15 April 2014
Review: The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey
The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I guess it's not too strange that, while I tend to dislike biographies, the ones I'm most drawn to are ones about outsiders, about those on the fringes, and/or those who aren't afraid to upend the standard conventions of the time. I can't remember when I first heard of Ray Palmer, science fiction publishing forefather, or of The Man From Mars which tells his tale, but it's a solid workmanlike reading about a man who deserves more acclaim than he got.
The book is very straightforward, taking us from Ray Palmer's childhood throughout his professional activity, from publishing weird tales and pulpy science fiction to his social polemics. The story does a decent job covering them, and is not afraid to present many of the personalities as they were in terms of the more paranoid types that Palmer appealed to and drew in.
If I have one complaint, it's that it almost feels as if Nadis has taken the more real-world conspiratorial beliefs toward the end of Palmer's life (he was especially fond of many right-conspiracy theories as he got on in years) and applied that same sort of paranoia to his earlier life. Palmer, at his core, seemed to be a Babbian showman in a sense, and was willing and able to go along with any claim or belief in order to get more stories and sell more periodicals. Without being able to significantly examine the cited works, it almost feels as if Nadis, at times, actually came to believe a lot of what he was publishing in these fictional magazines. If Palmer truly did, the book doesn't do a great job showing that shift in belief. If Palmer didn't, as I suspect, Nadis has done Palmer's legacy at least one disservice in not making that expressly clear.
Regardless of my complaints, this is a really solid, worthwhile history of a man deserving of a lot of attention. A mandatory read for people interested in the history of science fiction, of sci-fi publication, or of the odd forgotten types of popular culture history.
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