Sunday, July 8, 2018

Summer Movie Miscelleny

I have been away and will be away again soon. My writing has suffered for it, but it seems to me that we all have two choices in life: there is either family or there is everything else. I will choose family for as long as it's needed. In the meantime, I hope you will continue to read Tellers of Weird Tales. There is still plenty to be found here, especially way back in the vault, if you haven't already been following this blog since its beginnings. I hope to devote more time to it before too much longer.

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Last month we were able to take time away from our work to see two movies. Solo: A Star Wars Story came first. We saw it in an old movie theater in Shelbyville, Indiana, and in that, I felt like we had stepped back in time. That's a nice feeling to have when you're seeing a movie that is essentially a return to the past and a work of nostalgia. Unfortunately we came too late in the run of Solo to have had much of a crowd. In fact there were only two other people in the theater, and they seemed to be either all dead or mostly dead. I wondered why they were even there.

I was a little apprehensive about Solo. I hadn't heard a lot of good things about it, and I was especially skeptical of the young actor chosen to play the title character. Now, after having seen it, I can say that there wasn't so much to worry about after all. I liked and enjoyed it, but that's not to say that it's a great movie. I'll tell you why I think that.

First, the whole Star Wars franchise is, in my opinion, pretty well exhausted. There is energy and inventiveness in Solo--having a young cast helps in that way--but it's hard to get excited anymore about a Star Wars movie. Solo is an example of why that is, for there is very little at stake in this film. We know that certain characters will live--there is little suspense as to their fate. As for the other characters--well, they're not very interesting or well developed. I didn't care very much whether they lived or died. They didn't seem to care either. Woody Harrelson's character loses the woman he loves (or at least who loves him) early in Solo. What is his response? Not much of anything. And what kind of lines are these people given to speak? Little that is either expressive or memorable. If anything is going on inside them, we don't know what it might be. They don't seem to have much in the way of feelings, desires, or personalities. Again and again in Solo, someone or something is lost, gained, or striven for, and yet its characters--and we because of it--feel almost nothing. This goes back to my complaint about the whole Star Wars universe, that it's pretty much devoid of love and human emotion. Put another way, the Star Wars universe is stoic. The characters we love the most--Han Solo for example--seem to be interlopers. Perhaps that explains his jadedness and cynicism in the original Star Wars (1977).

Second, and more to the point, Solo is the fifth out of ten Star Wars movies that exist solely to explain the original Star Wars (1977). (1) The problem is that Star Wars doesn't need any explaining. It's a whole story. It stands alone. (It's the only film in the saga to do so.) We all saw, loved, and thoroughly enjoyed it without knowing what came before. (We didn't really need to know what came after it, either. [2]) Yes, Obi-Wan Kenobi mentions the Clone Wars and explains that Darth Vader killed Annikin Skywalker, but that's all we really needed in 1977. We didn't need five more movies--five whole movies running to nearly eleven and a half hours--to tell us what was neatly, economically, and satisfactorily disposed of with a few minutes of dialogue in the original and in its opening scroll.

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The exhaustion we see now in the Star Wars saga is emblematic of our larger popular culture. As I've said before, we are like people picking among the ruins of a once great civilization. There shouldn't be any need to point out that it will never again be 1977. There will never again be a phenomenon like Star Wars. As much fun as it was, we will never have that back, and we should quit trying to get it back. Likewise, we should quit trying to remake the creation. We don't need any more explanations of what went before. The scroll tells us. We don't need any new secret origin stories, nor any reboots. We don't need to know how Han Solo came by his surname or the details of his winning of the Millennium Falcon or how he found out about Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. These things are minutiae. We all have better versions of how they happened inside our own imaginations. To commit them to film only heads off all other possibilities, which are, truth be told, infinite in number.

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The George Lucas version of the Star Wars saga--what fans call "the canon"--is only one of that infinite number of possibilities. For example, the second trilogy is not really the story of how Annikin Skywalker became Darth Vader. It's only Mr. Lucas' version of that story, just as in his revised version of Star Wars, Greedo shoots first. In our version of that scene, Han Solo shoots first. Is not our version equally as valid as the revised version? Isn't it actually more valid, considering that it's based on the original creation rather than on a revision? In an alternate version of the Star Wars universe (the version shown in the original movie), Darth Vader and Annikin Skywalker are not the same person. Vader is not Luke's father. With that being the case, the events of the second trilogy are rendered invalid. Even if we accept George Lucas' revision and Darth Vader is Luke's father, the events of a second trilogy could have happened in a different way. In my imagination they did. You may have a version sprung from your own imagination. I count your version as valid, too. As for how the Rebels came by the plans for the Death Star: the events shown in Rogue One are only one version of that story. You can see another version in Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars (2014). One, the "canonical" version, concludes with a creepy CGI Princess Leia, in other words an attempt to bring back something from the irretrievable past. The other is extremely funny and in the end perhaps more entertaining. So which version is the "right" one?

