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War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction by Richard Toronto
Cover Artist: Robert Gibson Jones
Review by Nick Sauer
Mcfarland & Co Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780786473076
Date: 31 May 2013 List Price $45.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

War Over Lemuria is subtitled Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction. This is a very good description as the book's primary focus is on biographies of Mr. Palmer and Mr. Shaver. The first two chapters cover the lives of these two individuals, respectively, up to the point at which they first entered into correspondence with one another. From there on the book follows both their lives chronologically through the Shaver Mystery onward.

While this may seem an odd way of presenting the story, it is actually quite necessary as it demonstrates how these two individuals shared a common perspective on reality that easily forged a strong relationship once they met. For those unfamiliar with the Shaver Mystery, this was something that was created by Richard Shaver, although the actual term itself was coined by Palmer when he, as editor of Amazing Stories magazine, first published the story "I Remember Lemuria" in the March 1945 issue of the magazine. Ray Palmer presented the story as if it may have been a work of fact instead of fiction. His goal was to increase Amazing Stories circulation and the Shaver Mystery very successfully did just that. Ray maintained an agnostic stance towards the material himself throughout its history in the magazine. To say that this was a controversial publishing tactic is a bit of an understatement.

Anyone looking for a more detailed history of the Shaver Mystery may be a bit disappointed by this book. While the topic is covered it makes up a relatively small percentage of the book. The main focus of the book is the lives of these two rather unique individuals as well as a number of the people surrounding them that formed what the author refers to as the "inner circle" of writers and editors from the Ray Palmer era of Amazing Stories. The impact that each made on publishing of the period and beyond is covered in great detail. The material includes a generous number of quotes from surviving family members and the few surviving circle members that the author was able to interview.

I am quite familiar with the Shavery Mystery myself as I own a number of the Amazing Stories issues from that run of the magazine but, War Over Lemuria still taught me a great deal as it provided a look at the inner workings of the packaging and selling of the mystery to the magazine's readers and, ultimately, the greater American public. It was a look behind the curtain to see how the story was actually built. One topic that I learned much more about was the background of SF fandom itself. Science Fiction fans have always been a much more internally political group than fans of other hobbies I have been involved with. Ray Palmer was intimately involved with the very beginnings of SF fandom, so in covering his early life I learned that this characteristic of the fan community was there at its birth. This historical perspective was very helpful in giving me a greater appreciation of the nature of the modern SF fan community.

War Over Lemuria is very well written and the organization of the material into a chronological context makes it an easy and pleasant read. The book includes a good deal of bibliographic footnotes and, as is largely standard for McFarland, includes a very good index. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the early history of American science fiction publishing.

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