though involuntarily committed, Dick was occasionally given leave to visit friends and family. In December 1936 he was spending the holidays with his parents in Pennsylvania when he received the terrible news that Sophie had died, electrocuted when she picked up a space heater with wet hands.
His in-laws the Gurvitches were terrified by the possibility that their only granddaughter would be raised by a madman, and pressed him to sign papers forfeiting his parental rights. Dick signed them, but seemingly had no idea what he was signing.
Rather than return to Ypsilanti, Dick decided to run. He dashed back to Detroit to grab his few remaining possessions, then fled to the Upper Peninsula. From there he became a hobo, working odd jobs as he made his way across Southern Ontario to Ohio, then through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
His wanderings came to an end in December 1937 when he stowed away on a ship bound for Newfoundland. During the voyage he fell into the hold and snapped his ankle. He spent several months recuperating in a St. John’s hospital, and was deported back to the United States.
This time he was locked up in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia. The doctors in Ypsilanti had been trying to cure Dick, but the doctors in Ionia were indifferent to his suffering. Their job, as they saw it, was to lock away the criminally insane until they died. Dick became ever more delusional and even became catatonic at times.
Ultimately he was released from the hospital in May 1943 and went to live with his parents at “Bittersweet Hollow Farm” in Barto, PA.
Less than a month later, Dick’s father died. It was a hard blow, but Dick was determined not to let depression and insanity get the better of him this time. Instead of bottling everything up inside, he released it by writing it down.
In olden times the mentally ill used to blame their condition on goblins and spirits, but in the Age of Reason supernatural explanations fell out of favor and science and technology took their place. As early as 1810, James Tilly Matthews thought his mind was being controlled by a giant “air loom.” Over the next few centuries the delusional kept pace with the march of progress, blaming their problems on first on magnets and electricity, then on telephones and radio, and today on infrasound and 5G signals.
Dick had no truck with the supernatural; thanks to his brief flirtation with Communism, he was a strict materialist. Rather than interpreting his delusions through the lens of science, though, he went one step further and interpreted them through the lens of science fiction. There were to be no air looms or radio waves influencing Dick Shaver. No, he was the victim of “telaug mind control rays” wielded not by devils from Hell but by “detrimental robots” who hid in caverns beneath the Earth.
These delusions have obvious influences: Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, James Churchward’s The Lost Continent of Mu, Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Pellucidar” novels, Abraham Merrit’s The Moon Pool, the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Doc Smith’s Lensman. The specific references aren’t as important, though, as what Dick Shaver was crafting them into.
After several months of writing Dick felt confident enough in his fiction to send a submission packet to the editors of Amazing Stories. That brings us to where we first came in, save for three events which we should note.
In January 1944, Dick Shaver married Virginia Grace Fenwick of Brownsville, TX after a long-distance courtship. The relationship seems to have been based on their common interests, as marriage notices describe them both as “writers of fiction.” It also seems that Dick was less than upfront about his mental health, because Virginia quickly abandoned her husband after only a few weeks of cohabitation.
A few months later Dick took a job working as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel, where he met fellow employee Dorothy Erb. The two fell deeply in love, because they had highly compatible personalities and boundless tolerance for each others eccentricities. Dorothy would bite her tongue whenever Dick started talking about cave people and ray guns, and Dick wouldn’t say a word whenever she professed her belief in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hex magic. The two were soon wed… Well, once they’d acquired divorces from their current spouses, who were more than happy to grant them.
Finally, in March 1945 Raymond Palmer took a train to Bittersweet Hollow to spend some time with his newest artistic discovery. While there Palmer found himself unable to sleep due to an conversation that seemed to emanate from the very walls. In the morning he searched the house for hidden radios and tape recorders, but found nothing. The weary editor suddenly realized that he had been overhearing the dero as they plotted.
(At least, that’s one version of the story. In later years, Palmer would claim that he broke into the next room to find that Shaver was in a trance, and all the voices were emanating from him.)
Thought Records of Lemuria
Shaver’s second story, “Thought Records of Lemuria,” appeared in the May 1945 of Amazing Stories.
The narrator, Dick Shaver, is working in a factory in Detroit when he begins to hear nearby thoughts through his welding equipment. These telepathic abilities soon become innate and start to run amok. When Dick learns how to screen out the thoughts of his co-workers and neighbors, they are replaced by depraved thoughts of unknown origin. These thoughts become ever more morbid and sinister, including painful torture and simulated death experiences. The invasive thoughts render Shaver unable to hold a job and slowly drive him mad. He flees from the city and becomes a hobo for several years. Eventually he is caught and committed to an insane asylum.
One night he is visited in his padded cell by a woman, pale and beautiful with blind, staring eyes. She is nameless, so he calls her “Nydia” after a minor character from Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii. Nydia frees Shaver from his cell and leads him into a cave filled with strange technology. She explains that the invasive thoughts are emanating from the “dero,” children of the Elder Races who have been transformed by toxic radiation into sadistic dwarfish “detrimental robots.” Imprisoned in caverns deep beneath the surface, the dero use “telaug rays” to direct events on the surface world for profit, and remote “stim” to torment surface dwellers for fun.
Nydia herself is a “tero” or “integrative robot.” The tero are also children of the Elder Races, capable of resisting the Sun’s toxic rays but rendered weak and powerless by centuries of subterranean life. They cannot mount an effective resistance to the dero, and desperately need the assistance of surface dwellers like Shaver.
Shaver and Nydia become lovers. To strengthen his mind, she subjects him to “telonium thought records” which allow him to step into the shoes of Lemuria’s greatest heroes. Reliving their lives allows Shaver to gain the knowledge and skill that will save the tero. His education complete, he begins to write true history of the world.
“Thought Records of Lemuria” is clearly a fantasy version of Shaver’s own life story — though whether it reflects the world as he saw it or as he wanted to see is unclear. Note what it doesn’t include. There is no mention of Shaver’s family, first wife, or child. It skips over his suicide attempt, his first institutionalization, and his deportation from Canada. It does not mention any of his pre-existing artistic and literary aspirations.
Now note what has been added to Shaver’s life story, whether to fulfill some long-suppressed wishes or to make the premise more marketable. The central conflict of “I Remember Lemuria!” has been dragged of the distant past and placed in a modern setting: no longer is it a cautionary tale from long ago but a cosmic battle that is still ongoing. The qualities of lantern-jawed superman Mutan Mion have been grafted onto the real life Richard Sharpe Shaver: both are naÏfs unwittingly caught up in a secret conspiracy, spiritually bound to a woman of unEarthly beauty, artificially educated by machines, and positioned as saviors. Then it doubles down on its predecessor’s pretensions to truth by claiming not to be a racial memory, but the actual lived experiences of the author.
Palmer’s target audience could not get enough. The May issue sold over 200,000 copies and over 10,000 letters flooded into the magazine’s editorial offices in Chicago. Some were laudatory, from readers thought it was a well-written story. Some were curious: the National Speleological Society asked for more details about the caves so they could be explored and mapped. Others were delusional, from correspondents who recounted their own experiences hearing mysterious voices, being tormented by unknown forces, or wandering through a dreamscape of endless caverns.
