Monday, 15 April 2013

The Shaver Mystery book three

Richard S. Shaver The Shaver Mystery book three (2011)
Back in the 1940s, Richard Shaver delighted and probably also confused readers of Amazing Stories with his tales of a world hidden below the ground, a network of caves and tunnels spanning the globe inhabited by mysterious and terrible creatures of which the worst were almost certainly the Dero. These tunnels had once been inhabited by advanced beings, since gone to live elsewhere in the galaxy, unfortunately leaving the degenerate Dero to make fiendish use of their ray devices. Shaver's intention was to expose the truth of the Dero training these ray devices on surface dwellers causing train wrecks, spontaneous human combustion, disappearances, voices in the head and so on. The Dero, he insisted, were not only motivated almost entirely by evil, but they were also real, described in his fictionalised accounts in the pages of a science-fiction periodical because the truth was simply too shocking for any other avenue, besides which, even if he was stark raving mad, he wasn't an idiot and knew full well that he would be laughed at.

The thing is, Richard Shaver was almost certainly a deeply-troubled man suffering from serious mental illness of the kind that rationalises voices in one's head as the work of ray operators at work deep below the earth; so I don't think I'm ever quite going to square any pleasure I might derive from his writing with the suspicion that he was something of a carnival attraction for Ray Palmer, his publisher. Then again, I wasn't there so I don't know, and perhaps it did him good to churn out page after page of this stuff.

Much as I dislike the term, there's good cause to regard Shaver's tales - of which two lengthy examples are featured here - as outsider art (as are the paintings he produced in later life) although that shouldn't be taken to indicate that he necessarily lacked literary distinction. On the contrary, some of his writing is astonishing and weirdly compelling:

She slipped to the floor beside the terrible dignity of the God throne, and the scene of her last deed in life did honor even to the awesomely sculptured chamber of ancient honor and striving. For Sarah strove in her hate, and died so, trying to do right. The gross horror crouched on the God throne was dead, and the sculpted faces looked down on Sarah as she died with their stony approval not incongruous.

Okay, so I'm not saying it's Shakespeare, but it does much more than just roll out the customary shite of some tosspot having adventures and making observations grinningly as hacked out in the relentlessly unambitious efforts of certain authors I wish I'd never bothered reading. It's endlessly melodramatic in those same gritted teeth terms of A.E. van Vogt, with the tone of some bizarre hybrid of Ben Hur and Cocteau's Orphée, and as serious as a matter of life and death which the author clearly believed appropriate as he delivered these warnings about the people downstairs. The only real problem is that it seems Shaver had his good days and his bad days, and longer tales such as are printed here tended to get a bit scrambled as his brain worked through the stranger psychic excesses of his unfortunate condition. They're still worth reading for some of the imagery, and the narrative is usually roughly coherent beneath all the peculiar digressions; and even with all that taken into account, both The Masked World and Thought Records of Lemuria make more sense than William Gibson's award-winning Neuromancer so, you know... 

This is published by Armchair Fiction who can be found here, by the way...


  1. I think I may have to buy a copy of this...

  2. I do wonder how they managed to find the authors of some of these books though, sice presumably all of them are in copyright?

  3. I strongly suspect there's some sort of copyright loophole at work, although I could be wrong - or maybe it's different in the US (which might explain the glut of 1940s Simak short stories suddenly turning up on Amazon as "eBooks" (inverted commas because I'm sceptical as to whether a 4,000 word story could really be described as such) - still, AF defnitely have a mouth-watering catalogue.

    Not actually sure this would be the best Shaver volume to start with (although then again I'm not sure that it isn't) - 'I Remember Lemuria' seems to be his 'biggest hit' and that's in either book one or two (both reviewed elsewhere on this blog).