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What we're seeing in all of this is a kind of obsessiveness in explaining what came before. By returning again and again to the past, moviemakers (and fans) are merely regurgitating and chewing their cud. I've never chewed it before, but I know enough to say that cud is not fresh.

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I have other complaints about Solo. Again, as in other Star Wars movies, music (and by extension joy and pleasure) is here associated with decadence or evil. Witness the scene of the cocktail party on board the bad guy's spaceship. Also, early on, there is an extended chase scene that--though exciting and well-staged--amounts to a preview and source material for a video game. (Most action movies have these scenes now.) I for one don't want to see a video game while going to the movies.

More seriously: I had read about the supposed "social justice" content of Solo before going to the theater. If there is that kind of thing in Solo, it seems to be toned down. However, it's interesting that there seems to be in this film a kind of turning in the Star Wars universe in that the bad guys are now not strictly governmental (i.e., working for the Empire, in other words for a totalitarian State) but also include criminal syndicates allied with the Empire. In other words, in Solo is introduced an entirely new concept, that of what you might call a quasi-fascistic alliance between an overarching State and nefarious business interests working hand in glove with the State to bring about its ends. In other words, the makers of Solo are saying that Star Wars (1977) had it all wrong: the Empire as a State is not the main villain in the galaxy, for it is aided by and allied with businessmen, and so the bugaboo of the real-world Leftist rears its ugly head here. Never mind that Disney is a multi-gazillion dollar corporation like the mysterious Crimson Dawn. Businessmen--in other words, the middle class, aka Marx's bourgeoisie--are now seemingly the ultimate bad guys in the Star Wars universe.

There is other "social justice" content in Solo, for it turns out that the Cloud Riders are not marauders but warriors against the Empire and its businessmen partners. I guess we're supposed to sympathize with them because they have been exploited and abused. They are the underdogs, and we all love underdogs. The class warfare aspect of this part of the story is hard to ignore, though. And if there is any doubt that membership in the underclass intersects with the other sympathies of the real-world Leftist, the leader of the Cloud Riders turns out to be not just a woman but a bi-racial woman. Grrl Power, yeah! The only way it could have been better is if she were a transgender Muslim. (3) And in case you missed it, she seems to be a kind of Founding Mother of the Rebellion, for it is she who provides the Rebels with what they will need to power their fleet. (If only she had known that that same fleet would be wiped out by the end of The Last Jedi, she might have let Han Solo have it for the Millennium Falcon, which survives.)

One more bit before I move on the second movie we have seen recently. There was talk that Lando Calrissian would turn out to be "pansexual" in Solo. Yeah, whatever, Disney. But he does seem to have a thing for his robot, although their relationship, whatever it might be, seems to be one in which the distaff side--the robot--bullies and abuses her opposite--Lando himself. Anyway, I'm not sure what objection people might have to this relationship when right now (or at least very soon) real people are having (or will soon have) "sex" with robots. If it isn't wrong in real life, how can it be wrong in a movie? Beyond that, millions if not billions of people, instead of living their lives in the real world and in relationship with real human beings, are now living, mostly or exclusively, by vicarious means, that is, through machines. (And if they're not, they aspire to live that way.) The most obvious example of this way of "life" is the obsessive playing of computer games and video games. So are the same people who are having these digital or virtual "experiences" or "relationships"--the same people who report having digital "friends"--really complaining about a character in the movies having a "sexual" relationship with a robot? Isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? (No pun intended.) Isn't there really only one kind of experience, one that takes place in the real world, without a digital intermediary? And isn't there really only one kind of relationship, one in which a real person relates only to another real person and not to a machine or through a machine? Why should anyone who lives his life through a machine complain about another person doing the very same thing? (4, 5)

* * *

So a few days after we saw Solo, we went to see Avengers: Infinity War in a different movie theater. There were more people this time and we had more fun. It struck me that here are two movies, each made by a separate division of Disney, and yet one--Avengers: Infinity War--is so vastly superior to the other. It's much more entertaining and exciting in my opinion, but there is obviously so much more at stake in this film than in Solo. The characters are human and likable. They have feelings and desires and personalities. There is also a great deal of humor and some very funny dialogue. There is even music. (Wherever Star-Lord goes, there is music.) I guess my question is, how did it come to be that the Marvel movies are so much better than the Star Wars movies? And how has Marvel so successfully mined the past for material while the makers of the Star Wars movies have so often failed in that task?