Sci-fi fans hated “Thought Records” even more intensely than its predecessor. The primary source of their hatred was what Palmer and Shaver meant when they said their stories were true. There were four basic options:
- The stories were factual accounts of actual events, like a history textbook.
- The stories were simplified and edited versions of actual events, like a Hollywood biopic.
- The stories were fictional but set during true events, like a historical novel.
- The stories were completely fictional with no basis in reality, like the Conjuring movies.
Science fiction fans gravitated towards option #4: that it was all horse hockey. The best, most well-reasoned and prescient response was put forward by Thomas S. Gardner in the Spring 1945 issue of Fantasy Commentator:
The reader group catered to by Palmer consists of the average person with a sixth-grade educational level, who wants in his fiction very little plot or characterization, plenty of action, and a love-story ending of a clinch…
It is hard to imagine that Palmer himself actually believes the things he writes for his stories’ footnotes, for if this were true it would be necessary to assume that he knows little or nothing about geology, industrial processes, potential theory, anthropology, and other scientific analysis…
To make a hoax stick it is necessary for editor and author to maintain — if tongue-in-cheekly — that they are publishing nothing but the truth. But they need not do so long: literally thousands of readers will write in to editor Palmer vouching it with personal testimony for the truth of the hoax — because they already believed it, and are too contemptuous, lazy, or psychopathic to verify the true position of scientific knowledge in our civilization. Therefore, I predict the followers of fantasy will witness the successful operation of one of the biggest hoaxes ever attempted in the field of science-fiction!Thomas S. Gardner, “Calling All Crackpots!”
Palmer and Shaver insisted that the stories were mostly true with only a thin veneer of fiction.
The Shaver stories are not fiction in their bases — although all of them have been presented in fiction form, dramatized, and properly edited to make them acceptable entertainment. They have proven to be the most entertaining stories we have ever presented, and the startling reason our readers give is their realism, their basic truth, which makes them more convincing than any fiction ever before printed in this magazine.Raymond A. Palmer
Despite his protestations, Palmer seemed to want to have it both ways. He told true believers that he was on their side, but when pushed on the matter by non-believers he could only defend himself with Tucker Carlson-esque evasions like, “I’m only asking questions,” and “What is truth, really?” If really pushed, he would admit that he had no idea whether the stories were true or not, but would point to the sheer volume of fan mail as evidence that something was going on that needed to be investigated.
Shaver seems to have sincerely believed in the existence of the dero and their secret war against mankind, but it’s hard to judge the depth of that sincerity. He actively encouraged Palmer to rewrites to his stories to make them more marketable, and only objected to edits when he felt they wandered too far from his underlying delusions. This suggests that he was at least partially aware that he was being exploited, and was somewhat complicit in that exploitation.
The Shaver Mystery
To capitalize on the controversy, Palmer marketed the stories as “The Shaver Mystery.” That mystery? Well, you have your choice. Palmer would have you think the question was “Is the world really run by evil dwarves?” but honestly, it was “How can any of this possibly be true of this true?” He invited readers to subscribe to Amazing Stories and judge for themselves.
There was just one problem. Shaver couldn’t write fast enough to generate the volume of stories needed to fead the beast, and Palmer couldn’t pick up the slack and still keep up with his editorial duties. The solution was teaming Shaver with experienced ghost writers who lacked his wild imagination but could generate passable prose. These collaborators included weird fiction author Greye La Spina; Bob McKenna, an on-air personality from KDKA radio in Pittsburgh; and Amazing assistant editor Chester S. Geier. Over the next several months they churned out stories that pushed the Shaver Mystery in new directions.
September 1945’s “Cave City of Hel” claimed to be a true story submitted by reader Alf Sifson. While caving in Norway Alf stumbles across an underground city that resembles the fabled Hel of Norse mythology. It is inhabited by the troll-like dero, who are keeping Atlans and Titans trapped in a cryogenic prison. Alf frees the Elders, who take bloody vengeance on their captors and depart. In a postscript, this leads to the Nazis being driven from Norway since they cannot rely on the support of their dero masters. This makes “Cave City” the first appearance of a notorious Shaver Mystery trope: tastelessly weaving real-world events into the fiction.
December 1945’s “Quest of Brail” is a generic space opera, whose only real tie to the Shaver Mystery is Shaver’s crackpot science and its claim to be as a racial memory.
February 1946’s “Invasion of the Micro-Men” picks up the story of Mutan Mion, now officially a Space Cadet. When the Nortan Empire is weakened by an infestation of microscopic virus-like aliens, it is invaded and conquered by the Jotuns, a race “of mixed Titan and Variform blood.” Mutan Mion is ultimately able to defeat the micro-men and overthrow the Jotuns, but the incident causes the Nortans to question their entire way of life. The story itself is a lazy re-hash of “I Remember Lemuria!”: the basic plot is the same, Jotuns are just space dero, and the micro-men are are a poor stand-in for fear rays.
These novellas were supported by filler piggybacking off their popularity. They included proofs of Shaver’s crackpot scientific theories and explorations of related topics like racial memories and legends of lost cities and continents. Even dry science articles flailed around to find a tenuous connection to the Shaver Mystery.
The low quality of the stories did nothing to diminish the audience’s enthusiasm for them. Letters poured into the Amazing Stories offices, making it clear that Palmer had tapped into a new audience for science fiction. Unfortunately this audience consisted almost entirely of the credulous and gullible, who had difficulty distinguishing between fact and fiction; the paranoid and conspiracy-minded, who were seeking to blame their problems on external factors beyond their control; and the mentally ill, driven by impulse to share Shaver’s mad delusions.
In the short run this was a recipe for increased circulation. In the long run, it was a recipe for disaster.
In May 1946, World War II paper rationing came to an end, allowing Amazing Stories to resume a monthly schedule and solicit advertising. Palmer celebrated by publishing “The Masked World,” the most lurid Shaver Mystery to date. It opens with an author’s note claiming the dero were responsible for a real-life train crash in August 1945, and then a (fake) newspaper clipping about young women being spied on by ray machines. From there the action moves to Ontal, an enormous city located beneath Manhattan where dero and tero struggle for political dominance. In a break with previous stories these remnants of the Elder Races are no longer trapped; there are now numerous gateways between the caverns and the surface world, and the dero themselves can use god-mech to teleport through solid rock. Both sides use this new freedom to recruit agents from the surface world to tip the scales of their conflict.
“The Masked World” combines Shaver’s paranoid ravings with the structure of a spicy detective story. The dero are less demonic, and more like Mafia thugs with ray guns. They run protection rackets, peddle drugs, and publish porno mags with unintentionally hilarious names like “Seven-Swank.” They kidnap women off the streets of Manhattan and force them into underground brothels. They indulge in Satanism and witchcraft, which seems oddly out of place in Shaver’s materialistic world. There’s also a turn toward the psychosexual…
The future of all men is squandered there in endless orgies whose nature no surface man can comprehend — for words will not tell the pleasures of stim-death, of the pleasures of sadism made infinitely more so by augmentation of all the body’s and mind’s impulses.Richard Sharpe Shaver, “The Masked World”
The dero become ever more perverse and sadistic from this point on. They are no longer content to cause hallucinations and phantom pain with remote stim rays. Now they freeze naked people in place to serve as living furniture. They mutilate and spindle human bodies in horrendous ways, using god mech to keep their suffering slaves alive. They raise people as cattle, and eat them for food. It’s utterly horrific and silly at the same time, like a Grand Guignol play.
