Few people have heard of Ray Palmer outside the science fiction and UFO communities, and even within these, he is remembered mostly as a genial huckster. When he was editor of the magazine Amazing Stories during the late 1930s and ’40s, he told prospective writers to “gimme bang-bang,” which hardly qualified him as the Maxwell Perkins of science fiction. The stories he published were largely forgettable, except for those that were notorious, such as a series by Richard Shaver about an ancient, underground race of evil beings attacking humanity. Palmer supported his author’s assertion that they were factual rather than fictional, which, consequently, sent Amazing Stories’ circulation skyrocketing. Readers were divided over the stories’ veracity and Palmer’s honesty, but Life magazine trumpeted the controversy, and it was great for business. Palmer also latched onto the UFO phenomena that took off in 1947 by publishing some of the earliest “nonfiction” magazines and books dedicated to space aliens. A diminutive figure (4-foot-8), Palmer clearly loved a tall tale. But is there anything more about him we want to know now?
Fred Nadis’s insightful biography demonstrates that Palmer is significant as well as intriguing. He’s exemplary because he embraced marvels in a scientific age that claims to disavow them. His approach is widespread today: He entertained the incredible with his imagination while skeptically probing it with his reason. Nadis notes that Palmer “encouraged dual interpretations like a sailor tacking into the wind.” His perspective anticipated Dana Scully and Fox Mulder of the “X-Files”: both “I Want To Believe” and “Trust No One.” They — and we — are his heirs.