One last thing. In Avengers: Infinity War, the villain is Thanos and he has, of course, his world-destroying scheme. This is to wipe out half of the life in the universe because he thinks the place is overpopulated. In a movie, that's a perfectly fine goal for a villain. We easily find ourselves rooting against the villain and for the men and women who oppose him. But do the people watching this film realize that Thanos' goal is one shared by millions of their fellows, some of whom are probably sitting right next to them in the theater? What I mean is this: If you believe in zero-population growth--if you believe that our planet is overpopulated and that our numbers should be controlled--that there should be only two billion people or five hundred million people or whatever arbitrary number of people you have come up with--that we are destroying our planet and should be reduced, or, in the words of a prominent writer and editor of fantasy, lessened or diminished--if you believe any of these things, then you are Thanos. You are not one of us. You are not one of the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy or the Wakandans or the people of Earth or of any other planet in the universe. You are a villain and a monster. Just admit that to yourself. You are a monster. And you should begin as soon as possible to cease being a monster and to come over to the side of humanity. Take this message to heart: Don't be Thanos. Be a human being. Be one of us instead of against us.

Notes
(1) Those movies are: The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005), Rogue One (2016), and now Solo (2018).
(2) Just as five of the Star Wars movies explain what came before the original, four, soon to be five, explain what came after. You could make an argument that they are also unnecessary. In the end, don't we really just need the original Star Wars? (Or maybe Star Wars and a little of The Empire Strikes Back?)
(3) We are led to believe at first that her character is male and are allowed to see only near the end that she is actually female. Is that a figurative transition from one sex to the other? Is she then figuratively "transgender"? Maybe. It's more likely that this is just a continuation of the trend in our popular culture to remake traditionally male roles or characters (Mad Max, Dr. Who, Colonel Sanders, Luke Skywalker) into female roles or characters (with Imperator Furiosa being the female Mad Max and Rey being the female Luke).
(4) "Sexual" relationships between human beings and robots go way back in science fiction. I'm not sure how far back, but they're at least as old as the Barbarella comic strip of the 1960s. See also the movie Westworld, from 1973. And if you look at the robot in Metropolis as sexual in some way (I think we're supposed to), then sex and robots have been a thing since 1927.
(5) By the way, Avengers: Infinity War also depicts a relationship between a human being and a robot. I think there's a big difference here, though. In Solo, the human-robot relationship is overtly sexualized. I guess we're supposed to think that it's cute and funny. (Maybe we're being softened up--no pun intended--for further moves planned by the social justice warriors behind the Star Wars movies.) In Avengers: Infinity War, however, the human-robot relationship is not overtly sexualized. In fact, the relationship between Scarlet Witch and the Vision seems to be one of love. The Vision aspires to be human. Scarlet Witch loves him and tries to save his life. Meanwhile Lando Calrissian is dragged down into mechanized sex with a robot that isn't and can never be human. Maybe that as much as anything explains why the Marvel movies are better than the Star Wars movies.
In any case, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Disney would create a "pansexual" character for one of its movies, for there has been sexual perversion in Disney movies at least since the 1960s. If you doubt that, watch the scene in The Parent Trap (1961), an otherwise enjoyable movie in which Disney's dirty old men had Hayley Mills suck on a pale, plastic popsicle for endless minutes. Worse yet is The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), in which there isn't anything that is not weird, creepy, perverted, or disturbing except for Annette Funicello. 