July 1946’s “Cult of the Witch Queen” takes the Mystery in a very different direction: into the world of high camp pulp adventure. Iron-jawed hero “Big Jim” Steel is kidnapped from a Cleveland bar by the Tuon Amazons, descendants of Atlans and Titans who relocated to Venus rather than leave the solar system. The disintegrative rays of the Sun have done their work here, too: the Amazons are no longer immortal and just as insane as the dero. They prey on the men of Earth and are led by the evil queen Hecate, the Limping Hag, who drinks the blood of children to survive, like a distaff Peter Thiel. Over the course of the story “Big Jim” seduces sexy Amazon ladies, overthrows Hecate, and restores order to Venus.
It’s hard to square the camp hijinx of “Cult of the Witch Queen” with previous entires in the Mystery, but it was exactly the sort of mindless tripe Amazing Stories readers loved. So “Big Jim” Steel returned in August 1946’s “The Sea People.” “Big Jim” is caught stowing away on a ship bound for Newfoundland and is thrown into jail where he is bitten by a spider with a woman’s head and passes out. He awakens in the realm of the Mer people, sexy fan-tailed fish-frog ladies who live in the seas of Earth and Venus. They need his help to battle Hecate, who has relocated to Earth. The story is even campier than its predecessor, clearly mining Shaver’s life story for ideas, and leans into the weird monster girls and general horniness like a Piers Anthony novel. Audiences loved it.
September 1946’s “Earth Slaves to Space!” introduced a new set of characters while tying the “Big Jim” Steel stories back into the larger Shaver Mystery. The story itself is about sex slaves being trafficked to different solar system. Since it is supposed to be a true story, it begs the question of how anyone on Earth cloud possibly have knowledge of events transpiring light-years away. (The answer is trans-solar telaug, of course.) The story is mostly notable for a footnote which features the first explicit mention of the Mandark, a lost Atlan book which tells the true story of Jesus, and the claim that all modern Christianity is a lie based on perversions of that original text.
November 1946’s “The Return of Sathanas” featured the return of Mutan Mion, now engaged in battle with the enemy of all mankind, “Lord Sathanas, Arch-Angle and Ruler of the Planet Satana.” (Yes, these are the historical Anglo-Saxon Angles, apparently a separate Elder Race with some “variform blood.”) For all his supposed evil Sathanas is only a sleazy creep who uses mind control rays to run a sex trafficking ring. It’s clear the Shaver Mystery was losing steam, since the four previous stories had also used that same basic plot. The cover illustration also hilariously fails to match the tone of the story, depicting a jovial Sathanas who looks less like the Lord of Flies and more like William Powell, showing a wry bemusement at the antics of a sexy petulant Arl.
December 1946’s “The Land of Kui” was the first of a new type of Shaver Mystery story: rewrites of existing stories with Shaver Mystery elements tacked on. In this case the story is James Churchward’s account of the sinking of Mu, to which has been added a framing sequence with Mutan Mion and Vanue and the suggestion that Mu’s destruction was not a natural disaster but the deliberate action of a Nortan fleet trying to wipe out an infestation of “type one” dero.
Amazing Stories profited greatly from its gamble on the Shaver Mystery, and circulation continued to increase throughout 1945 and 1946. Dick Shaver was finally able to quit his job at Bethlehem Steel and to write full time. He even relocated from Bittersweet Hollow to the Chicago suburb of Lily Lake, so he could be closer to his editors and co-authors.
He may have also been trying to keep an eye on his editors and co-authors. Palmer had been using the Shaver Mystery to push his own beliefs, which had expanded to include New Age religion. A reader had noted the similarities between the dero and the malevolent spirits of an obscure Spiritualist text called the Oahspe. Palmer became obsessed with the book and commissioned fanzine writer Roger Phillip Graham to write filler exploring the connection. Shaver was incensed, and wrote an angry memo insisting the Mystery was grounded in science fact and not faith:
I didn’t want you to persist in the idea that I too am touched by the religious bug, or ‘hearing things or seeing things.’Richard Sharpe Shaver
Unfortunately, there was little he could do to stop Palmer from dragging the Shaver Mystery in a religious direction. Filler increasingly started focus more on themes drawn from Spiritualism and Theosophy. The letters page even featured correspondence from Maurice Doreal of the Brotherhood of the White Temple, who tried to conflate the Elder Races of the Mystery with the Ascended Masters of Theosophy and added Agharti, Shamballah, and Mt. Shasta to the list of underground cities.
The volume of fan mail increased to the point where Palmer started a second letters page devoted purely to Shaver Mystery letters. In retrospect it’s frightening how many of these letter writers recounted their own recovered racial memories, their own harrowing experiences with dero in caves beneath the Earth.
That’s not to say all the letters were serious, mind you. Howard Browne had a brief moment of triumph when he snuck in a letter from a correspondent who claimed to have been fighting the dero for decades… but who also claimed to have matriculated at the fictional “Miskatonic University” of the Cthulhu Mythos. Another correspondent claimed to be a dero himself, and that Shaver and Palmer were also dero trying to obfuscate the true Mystery with their terrible fiction.
Palmer was in full carnival barker mode now. He was constantly promising that the next issue of Amazing would contain the elusive proof of the Shaver Mystery’s veracity. When that proof failed to materialize, and it alaways did, he would blame dero sabotage or “tamper.”
In one issue, he claimed that famed Chicago meat packers Armour Meats had been conducting experiments to confirming Shaver’s theory about radiation-induced aging, only to have the project spiked by dero higher up in management. In another he announced physical artifacts had been recovered from dero caves, but then never followed up with further news. He even made the sensational claim that dero had been planning to shut down the magazine by replacing Palmer and Shaver with vat-grown duplicates, but had to abandon their plans as being “unfeasible.” (How any plan can be unfeasible for evil dwarves who can control matter with a thought and teleport through solid rock, I have no idea.) He exhorted readers to send in their own experiences, claiming a preponderance of circumstantial evidence would tip the scales and blow the lid off the conspiracy.
By the end of the Shaver Mystery’s second year, Shaver was finally turning out passable prose and the magazine could afford a higher quality of ghost writer. Paradoxically, as the quality of the stories improved they became less interesting. The early stories were like crude outsider art, full of nervous energy and packed to the brim with thousands of dangerous and intriguing ideas. The later stories were slick and polished, but were unchallenging and only explored previously introduced ideas without bringing anything new to the table.
(I should clarify that while the quality of the stories was improving, they were never actually good. The plots were ridiculous, the dialogue was wooden, and the prose was really, really, really bad. You would never read a Shaver Mystery for its literary merits.)
In the face of later Shaver Mystery stories which were undeniably fictional, Palmer began to resort to Clintonian hair-splitting to maintain his claims that the Mystery is true:
The use of the word true is most always its misuse; and for those of our readers who protest calling the Shaver stories true, it might be well to take the word true to task… The Shaver stories are a mystery. They are not proved. But there is truth in them. Much truth.
Then he fell back on the old trick of promising evidence that never materialized.
