This is “sort of” a book review– but not really. It’s really going to be an essay about the subject of a book, but a long and glorious tradition of literary smarm has made it okay for me to just write any damn thing I want about this book and get away with it.
How cool is that?
So, I’ll skip the boring “this book was good” stuff and get to the other parts….
I should point out that this books NEEDS AN EDITOR but that goes for most books nowadays, because the job of editor has been phased out in favor of stupidity. When a publisher (or distributor, like Amazon) can just cut out the editor and replace that person with a (BLANK) you get a book where the various parts are “sorta” hooked up in order using a program like Scrivener, but the parts don’t really fit right because nobody knew how to go back, sort the chapters and sub-chapters by subject and then queue up a list of topics and see if anything got repeated in a way that looks stupid.
If you say that God created the Earth in chapter one, then go on and on about how he created the Earth (again? later?) in chapter 10, you need to decide when He created the damned Earth and plant that flag in one chapter or the other. Don’t be like God. Do as he says, not as he do…
But forgetting that you already said that, fifty pages ago, and going on and on, and getting to the punch line (“he spiked the punch with Tang!”) and wondering why nobody is laughing is the mark of the self-published author who only wants to pay for a line edit, not a real editor who fixes this kind of stuff, because a person like that is going to want a couple of grand. At least.
Okay, so we got that out of the way.
It’s funny because this book is about people (real people, I think) who lived in another time and place, and damn sure edited the shit out of everything before it appeared in the pages of Amazing Stories. The editor in the 1940’s was a dude named Ray Palmer– and he ended up riding a bronco named “Shaver”– a wild, ferocious beast that bit, spit, kicked and tried to kill him and Science Fiction was a literary genre.
And, weirdly enough, “The Shaver Mystery” just about did all those things. It killed the hell out of it. Science fiction has never really recovered from the horrible attack of some guy named Shaver who ripped a huge hole in something that nobody really thought could be ripped.
The story is WAY too big for me to try to summarize it. I should point out, though, that THIS book– War Over Lemuria by Richard Toronto– is NOT about the stories that ate science fiction. It’s about the two men who made the whole thing happen. It’s a kind of “dual biography”– one biography of Ray Palmer, and the other biography of Richard Shaver. Both men lived very hard lives. Exceptionally hard lives. Both men had experienced great suffering and both had learned how to survive in a world what wanted to write them off.
But this book, alone, will not tell you the whole story of “The Shaver Mystery.” In fact, you may end up, having read it, with more questions than answers.
But that’s the chance you take to learn something.
The fascinating thing about this whole chunk of nerd history is that it really boiled down to a collision between “the new age” and “science.” You know, as one particularly nasty chap tried to tell me before I launched Operation Kill Jerk, the two things will never meet. East is east, and west is west. No amount of girls at the sci-fi con is going to allow Lemuria to slop over onto Ayn Rand and get away with it.
Also weirdly, it was Harlan Ellison, of all people, who led the charge to have Palmer and Shaver excommunicated from the Holy Church of Sci-Fi for being heretics and talking about The Astral Plane and Hollow Earth and Atlantis.
Harlan Ellison. His behavior on this has me re-thinking my “don’t judge the art by the artist” philosophy. I mean, just because Frank Lloyd Wright was a womanizing egomaniac, or Picasso was a womanizing egomaniac, or Hemingway was a womanizing egomaniac, or Woody Allen was a womanizing egomaniac, (wait– I’m seeing a trend here) SHOULD WE CONDEMN THEIR ART?
And what about Harlan Ellison? Was he a womanizing egomaniac? Yeah, he was.
And his stories are pretty good.
But his behavior during and after the “Shaver Mystery” was pretty crappy.
But only if you don’t understand that Ellison was motivated by Holy Zeal. The stuff that carried the Crusaders to Jerusalem. The stuff that carried the holy land-grabbers to Oklahoma…
The split between “Science Fiction Fans” and the “Lunatics” who liked Shaver and Palmer was a split between Ayn Rand naïve materialists and New Age spiritualists.
The “scientists” won the battle but the new-agers won the war, young Skywalker.
Today, the Science Fiction and Fantasy books at Half Price Books are all mixed up together on the shelf. The typical “convention” features are disturbingly gender-sorted list of interests, with dragons and those weird “furry” people coming in with the scent of a woman, and the gritty “science fiction” herd being those guys we lovingly refer to as “incels” or “migtoes” until they quit messin’ around and get with a dragon/furry queen.
The 1940’s. When Stalin ruled half the world and people from underground ruled the rest. Goodbye, ancient land of Lemuria. Long may your movies about Madagascar rule the box-office.