Revised July 11, 2018
Copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, June 4, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Seven

By meeting the Three Men in Black and traveling on board their flying saucer, Albert Bender learned the secret behind the phenomenon that had intrigued and vexed him for so long. Further investigations into the flying saucer phenomenon were pointless and might even be harmful, for the aliens had promised to destroy Earth if they were interfered with in their work. As the dog days of the summer of 1953 came on, Bender understood that he had to shut down the IFSB and quit publishing Space Review. How would he explain his actions to the other members of the organization, though? "I would simply tell them it would not be possible to publish anything," he decided, "because such was not the proper method nor was it the proper time for such an action. All information was being withheld by orders from what I would simply term 'a higher source'." (1)

Before that necessity came about, however, Bender was once again visited by the Three Men. This time he was in for the trip of his life, for they took him to their secret base in--where else?--Antarctica. "All our cities are constructed underground," one of the aliens told him at the beginning of his trip, continuing:
We have crater-like openings on the surface, through which we are able to elevate spacecraft stations for takeoffs and landings. When these stations are not in use they descend into the craters, and the landing fields serve as cover for the openings, with only communications towers visible. (2)
Yes, like the dero, Bender's aliens lived in underground cities, and, like the Nazis, they had a secret base in Antarctica. Bender's aliens were a lot friendlier, though, and so they took him on a tour of their home.

Bender's account of the aliens and their society reads like a Utopia, a Lost-Worlds adventure or scientific romance of the pulp fiction era, or the supposed non-fiction written in the 1950s by men such as George Adamski, Howard Menger, and Truman Bethurum. And make no mistake about it, Albert K. Bender went from a seemingly sober and science-minded investigator (his associate editor, Max Krengel, had written in the first issue of Space Review: "The mystery of the 'flying saucers' will be eventually solved by calm, clear-thinking individuals.") to that lowest form of the flying saucer era, the contactee who goes winging his way around the solar system as the esteemed guest of aliens from outer space. The 1950s were crawling with contactees and there were more to come in the decades ahead. (Eventually they evolved into abductees.) But then the flying saucer story always ends with contact, as we'll see.

In touring the aliens' underground city, Bender sees lots of things and asks lots of questions. If he was a Christian before his visitations with the Three Men, his wayward thoughts can be detected in the things he absorbs from them: the aliens don't worship anything and for them there is no life after death. "What about Jesus Christ?" Bender asks. Earth people "are easily convinced of anything" is the reply. A very clever person hid or destroyed the body of Christ, say the aliens, "so that for centuries afterward people would benefit from the celebration of the birth and death of this prophet." (3) The point is that, like Richard Shaver, Bender suffered from mental illness. Perhaps as a result of his suffering, he became, again like Shaver, an atheist or a materialist. And, perhaps in an effort to make up for his lost faith, Bender, once again like Shaver, came into possession of his own brand of gnosis.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender (1962), p. 103.
(2) Bender, p. 110.
(3) Bender, p. 123.


The cover of the second issue of The Saucerian (from November 1953), Gray Barker's own flying saucer newsletter, first published in September 1953. The illustration is by Albert Bender and is more or less a depiction of what he had seen in his vision of August 1953, the place where the Flatwoods Monster aliens disguised as Men in Black made their home away from home. The phallic imagery of the towers shown here shouldn't be ignored: like Shaver, Bender almost certainly had psychosexual problems and was very interested in the sex lives of the beings he had dreamed up. Gray Barker observed: "There seems to be a great deal of sex connected with saucers . . . ." (Quoted in The Way Out World by Long John Nebel [Lancer Books, 1962], p. 65.) I wouldn't stop there: There not only seems to be but is a great deal of sex--weird, aberrant, deviant, fetishistic sex--connected with almost every crackpot scheme known to man. Finding out why might take a whole book or even a multi-volume encyclopedia.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, June 1, 2018

A Pause in the Barker-Bender Saga

There is more to tell in the Barker-Bender saga, but I would like to go over something here before it gets away from me.