In the back of his mind, though, he knew that he could only string this along for so long; sooner or later he was going to have to produce the goods. He was just stalling for time, hoping he would find the next big thing before readers got bored and disappeared.
Undesirable And Even Dangerous
He might have pulled it off, except that the Shaver Mystery was now so big it was attracting attention outside of sci-fi fandom. The September 1946 issue of Harper’s Magazine featured an article by William S. Baring-Gould called “Little Superman, What Now?”
Baring-Gould believed that modern science fiction was facing a crisis. The flood of money pouring into basic research during World War II had enabled science to catch up to and even surpass its fictional counterpart. To survive as a genre in the face of such rapid development, science fiction would have to evolve into something else. Baring-Gould headed off to a sci-fi fan convention in Newark to see what that would be.
While he was there he stumbled into the biggest controversy in contemporary sci-fi fandom.
…[I]n many of their stories science is a subsidiary of sex; titillation is their god and Edgar Rice Burroughs is his prophet. These are magazines whose covers customarily carry a lurid painting of a blonde in a form-fitting suit valiantly battling a BEM (Bug-Eyed Monster). At best these stories are little more than horse operas transferred to an interplanetary setting…
…[A] place at the very bottom of the list… should be reserved for Amazing Stories, the onetime “Aristocrat of Science Fiction,” now published by Ziff-Davis under the editorship of Raymond A. Palmer. Mr. Palmer has set out to capture of thousands of new readers.
Palmer’s most successful bid for new readers has been “that mystery known by the name of the man who started it all, the Shaver Mystery”… Palmer seems anxious to give the impression that he himself is firmly convinced in the existence of Shaver’s deros, for he has made a number of unequivocal statements in his capacity as editor… [He] has launched several departments in Amazing Stories to keep his readers “informed on the developments in the greatest ‘hunt’ by science fiction fans in history for what may be the most important of truths,” and he welcomes contributions. He gets them, too… The letter writers on a whole take themselves and Amazing Stories very seriously…
Not quite all the letters are in this strain, however. One calls the magazine’s Shaver Mystery exploit “probably undesirable and even dangerous.” To many an honest science fiction fan, whose hobby has suffered so much, this will undoubtedly go down as the year’s greatest understatement.William S. Baring-Gould, “Little Superman, What Now?”
Now, to be fair, only a quarter of Baring-Gould’s article was devoted to the low quality of Amazing Stories and the crackpots who embraced the Shaver Mystery. The problem was that the article ran in Harper’s Monthly, which reached a far larger audience than Amazing Stories ever could. This was mainstream America’s first exposure to the Shaver Mystery, and it was uniformly negative.
This led to some hand-wringing back at Ziff-Davis. Bernie Davis really didn’t care what he published, as long as it made money and didn’t get him arrested. Bill Ziff, on, the other hand, cared very much what his friends in the cocktail set thought of him. And they were thinking that he published the paranoid ramblings of madmen and insisted that they were the gospel truth. Howard Browne eventually got hold of Ziff’s ear and tried to convince him that Palmer and Shaver had to go.
In the end, Ziff couldn’t bring himself to swing the axe. The Shaver Mystery had been extremely profitable for his company. Instead, he decreed a death by a thousand cuts. Palmer’s plans to publish a book about Shaver’s crackpot physics were canceled. The magazine’s budget was slashed. Finally word came on down from high that while Ziff wasn’t saying they couldn’t publish Shaver Mystery stories, those stories had to be clearly marketed as fiction.
No “racial memories.” No “fact-as-fiction.” No “inspired by real events.”
The news hit the editors hard. Shaver fell into a brief depression, muttering that the dero were using telaug rays to sabotage his career. Palmer didn’t have time to be sad: he was too busy completely overhauling the next issue of the magazine so it could go to press on time.
Ziff’s edict was clearly in force when the January 1947 issue was released. Fort he first time in almost two years there is nothing in the issue related to the Shaver Mystery.
Shaver did contribute a short non-Mystery novella, “The Mind Rovers.” Butch, a convict in an unnamed prison, develops the ability to project his consciousness into a dreamscape in order to escape the horrors of prison life. The dreamscape is populated with his every secret desire, including his dream woman Mena. Mena, though, is not one of Butch’s creations but a purely mental entity capable of traveling from mind to mind. She hatches a clever plan to transport Butch into his own mind, allowing him to escape imprisonment and indefinitely sustain the dreamscape with his life force. While a “volitional robot” takes his place in the real world, Butch and Mena hop from mind to mind fighting mobsters, Inception-style. It’s a clever twist on Shaver’s usual tropes, and one of his best stories. The only problem is that in spite of the imaginative setting the plot is little more than an unorganized jumble of genre fiction clichés.
The issue also featured Margaret Rogers’ “I Have Been in the Caves!” which was at least Mystery-adjacent. Rogers claimed to have been a dope fiend and mental patient in Mexico City. In the story she is given a mysterious drug, dies, and is carried by persons unknown into the caverns. There giant angelic beings named “Nephli” purge the drugs from her system, resurrect her, and reveal she is part Nephli on her father’s side. Palmer trumpeted the story as “independent confirmation” of the Shaver Mystery despite its blatant mystical and Christian themes, and inserted several dozen footnotes drawing connections to other Shaver stories. One of these footnotes announced that Shaver’s manuscript about the true history of Jesus Christ, the Mandark, was being prepped for publication at that very moment.
Ziff and Davis did not like the sound of that. They had just laid down the law on the Shaver Mystery, and now Palmer wanted to publish a potentially blasphemous book about the life of Jesus Christ? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. They ordered a hard stop to all Shaver Mystery content, and Palmer had to work more late nights reworking the next issue. And then the next few issues after that.
For the next four months Amazing Stories featured zero official Shaver Mystery content. No novellas, no short stories, no filler. There were at least a few covers trying to capture the old magic by promising tales with Shaver-esque names like “Titans’ Battle” and “Child of Atlans” — possibly written on a deadline to match cover art already commissioned.
The Mystery still had a presence in the editorial section, where Palmer wrote several screeds full of ad hominem attacks on William Baring-Gould and Harpers and complaining about dero tamper. He also commissioned a two-page “Critique of the Shaver Disclosure” from fanzine writer John McCabe Moore that attempted to rebut Baring-Gould’s piece. The problem is, Moore’s rebuttal is full of baroque flourishes designed to hide the fact that his central argument is utterly incoherent.
The vast majority of readers of real science-fiction (not those interested only in the dead-end variety which tears its own future to pieces) are credulent people who do not deny any tales without some reason for so doing. It is a fortunate thing that they are not the prejudiced scorners who attack everything because it is new or different. If they were this sort, the race would be would stalemated, and for good….
Just as the average reader is in full possession of the knowledge that environment is imperfect and the influences against the effectiveness of his physical and mental being are many, he also realizes that there are exact mirror images of these destructive influences, sometimes man-made, sometimes natural, which might just as well be focused upon the problems of bettering our race.John McCabe Moore, “Critique of the Shaver Disclosure”
And of course, there was always the letter column. It was still full of the usual assortment of crackpots and loonies, but critical commentary on the Shaver Mystery began to creep in as well. Palmer answered them all in a way that was hostile and defensive, using anecdote and bluster to hide the fact that he had no substantive answer to serious criticism.
