For anyone with an interest in the paranormal, visionary experiences, or just pop culture, I'd definitely rate this one as a must read. It tells - in some detail - the story of a life I was hitherto unaware of. Before learning of this book, to me the "dero" were just monsters in an old edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And "Ray Palmer" was just the secret identity of the silver-age Atom: a DC superhero who I now know was named in homage to this real life Ray Palmer.
Palmer's professional life began in the science fiction pulps of the 1930's and 40's, and ended with him editing no-less pulpy publications dealing with UFO's and general paranormal phenomena. To be completely honest, in some ways I find this journey a little sad. It seems to me that he started out in a rather fun place, and ended up devoting much of his life to the purely and simply crackpot. While I do believe that paranormal phenomena can be the subject of legitimate and serious inquiry, it is very hard to buy into the idea that Ray Palmer was ever engaged in such.
To what extent Palmer himself believed in what he was publishing is forever an open question.
Nevertheless, this is a genuinely interesting book. I would especially recommend it to anyone with an interest in the current crop of fringe conspiracy theories - David Icke's reptilians in particular. Reading this book and comparing Shaver's dero with Icke's reptilians will, I think, afford the reader a deeper appreciation of the nature of the current phenomena. One can't help but wonder who will succeed Icke in another twenty years or so, and what shape the next generation of monsters will take.
This book is also rather interesting for the questions it raises, and perhaps implicitly answers, about the nature of the visionary experience. It has been said that tribal cultures turn their schizophrenics into functioning members of society by making them into shamans. Palmer, I think, performed this service for one such individual.
To be clear, I am not suggesting this as a universal theory of shamanism, psychic phenomena, or paranormal experiences. Many people engaged in such pursuits or reporting such experiences are quite obviously not schizophrenic. Nevertheless, this biography may perhaps serve double-duty as fable, warning us all of the dangers of excessive literalism in our interpretation of these experiences. Of being too quick to take things at face value.
Interestingly, the author suggests that Palmer himself could have been prone to this kind of overly literal thinking. By way of evidence he offers up the following quote from Palmer: "Even Rod Sterling must suspect there is a Twilight Zone, or he would not write of it". Though perhaps, in this particularly telling line, there are deeper clues as to the true nature of Ray Palmer's world view, and how he regarded his own literary career.
Perhaps to him, flying saucers, the Hollow Earth, and the shining world of tomorrow depicted in the earliest of the pulps were all part of the same continuum: a transmundane domain of both wonder and horror, seances and superscience, beckoning us all to come explore. A world that, for the likes of Shaver and Icke, may indeed be accessible, even if only to the bravest and most intrepid pioneers.
But for better and for worse, for most of us that world must beckon forever.
Like the dog-headed men of medieval geography, it lies always just beyond the next horizon.