The story of the Three Men in Black, which has become an integral part of flying saucer lore, began with Albert K. Bender. In fact the Men in Black are part of what is sometimes called the "Bender Mystery," a term meant to evoke memories of the Shaver Mystery, I'm sure. By Bender's telling of it, the Men in Black were or are aliens disguised as human beings. (That explains their odd appearance and behavior.) And not only are they aliens, they are aliens of the Flatwoods Monster type. But if Kathleen May and others who have accepted her reinterpretation of what she saw are right, then the Flatwoods Monster was not a living creature but a machine. That means Bender's story can't be right. On the other hand, some people believe that the Flatwoods Monster was a creature inside of a machine, like Ezekiel's vision: "for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels." That still means that Bender's story can't be right, unless he misunderstood what he was seeing. The only way that Bender's story can be right is if the Flatwoods Monster really was an alien from another planet. But that's a pretty big pill to swallow. Isn't it far more likely that what Mrs. May and the Flatwoods boys saw was just an animal, possibly a barn owl, that they, in their apprehension, fear, terror, and hysteria, all presumably experienced under the influence of science fiction, especially science fiction movies from the previous year, (1) as well as the flying saucer flap of 1952, conflated with an imaginary monster from outer space? And can't we all plainly see that Albert Bender, in seeing the Three Men in Black, in and out of disguise, as well as the inside of their flying saucer, suffered from a kind of psychotic episode, what we might categorize as a spiritual vision rebuilt for our materialistic age? And don't we all know by now that flying saucers as disk-like craft from outer space were built upon science fiction, the writings of Charles Fort, the dry run of the Shaver Mystery, and a misinterpretation of the original description of the objects seen by Kenneth Arnold, who did not say that they looked like saucers but that they skipped like saucers if you were to cast them across the water? When you get down to it, it's all a little too much to take.

Here's another point: In 1953, as the Bender Mystery was unfolding, Albert Bender's friends and associates must have imagined a mundane explanation for his actions. The Three Men in Black must have been government operatives seeking to silence those who were seeking the truth about flying saucers. It all must have been a vast conspiracy to conceal that truth. Then, in 1962, Gray Barker published Flying Saucers and the Three Men, Bender's own account of what had happened and why he had clammed up: the Men in Black were not men at all but the Flatwoods Monster in disguise, and they were here to extract a valuable chemical from our oceans. In other words, Albert Bender proved to be just another contactee, like George Adamski, Orfeo Angelucci, Daniel Fry, and so many others. Like them, Bender claimed to have the answers. He had discovered the truth. He alone had the solution to the flying saucer mystery.

Again and again in history, especially since science became ascendent in the nineteenth century, we have heard stories like Bender's. From science fiction alone, we have them from Richard S. Shaver and L. Ron Hubbard. The contactees of the 1950s came up with just another iteration. Each of these stories is whole and complete. Each is an attempt to explain everything. Each subsumes all other stories or claims into itself. According to Shaver, H.P. Lovecraft described in "The Mound" the appearance of the caverns Shaver himself had known as he lay in the grip of insanity. Likewise, the Flatwoods Monster did not belong to the people who encountered it. It belonged instead to Albert Bender, and it fit into his own scheme, one that is presumably cosmological and extends into the vast reaches of the universe. By implication, all of these stories are mutually exclusive. If one is true, the others very likely can't be. Did George Adamski ever wave hi to Truman Bethurum as the flying saucers in which they were riding passed each other in outer space? Did Howard Menger ever run into Daniel Fry on the surface of Venus? Did Bender's aliens have to compete for building space with Hitler and his gang at the South Pole? And where was Xenu when Shaver's Titans or Atlans came to Earth? Bender's claim to finding the solution to the flying saucer mystery was also exclusive. He alone knew the truth because it had been revealed to him alone. There was only one solution and he had it and had it first.

Like Richard Shaver, Albert Bender was mentally ill, perhaps in a harmless way, but mentally ill nonetheless. There can be no question that he suffered from delusions, many of them paranoid and some of them based upon his presumed simultaneous and opposing feelings of grandiosity and insignificance. His radio may very well have been a type of influencing machine. His story was a kind of small-scale replay of the Shaver Mystery. And yet so many people believed him then and believe him now in what can only be called a psychotic delusion. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. Flying saucers are fun and interesting. They have made for a lot of really great movies, TV shows, comic books, and other popular culture. But we should all remember where they have come from, and it isn't from outer space. (2)

Notes
(1) Especially The Thing from Another World, released April 27, 1951, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, released September 18, 1951, but also including The Man from Planet X, released in March-April 1951.
(2) Bender's story is remarkably similar to the plot of It Came from Outer Space, a film released on May 27, 1953, before Bender experienced his summertime delusions. Even if his delusions had preceded the release of the film, he didn't publish his story until 1962. If Bender had been conscious of the resemblance of his story to the plot of It Came from Outer Space, he may have wanted to claim some precedence by saying that his experiences preceded his viewing of the film, but as is so often the case, claims to precedence are always late in arriving. By the time we hear of such a claim, somebody else has already written it, made it, seen it, published it, or created it.