I am getting disgusted with all this mess about the Shaver Mystery.
Question: what concrete evidence has ever been found and verified by known authorities, not suddenly found geniuses? Huh?
What concrete evidence? Well, to begin with, we refer you to “Scientific Mysteries” in this issue. Here is concrete evidence and by a scientist, not a “newly found genius” whatever that is. Our files (more than 10,000 letters) are more concrete evidence. They tell a story even more amazing than any printed. Your daily papers are full of reports of unsolved things that are a part of the mystery… We have hundreds of such clippings; Charles Fort has collected thousands; Vincent H. Gaddis has many more thousands. Collectively, they are too powerful an argument FOR the mystery to deny.
Shaver himself was not idle. During this six month period he published two stories in Amazing Stories and its sister publication Fantastic Adventures, just to prove he could write straight fiction not tied to the Shaver Mystery. May 1947’s “The Tale of the Red Dwarf Who Writes With His Tail” is the better of the two tales, but it’s still not very good. It did get a cracking cover illustration though.
Eventually Palmer was able to broker a compromise with the publishers. The June 1947 issue of Amazing Stories would be a massive all-Shaver issue, allowing the magazine to burn off its inventory of Shaver Mystery stories which had already been purchased but had yet to run. Palmer began hyping the issue with his usual bombast, claiming that it would finally feature the big proof that everyone had been waiting for.
Going forward, all new Shaver Mystery content would be published by a new entity: “The Shaver Mystery Club.” This was an organization owned by Palmer and Shaver, though Ziff-Davis still had a small financial stake and its operations were run from the Amazing Stories offices through assistant editor Chester S. Geier.
It was mostly a fan club, though dues-paying members would receive a monthly newsletter full of Shaver’s short fiction, non-fiction discussion of dero activity, and a robust latters page. As fanzines went, the Shaver Mystery Club was horrendously expensive — each 64-page issue was to cost 50¢, almost double the cost of the much thicker Amazing Stories. The Club could boast almost 4,000 subscribers before the first issue dropped, which sounds like a lot but represents about 2% of the audience that was reading Amazing.
If that number accurately represented the core of the Shaver Mystery die-hards, Ziff-Davis could easily afford to lose their custom.
All Shaver, All The Time
When June 1947 rolled around the all-Shaver issue of Amazing Stories finally hit the newsstand — albeit very late in the month. In his opening editorial Palmer blamed the production delays were the result of dero tamper, that they had been using their telaug rays to create typos and spread illness among the editorial staff. In reality, the delay was due to behind-the-scene antics. Palmer knew this one would be big, and commandeered the paper allocation for three other magazines so he could run off an extra 50,000 copies. One of those magazines was Mammoth Detective, pissing off Howard Browne to no end, but Palmer’s instincts were correct. The entire print run sold out.
The meat of the issue were four short stories by Shaver.
“Formula from the Underworld” claims to be the diary of explorer Harte Manville. During a consultation with the mystic Brandoch Daha, Manville hears true tales of Atlantis and a very brief account of the fall of Mu. Daha’s then shocks him with the revelation that in ancient times, Good and Evil fought for possession of the Earth — and Evil won. Disturbed by this news, Manville descends into the caverns of the Elder Races to find the secret of immortality. While there he spies on dero sexually tormenting women, and throws his lot in with tero rebels led by the beautiful Queen Shola. The end.
“Zigor Mephisto’s Collection of Mentalia” picks up right where “Thought Records of Ancient Lemuria” left off. Shaver and Nydia seek out a dero who lives in the subterranean city of Eg Notha and obsessively collects telonium thought records. Zigor at first seems welcoming, sharing with them thought records showing how his ancestors ruled over the city of Dis, prison of the mighty Sathanas, and the great battles between the two over the ages. Then our heroes get caught up in a generational power struggle between the Mephistos, and escape before anything interesting can happen. The end.
“Witch’s Daughter” is not actually a Shaver Mystery tale, and its only connection to the other stories is that it takes places in some caves. The end.
And then there’s “The Red Legion,” which mixes the true detective style of “The Masked World” with some good old-fashioned racism. Apparently in American Southwest there is a race of “red men” descended from Native Americans who found the caves and degenerated into dero. There’s a war between them and something happens but it’s not clear what, exactly. The end.
Palmer really went all-out with the production of the this issue, commissioning a fantastic cover painting from Robert Gibson Jones and incredible interior illustrations by Enoch Sharp, Malcolm Smith and Robert Fuqua. It was all for naught. Putting four Shaver stories together really highlights Shaver’s weaknesses as an author. As a Michel Moorcock fan, I can’t object to an author exploring the same themes over and over and over, but I can object when an author never actually introduce variations on his theme. Shaver’s plots are virtually identical, his characters are one-dimensional at best, and he can’t write an ending to save his life. The stories become increasingly more lurid because the sensationalism and sleaze are the only things holding the audience’s attention.
Oh, the issue was supposed to include that long sought-after proof that the Shaver Mystery was true, wasn’t it? Well, it doesn’t. It does have an article called “Proofs” purportedly written by Shaver but clearly written by Palmer. And it proves absolutely nothing. Not one shred of evidence, just non-stop argument by assertion.
I KNOW many terrible things that I cannot find a way to tell except as fiction. These are things so lurid and impossible they are hard to make credible even in a lurid s.f. tale. They could not be considered as facts by an ordinary man, because he has not seen and could not accept. They are looked for by those who know something of the great secret and look for information in the “forbidden” field…
I am saying to these men who cry: “we want an artifact, an inscription, an ancient manuscript, we want proof!” — you have proof all about you! But your minds are so slanted by wrong teachings that you misinterpret these artifacts and remnants on the surface which tell the truth about the God cavern’s existence…
But there is a vast number of eye-witness testimony; there is a vast amount of writing from the past that is miSunderstood; there is a mass of incontrovertible proof — IF YOU INTERPRET IT CORRECTLY! But you don’t! You say the old standard explanations over and over — and they are part of the curtain that has been erected for an age between common people and the Forbidden Fruit.
YET YOU ARE TOLD THERE ARE NO CAVERNS, THERE COULD NOT BE ANY ANTIQUE MIRACLE MACHINERY, AND I MYSELF AM TO BELIEVE THAT I AM THE VICTIM OF DELUSIONS. EVEN THOUGH I HAVE FELT THE SEARING RAYS, BEEN TORMENTED BY INVISIBLE DEVICES, SEEN IMPOSSIBLE PROJECTIONS OF THINGS THAT DO NOT EXIST ON Earth TODAY AND TALKED TO THE PEOPLE WHO MANIPULATE AND USE THESE DEVICES EVERY DAY — AND HAVE BEEN DOWN IN THERE AND SEEN AND TOUCHED IT ALL WITH MY OWN HANDS.Richard Sharpe Shaver, “Proofs”
Honestly, the stream-of-consciousness style and the overuse CAPITAL LETTERS FOR SHOUTING makes the whole thing seem like the ravings of a paranoid madman. Which, to be honest, it was.
