"A Curiosity in the History
of Science Fiction"

If Richard S. Shaver is discussed today, it is usually as a curiosity in the history of science fiction, or as an early example of that dim area where fiction shades into UFOs and ancient astronauts. This is to some extent justified but not altogether fair. Although "The Shaver Mystery" series was presented for the most part as fact, it is far more akin to the science fiction of its time, both in execution and in sources, than most realize; and, taken as fiction, the stories do have intrinsic interest and merit.

During Shaver's writing career, spanning three decades, his stories and "non-fiction" explications were published in a number of magazines, primarily under his longtime editor and advocate, Ray Palmer, at first in science-fiction magazines such as Amazing Stories and Other Worlds, and later in "occult" publications such as Hidden World A letter from Shaver (Amazing, December 1944) described the underground races called the "dero" and "tero" who had taught him the pre-catastrophe language of "Mantong." Then, at Palmer's request, Shaver sent a 10,000 word manuscript from which Palmer wrote a 31,000 word story, "I Remember Lemuria!" Constructed for high drama and written in colorful and traditional pulp style, it told the story of "Mutan Mion of ancient Lemuria," and fully outlined the background and dogma of the Shaver Mystery. The Atlans and Titans, Shaver reports, had been immortal giants of advanced technology; then the sun began to age and give off "heavy metal radiation," causing aging and death. Most fled the Earth for a planet with a younger sun, but others burrowed beneath the ground seeking protection from the poisonous rays. These are the dero and tero Shaver claimed to have met in the caves--struggling remnants of A once-great civilization. Of these two warring factions, the dero are by far the more interesting; Shaver has developed the quintessential conspiracy theory. Whenever anything goes wrong, the degenerate dero, crazed by the sun's rays and using the almost-magical machines left by the Elder Races, are responsible. Against this depravity, the tero fight valiantly but often in vain, sometimes aided by sensitive surface men like Richard Shaver.

This is fairly basic stuff, at least in its psychological appeal both as archetype and as wish fulfillment, especially for Amazing with its younger and less demanding readership. What made it controversial was that, after the first story, the series was presented as fact. It is debatable whether Palmer believed this, it is probable that he saw it mainly as a way to increase circulation, at least at first. Shaver, however, apparently believed completely his visit to the caves, in the voices that spoke to him from underground, and in what those voices told him. In the May 1978 Science Fiction Review,, Palmer announced that the eight years Shaver spent "in the caves" were actually spent in the Ypsilanti State Hospital as a paranoid schizophrenic. This sheds light on the style as well as the content of Shaver's writing: besides adventure-writing devices and techniques, Shaver's style is marked by "schizophrenia" characteristics such as disjointed tendencies and, more importantly, word-dismantling and "clang associations."

But it would be wrong to dismiss these writings as only psychotic ravings, or even as Shaver's ravings hammered into salable fiction by Palmer. For one thing, Shaver himself wrote For other magazines under a number of pseudonyms, including house names. Beyond that, the stories show an eclectic range of clearly literary influences. These include the lush fiction of A. Merritt, Wells's Morlocks and Eloi, and the fictional world view of H.P. Lovecraft, from whose novel At the Mountains of Madness Shaver probably got the term "Elder Race." Harry Warner, Jr. (in All Our Yesterdays) mentions a possible influence from E.R. Eddison, "whom Shaver once identified as his literary idol" and A Reader¹s Guide to Science Fiction demonstrates patterning, perhaps conscious, after the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Possible sources in occult non-fiction include Charles Fort, the Theosophy of Mme. Blavatsky, and James Churchward's Mu series, which Shaver mentions in his first letter to Palmer. Shaver also mentions Edith Hamilton's writings on mythology‹which his own works explain and correct. The Bible, especially the Edenic theme, is also an important source.

What results is an odd but fascinating blend of high adventure, outrageous "science," and elusive but striking systems of cosmic speculation. If the characters are sometimes flat, if the plots too often seem "boy meets girl, boy beats dero, boy wins girl"‹and this is not always the case‹the sheer wealth and strangeness of the concepts Shaver develops more than compensate for that. There is a kind of Stapledonian scope to Shaver, a sense of epic and mythic, panoramas; the races, societies, and technologies with which he populates his universe are varied and often impressive. The appeal of Richard Shaver to the reader then and now is, as Palmer said, "one thing only, his unusual imagination. His strange sense of the unusual, his feeling for emotion, his sense of the beautiful and his sense of the outre." For that reason Shaver¹s writing, shrouded in controversy and now largely neglected, are worthy of new attention.

Bernadette Bosky