Like the Three Men in Black, flying saucers are based on a misunderstanding, misperception, or misinterpretation of what someone else saw. In this case, there was no disk. There was never a disk. What Kenneth Arnold (pictured here in the middle of a group of Three Men in Khaki) claimed to have seen was actually more crescent-shaped (as shown above), even if the caption insists upon its being a disk.* Every subsequent sighting, encounter, incident, and photograph that has a disk-like craft can probably be discarded, as all were based not on the facts of the original sighting but on a newspaper reporter's neologism, "flying saucer," used to describe how the objects flew rather than how they looked. Talk about fake news. Sheesh. From The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer (Amherst, WI: Authors, 1952), p. 162.

*Throughout that first summer of flying saucers, "flying disk" was a popular term and everybody knew what it meant. Eventually, though, "flying saucer" gained more traction. "Flying disk" by comparison is pretty bland. For example, it's hard to imagine that a movie called Earth vs. the Flying Disks would have done as well as one called Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).


Some people insist on the more technical and official sounding "UFO." I don't mind "UFO," but it's no more useful or descriptive than "flying saucer." Here's the reason: to call a manifestation of the flying saucer phenomenon an "unidentified flying object" is to say that: a) It's flying, meaning it's either a living thing under its own control or a living or non-living thing under the control of some other living or non-living thing; and b) It's an object. Most UFOs are neither flying nor are they objects. And what about UFOs seen in outer space, on the Moon, on the Earth's surface, or underwater? What do we call them? So if it's okay with you, I'll keep calling them something else that they're not: flying saucers.


Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Six

On the evening of July 30, 1952, Albert K. Bender received a strange phone call during which his head "began to ache and spin." "No voice answered when I spoke," he wrote, "but nevertheless I seemed to receive a message, as if telepathically. The message decreed that I should not delve into the saucer mystery any further." (1) Bender noticed in July and August that year--the same summer in which flying saucers descended upon Washington, D.C.--that "numerous sightings suddenly made the news in Bridgeport and surrounding towns." Bender wondered in private, later in the first issue of Space Review, whether
the saucer occupants sensed that we [in the IFSB] were going to look into the mystery of their appearance here on our planet and might be looking us over to see what we were up to--or putting on a show for us, possibly to encourage us. (2)
In any case, this seems to have been the beginning of the fear, terror, and paranoia that would soon consume Bender and bring the IFSB to an end.

If Bender was being contacted telepathically, he might have thought that a connection could be made in the opposite direction, so he announced that March 15, 1953, would be C-Day--Contact Day--for officers, representatives, and members of the IFSB. On that day, the whole group would attempt to send, all at the same time via mental telepathy, a message that began as follows:
Calling occupants of interplanetary craft! Calling occupants of interplanetary craft that have been observing our planet EARTH. We of IFSB wish to make contact with you. We are your friends, and would like you to make an appearance here on EARTH. (3)
Bender did his part in the effort. At the appointed time, he lay down in his bed and mentally repeated the message again and again. "It was after the third attempt that I felt a terrible cold chill hit my whole body," he recounted. "Then my head began to ache as if several headaches had saved up their anguish and heaped it upon me at one time." (4) What followed was a kind of out-of-body experience complete with the smell of rotten eggs, the appearance of swimming and flashing blue lights, a sense of weightlessness and floating, a throbbing pain in the temples, then, in culmination, Bender's vision that he was floating above his bed and looking down upon his own body. A voice spoke:
"We have been watching you and your activities. Please be advised to discontinue delving into the mysteries of the universe. We will make an appearance if you disobey." (5)
The vision then ended.

Despite the warning, Bender carried on, releasing issues of Space Review in April and July 1953. The April issue included a column by Gray Barker called "Gray Barker Reports," as well as mention of climate change (the world was getting colder, not hotter), the Earth's poles, a government conspiracy of silence about flying saucers, and a secret base on the far side of the moon. The July issue had a little more by Gray Barker. It also included an announcement on the creation of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), in June 1952, headed by Coral Lorenzen. (I had thought APRO might have been the first flying saucer organization. It's clear here that it wasn't the first, but it may have been the oldest surviving organization of its type after the demise of the IFSB and for as long as it was in existence.) Not long afterwards, in the summer of 1953, Albert Bender had his first visitation from the Three Men in Black.