And that was that. After June 1947 the Shaver Mystery virtually disappeared from the pages of Amazing Stories. Oh sure, there were some letters alternately praising and criticizing the special issue, some editorials by Palmer deliberately misinterpreting scientific studies as proof of Shaver’s crackpot physics, and a few odd pieces of filler here and there.
A few Shaver stories did manage to sneak through Ziff’s ban over the next year or two.
- August 1947’s “Mer-Witch of Ether 18” is a bog-standard fantasy story about mer-people with a framing story implying that Shaver and Nydia are watching it unfold through a remote viewing “inseemech” machine.
- March 1948’s “Gods of Venus” featured the return of “Big Jim” Steel, whose adventures were now so campy and pulpy that no one would ever mistake them for science fact. This one features vampires and sexy robot ladies. It is not good, but at least it has some amazing illustrations by Rod Ruth.
- “Big Jim” also showed up in September 1948’s “Titan’sDaughter” which features insect-men and a “Wizard Lady” and feels like someone read a bunch of Flash Gordon comics, did some bong rips, and then realized he had to write a story.
Shaver also contributed a handful of non-Shaver Mystery stories to Amazing Stories over the next three years, but that was it for the Mystery itself.
No one seemed to care that the Shaver Mystery had vanished overnight. Audiences had seemingly moved on from stunted sex perverts and their stim rays. They wanted the next big thing.
The same month the all-Shaver Mystery issue of Amazing Stories dropped, a pilot in Washington named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a strange object in the sky near Mount Ranier — a “flying saucer” if you will.
Audiences to hear stories about that instead.
The T Book
The real Shaver die-hards, all 4,000 of them, had migrated over to the Shaver Mystery Club. The first 40-page issue of Shaver Mystery Magazine experienced numerous production delays, but finally dropped around the same time as the July 1947 issue of Amazing Stories.
Though Shaver Mystery Magazine was little more than a glorified fanzine, Palmer and Shaver had spared no expense in its production. Each of the first five issues featured classy and appealing ink wash covers from top artists like Malcolm Smith, H.W. McCauley, James B. Settles and Virgil Finlay. These were the sort of alluring illustrations that would make a magazine leap right off the rack — except you’d never find a copy of the Shaver Mystery Magazine on a newsstand rack. It was available through subscription only.
Shaver Mystery Magazine had everything you would want from a Shaver Mystery fanzine. There was filler by Rog Graham about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. There was a letters page sharing the lunatic fringe’s purported experiences in the caves — even more demented than usual, since Shaver was enthusiastically “yes, and”-ing every letter. There was a tasteless editorial claiming that dero were behind the rampage of “Lipstick Killer” George Heirens.
And then there was the Mandark, Shaver’s long-promised true history of Jesus Christ. Ziff-Davis had steadfastly refused to publish it because they preferred not being jailed for blasphemy, but Palmer and Shaver saw it as a selling point for their new venture. (Interestingly, earlier Shaver Mystery stories had implied that the Mandark had been destroyed aeons ago but apparently anything can be retrieved through the magic of telonium thought records.)
Free from Ziff-Davis’s influence, Shaver was now able to indulge in his worst impulses.
- It’s clear that nothing’s being edited. The plot is murky at best, and even the simplest sentence has a tortured structure. Pacing for serialization has been completely ignored. Installments just… end, without any sort of climax, cliffhanger, or emotional beat. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t also take forever to get to the damn point. The first installment include two prologues, a foreword, and a recap of the entire Shaver Mystery that take up 70% of its total length.
- As usual the plot is predictable, plot twists come out of left field, the characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is full of highfaultin’ word choices meant to make Shaver look smart (but which which only prove that he owned a thesaurus).
- It’s packed full of fake facts, usually in the form of long-winded footnotes that don’t actually clarify anything and actively detract from the story. One of the footnotes is a page and a half long!
- Just to sweeten the deal, the stories are now illustrated by Shaver’s own drawings. And let me tell you, he should have marched right into the Wicker School of Art and demanded a refund on his tuition. He’s got a style that’s somewhere between Henry Darger and Harry G. Peters, which looks dated even for 1947. He did pick up a few tricks in art school, but not enough to be good. Notably he has absolutely no flair for composition.
As for the plot… woof, where to begin? I’m just going to recap the whole thing so that I don’t have to do it issue by issue.
This book is about the horror of Life today, and it is the white root of truth about the forces that made our life the Hell it really is.Richard Sharpe Shaver, “Mandark”
Like most latter-day Shaver Mysteries, it starts with Shaver and Nydia pouring through old thought records trying to find information that will help them in their fight against the dero. Eventually he finds one from Jehovah, “Lord Ruler of Sabaoth, Elder Planat Afar” who describes how he engineered human beings to withstand solar radiation. After seeding the Earth with people, Jehovah leaves one final present: a genetically engineered superbaby who will emerge when the time is right.
Some 20,000 years later Yahveh is born in the caverns of the Elder Races, deep beneath the Earth. He is raised by Jehovah’s machines and told go go forth and “make these people well again.” Using the god-mech left behind in the caverns, Yahveh remotely impregnates women on the surface with his children, including Jesus and other prophets who will be his vanguard when he emerges from the depths to conquer the world.
Yavheh’s plot is foiled by dero tamper orchestrated by the evil Satantes. There are twists and turns and romance and betrayal and during the big climactic battle between Yahveh and Satantes, Jesus is crucified. A weakened Yahveh uses his machines to resurrect Jesus but is then imprisoned by Satantes’ daughter, Lila, who puppets him for centuries and uses him to rule the surface world. Eventually Yahveh escapes and leaves Earth to battle evil on other planets. The end.
There you go. I just saved you the hassle of reading 200,000 largely incoherent words.
The Mandark was a fixture of Shaver Mystery Magazine for the next three years. Not that there were all that many issues of Shaver Mystery Magazine. Production delays meant that the second issue wasn’t released until late fall. No reason was given for the delay. No explanation was given for the reduced page count. Then, just to rub salt in the wound, Shaver also announced that all subscriptions had now expired and anyone interested in receiving more issues would have to resubscribe, even though they’d already plunked down $6 on the promise of receiving twelve monthly issues.
Shaver was only getting negative letters now… or at least, only engaging with negative letters. And he was losing. Academics demolished his linguistic theories and scientific claims. Even casual fans had his number.
Mr. Shaver claims to have been in these caves, as I recall, not once but several times. Then, surely, he must know of at least one way to re-enter the caves. With so many people… ready and willing to finance and accompany a safari into the caves, what is detaining Mr. Shaver from organizing and leading said safari? Also, since he has made repeated visits to the caves does not Mr. Shaver have one single solitary shred of physical undeniable evidence to uphold his allegations?
So far Shaver’s claims have been basically proofless unless one is gullible and imaginative enough to accept his word for them. I, for one, am not. Mr. Shaver claims that narrow minded persons will react to his tory in exactly the same fashion that I am. A good argument but a false one.
Shaver could only respond the way Palmer had taught him: indignant high dudgeon, followed by the rhetorical trick of admitting to a small error and then veering off into tangents that don’t actually address the substance of the criticisms.
Then he stooped to manufacturing fake evidence. Volume 2, Number 2 featured an article purporting to be the transcript of a serious roundtable symposium on the Shaver Mystery. The problem is it’s all fake, and obviously slow. The location is only identified as a “prominent mid-western university.” The speakers are never identified by name or profession, and their dialogue sounds less like actual academic speech and more like the stilted rantings of Shaver’s cave people.
By the time 1949 rolled around the Mystery Club was in a bad place. Circulation had dwindled to a measly 1,000 subscribers, so Ziff-Davis lost interest and pulled their backing. That meant no access to Amazing Stories‘s printing presses, typesetters, artists, ghostwriters, or editors. Not like that mattered much, since Chester S. Geier quit after three issues so association with the magazine wouldn’t kill his career.
They sold the whole operation to Shaver. He set up a new company, Aldebaran Press, which never amounted to more than a printing press in his garage. (That garage was now in Wisconsin, where Shaver had recently moved.) To help raise money for startup costs he took pre-orders for a planned series of books about the history of the Elder Races.
The first issue of Volume 3 was the first issue published without Ziff-Davis backing, and it shows. It is not typeset like a professional magazine, but typewritten like a fanzine. It’s also full of typos. At least the art is still top-quality, though most of the assets were existing inventory purchased by Ziff-Davis before they pulled out.
Without the benefit of Palmer’s editorial operations, the magazine is borderline unreadable. It’s nothing more than a series of weird, nonsensical stream-of-consciousness rants including twenty pages of a “telaug log,” a nonsensical schematic for an anti-gravity device, and a real estate ad trying to sell Shaver’s old home back in Illinois.
The second issue of Volume 3 would be the last issue Shaver Mystery Magazine, and it looks like utter crap. In the opening editorial Shaver apologizes and blames the delays on dero are trying to stop the publication. He also apologized for the delays affecting his forthcoming books on the Elder Races. Those books would never appear.
And that was basically the end of the Shaver Mystery.
Over in the pages of Amazing Stories, Ray Palmer was valiantly trying to put the Mystery on life support. He tried tying in the dero to the flying saucer craze, to little effect. For a few months in 1948 he once again promised to publish “proof” of the Shaver Mystery, teased the reveal for a few months, and then penned an editorial full of the same weak and unconvincing arguments he’d been making all along. His stunts may have backfired. A 1949 poll encouraged readers to demand the Shaver Mystery’s return, and only 132 of them bothered to write in.
In later years, Palmer would spin tales making the end of the Shaver Mystery sound like a real cloak-and-dagger operation. Ziff-Davis had shut them down because they were getting too close to the truth about the caves. The Men In Black had shut them down because they were about to prove how dero and flying saucers were connected. That sort of conspiracy crap.
No one was buying it, and no one cared anymore. Subterranean sex perverts were old hat. Flying saucers were the new hotness.
What Now, Little Superman?
By the end of 1949 Palmer was gone from Amazing Stories. Ziff and Davis were increasingly unreceptive to his ideas, and were planning to move editorial operations from Chicago to New York. Palmer could see the writing on the wall, and quit.
Harold Browne was the new editor, and we all know he had no love for Shaver — in fact, he once called the Mystery “The sickest crap I’d run into”. He published one final story that the magazine had already paid for, January 1950’s “We Dance for The Dom”, a bog-standard space opera with a framing story featuring Mutan Mion.
Palmer set out on his own, chasing the flying saucer craze and revived interest in the occult in magazines like Fate and Search and Mystic. He didn’t forget his old pal — neighbor, actually, since he had followed Shaver up to Wisconsin. The first issue of Palmer’s Other Worlds in November 1949 featured Shaver’s “The Fall of Lemuria,” a series of vignettes sent during the events of “I Remember Lemuria!” It’s forgettable, but it does have a great cover with platinum blonde snake lady erupting from the ground and zapping a gnome with a ray gun.
Over the next few decades Palmer threw a few odd jobs Shaver’s way, including brief attempts to revive the mystery in 1954 and 1961. Neither succeeded.
As for Shaver, well, he was basically radioactive and unemployable as a writer. No one other than Palmer would touch him with a ten foot pole, and his few remaining stories were published pseudonymously. Eventually he had to put the cover on his typewriter and return to welding, working on the Nash-Kelvinator assembly line in Kenosha.
Once it fell out of sight the Shaver Mystery quickly fell out of mind. Its place in pop culture was quickly taken by flying saucers and Bigfoot. The idea of evil little men living in caves and secretly ruling the world has always had appeal to a certain sort of paranoid, though, and over the decades the Mystery and its component elements have been appropriated and repurposed by conspiracy theorists and cultists for various ends.
Whenever there’s a spike of interest in conspiracy theories, the dero are never far behind. The Shaver Mystery had a brief and unsurprising renaissance during the wave of paranoia and distrust that swept the nation post-Watergate, and then again in the mid-1990s when The X-Files was super popular. (It’s telling, though, that the Mystery’s largest impact on pop culture has probably been the derro, a little-used race of psychic dwarves from Dungeons & Dragons.)
Sci-fi fandom never forgot the Shaver Mystery, though, and could never forgive Palmer for pretending it was all true. Martin Gardner penned a savage critique the Mystery in his seminal 1952 book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which was usually concerned with far more serious frauds. That same year, a teenage Harlan Ellison cornered Palmer in an elevator at WorldCon in Chicago, and badgered the editor into admitting it was all a hoax intended to increase circulation. (Palmer’s defense was that he would have said anything to get out of that elevator, because Harlan Ellison is a belligerent butthole… and you know what, I’m actually with Palmer on this one.)
So, did Raymond Arthur Palmer really believe the Shaver Mystery was all true? It’s hard to say. He was definitely someone who was drawn to the fringy and occult, and had a disdain for “official science.” Then again, Palmer was also a fundamentally insincere man and his multiple returns to the Mystery over the years seem less like the actions of a true believer and more like attempts to bolster the sales of various failing magazines. I suppose the most even-handed thing that could be said here was that Palmer was someone who valued a good story over a true story.
It’s also unclear how much Dick Shaver believed in his own Mystery. It certainly seems that he believed in the ideas at its core, in the dero and mind control rays. You could argue, though, that the lore that he added to that core over the years was a writerly flourish intended to turn a true story into a good story.
As for what happened to both men…
Try as he might, Dick Shaver couldn’t escape the pull of the Mystery. His wife Dorothy kept finding small stones around the farm that looked like other things. One looked like the Virgin Mary; another, like a little foot. Curious, Shaver began sawing them in half in his workshop and looking at them with a magnifying glass. He saw what he interpreted as pictures and writing, some of them quite elaborate. (This was almost certainly some sort of pareidolia, but Shaver already had difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality.)
Now, the patterns on the stone were quite hard for anyone other than Shaver to see, so he began taking close-up photographs of them. Maybe enhancing those photos a bit in the darkroom. And then occasionally making paintings based on what he saw, and showing those instead.
He became convinced that these were “rockfogos” or “song stones” left by the Elder Races as a record of the time before the fall of Mu. At the same time Shaver also started reading the crackpot works of Immanuel Velikovsky, and became convinced that rockfogos were dire warnings that the planet was about to experience yet another terrible cataclysm.
Thinking some of his adoring fans might like to see a genuine piece of the Shaver Mystery, he set up a rental business for these “pre-Deluge art stones.” That’s right, for a range of prices from $1 to $25 you could borrow a box of rocks through the mail. Palmer tried to help out by giving his friend cut-rate advertising in the back of his magazines, but the general public really never showed much interest in rockfogos.
Since the rockfogos weren’t pulling in a ton of money, Shaver started looking for other investments. Perhaps unwisely, he invested a significant chunk of cash in Solar-X, a uranium mining company run by Kenneth Arnold. Yes, the very man whose whose flying saucers had displaced the Shaver Mystery in the public consciousness. The company failed and Shaver lost his entire investment.
The Shavers also lent their names to Freedom Publishing, an outfit out of Milwaukee run by former Amazing Stories assistant editor Bill Hamling. Dick and Dorothy were listed on the company’s board of directors, a do-nothing job for which they received a periodic stipend.
Freedom published a lot of work by some classic sci-fi authors, including Marion Zimmer Bradley, Donald Westlake, Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block… and also schlockmeister Ed Wood, Jr. for some reason. Its primary stock in trade, though, was semi-pornographic paperbacks with racy cover art and even racier titles. You may have seem some of their output on sites like Pulp Covers. They have instantly recognizable names like Nautipuss, Those Sexy Saucer People, and The Day The Universe Came.
Well, in April 1963 all that sleaze led Milwaukee’s district attorney to file obscenity charges against Freedom. Hamling went to jail, and the DA clearly Shaver and the other directors in his sights. Shaver’s tried to defend himself, insisting that he was just a figurehead not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. His friend (and fellow director) Palmer undercut that defense by claiming he had only signed on as a favor to Shaver, who was the brains behind the outfit. Shaver decided to deal with the problem by closing up shop and moving to a farm in Summit, AK. That placed him well outside the reach of the Milwaukee DA and the charges were dropped.
Fortunately for Dick Shaver, his new farm in Arkansas was also chock full of rockfogos, which he continued to collect and document. He began working with Palmer to publish a book featuring his photographs and paintings. When Ancient History in Stone finally appeared in print in 1975, it was bound in a single volume with Palmer’s autobiography, Martian Diary… with only Palmer’s name appearing on the front cover.
This is what it finally took to drag a wedge between the two men. From that point on, they weren’t on speaking terms.
The rift didn’t last long, mind you, because Shaver died from pancreatic cancer on November 5th, 1975. When Palmer learned of Shaver’s death, he said it was like losing a brother. Palmer had a pretty funny ideas about brotherhood if they involved exploiting his brother’s mental illness, dropping him like a hot potato the instant he became a liability, stabbing him in the back during legal proceedings, and ultimately denying him credit for his hard work.
In any case, Palmer himself died two years later.
The Shaver Mystery burned fast and bright, sputtering like a trick candle the whole time. The light it cast is long gone now, but the weird shadows it threw on the wall still live on in our memories to this very day.
A warning to future man, if you will.
In a few short months the first ships took off for New Mu, and the last of the race of Atlan soon followed, abandoning Mu for their new home in space. Arl and I remained on Mu to the last. During this time I finished my telonion message plates and distributed them in the most likely places in and on the surface of Mu. I pray that the descendants of those few wild men I have seen in the culture forests but have been unable to approach, may someday find these plates and have the sense to read them and heed their message. Someday, I have a feeling, they will be a race of men. It is good seed they inherit, and they might be worth my effort in spite of the Sun.
I pray that when the find the plates they will understand!Richard Sharpe Shaver, “I Remember Lemuria!”
This episode would not have been possible without research assistance from Greg Armstrong and Jake Woods.
(All corrections from the errata have been incorporated into this article, but not into the published audio.)
If the name Hugo Gernsback seems familiar to you, you’ve been paying attention. After the famous 1916 Jersey shore shark attacks, Gernsback suggested we could eliminate the shark problem by dragging electrified fish hooks behind commercial transport ships. (We mentioned the idea in Series 8’s “Scarlet Billows.”)
The Shavers trace their roots to the unincorporated hamlet of “Shavertown” in Luzerne County, PA. That area was ground zero for the Yankee-Pennamite Wars, when Pennsylvania and Connecticut fought for control of northern Pennsylvania. (We gave a brief history of the wars in in Series 9’s “The War Between the States.”)
Shaver wasn’t the only person who borrowed from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race. Scam artist Ann O’Delia Diss Debar tole the name “Adiva Veedya” from the novel for her last big scam. In the language of the Vril, “A-Diva Veed-ya” means “the unerring and absolute truth of immortality.” In Mantong it means “detrimental to the vitality of animals and self.” Score one begrudging point for Shaver there. (We talked about Diss Debar in Series 3’s “Spirit Princess.”)
Another author Shaver borrowed from was Abraham Merritt. Merrit’s The Moon Pool is about an evil underground civilization that can be accessed by secret passage hidden in the ruins of Nan Madol on the island of Pohnpei. (We talked about Nan Madol in Series 9’s “Liminal Space.”)
Dorothy Shaver kept mum about her husband’s beliefs about troglodytes and ray guns, because he kept mum about her belief in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hex magic. (We visited the world of braucherei and hexerei in the tale of the York County hex murder from Series 5’s “Bound in Mystery and Shadow.”)
One of sources of friction between Shaver and Palmer was that Palmer kept trying to tie the Mystery back into the Oahspe, a weird Spiritualist Bible that an Amazing Stories reader had sent to him. (We talked about the origins of the Oahspe in Series 7’s “Suffer Little Children.”)
And, of course, being featured in Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science puts Dick Shaver in the company of many notable crackpot luminaries: hollow earth Messiah Dr. Cyrus Reed Teed (Series 4’s “We Live Inside”); electron denier and murdered Bayard Peakes (Series 5’s” I’m the Naughty Boy”); chromotherapist Dr. Dinshah Ghadiali (Series 5’s “Normalating”); and flat earther Wilbur Glen Voliva (Series 6’s “Marching to Shibboleth”).
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- Palmer, Ramond A. “How to Use the Shaver Alphabet.” Amazing Stories, Volume 21, Number 6 (June 1947).
- Palmer, Raymond A. “Petrified Tree Stump, Or Not?” Amazing Stories, Volume 21, Number 6 (June 1947).
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- Shaver, Richard S. “Cave City of Hel.” Amazing Stories, Volume 19, Number 3 (September 1945).
- Shaver, Richard S. “Quest of Brail.” Amazing Stories, Volume 19, Number 4 (December 1945).
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- Shaver, Richard S. “The Masked World.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 2 (May 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S. “Luder Valley.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 3 (June 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S and McKenna, Bob. “Cult of the Witch Queen.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 4 (July 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S. “The Sea People.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 5 (August 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S. “Earth Slaves to Space!” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 6 (September 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S and McKenna, Bob. “The Return of Sathanas.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 8 (November 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S. “The Land of Kui.” Amazing Stories, Volume 20, Number 9 (December 1946).
- Shaver, Richard S. “The Mind Rovers.” Amazing Stories, Volume 21, Number 1 (January 1947).
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- Shaver, Richard S. “The Tale of the Red Dwarf Who Writes With His Tail.” Fantastic Adventures, Volume 9, Number 3 (May 1947).
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