They came on a hot July night into Bender's bedroom, announcing by telepathic communication that they were in disguise, implying that they were occupying the bodies of human beings abducted for that purpose. The aliens told Bender that they had an important mission on Earth, that they would be here for some time, and that they must not be disturbed in their work. They added that they had a base and craft hidden in an undisclosed location on EarthThey gave Bender a small metal disk, explaining that in order to contact them he should hold it in the palm of his hand and repeat a code word, "Kazik." Oh, and he had to turn on his radio while doing this.

The Three Men in Black left. Two nights later, Bender called for them in the manner in which he had been instructed. Instead of coming to him, they delivered him to themselves, again through a kind of out-of-body experience in which Bender seemingly traveled on board a flying saucer. There he was treated to a lesson in history and astronomy, including mention of a planet once located near Earth that had been "destroyed by marauders from another system of planets beyond our own" (i.e., the aliens' own). (6)

The creature who spoke to him told Bender that he and his associates were "taking a valuable chemical" from Earth's oceans. (So they can fly from one star system to another but they can't synthesize chemicals? Strange technology.) If they were to be interrupted or interfered with in this work, they would destroy the Earth. Not to worry: there isn't anything we could have done to them, protected as they were by their superior technology (except for that part where they can't synthesize chemicals). Bender wrote:
Then he switched to a horrifying picture that made me shudder. It depicted a hideous monster, more horrifying than any I have seen depicted in the work of science fiction or fantasy artists. . . . (7) He then seemed to be speaking from the screen itself, and from the mind of the monster itself. It was if he had instantly changed himself from the form of a man to a creature which appeared to be similar to that pictured by the West Virginia witnesses who described the Flatwoods monster!
"You view me here on the screen in my normal appearance," the creature said. (8)

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender (1962), p. 27.
(2) Bender, p. 26.
(3) Bender, pp. 83-84. I'm not sure how you can hit CAPS LOCK when you're communicating telepathically, but then as now, crackpots, cranks, and crazies use ALL CAPS TO EMPHASIZE THEIR VERY IMPORTANT POINTS.
(4) Bender, pp. 84-85.
(5) Bender, p. 85.
(6) Bender, p. 97. I have quoted Bender's aliens here because of the similarity of their story to a theme from the writings of Charles Fort, that many of the things that now fall from the sky are debris from a long-ago interstellar conflict.
(7) Mention of artists of science fiction and fantasy is an unmistakable Lovecraftian touch applied to Bender's tale.
(8) Bender, p. 99.

Albert K. Bender's sketch of one of the Three Men in Black who visited him in his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1953. The Men in Black aren't men after all: they're the Flatwoods Monster disguised as men, and they're here to get a VERY VALUABLE CHEMICAL from our oceans. From Flying Saucers and the Three Men (1962), p. 107.

Bender was a regular moviegoer and a fan of science fiction. It seems pretty likely that he saw It Came from Outer Space soon after it was released on May 27, 1953. (The Hartford Courant has listings for it for June 1953. Bender, then living in Bridgeport, probably found the film playing in his hometown that month.) That summer, Bender had a vision in which men dressed in black came into his bedroom. "The eyes glowed like two flashlight bulbs," as the caption of Bender's drawing puts it. Like the aliens in It Came from Outer Space, the Three Men in Black were aliens, disguised as humans and engaged in an important matter here on Earth. Although they did not wish to harm us, they also would not be interfered with in their work. Again and again during the flying saucer era, real people claimed to have seen or experienced things in real life that had already been depicted in popular culture, especially movies. The aliens with glowing eyes shown here are a perfect example. Another is the abduction and examination of General Hanley (no relation) and the police officer in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), a scene replayed by Betty and Barney Hill in their memories of the events of September 19-20, 1961, and by Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker at Pascagoula, Mississippi, on October 11, 1973, near or at the end of the flying saucer era.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Five

On January 15, 1952, midway between one silly season and another, Albert K. Bender, Jr., of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and two of his friends decided to "establish a formal organization which would delve more deeply into the UFO problem." (1) Bender had been interested in flying saucers and other Fortean phenomena for most of his adult life. In 1952, he got himself in gear. In April he founded and announced in a press release the creation of the International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). His new group met for the first time on May 15, discussing, among other things, the membership applications that had poured in during the previous month. The main topic of discussion at the June meeting was the editorial policy of a forthcoming newsletter to be entitled Space Review.

Event tumbled after event in 1952. On August 29, the editor of Fate magazine, Robert N. Webster, wrote to Bender accepting a position as the first member of the International Council of the IFSB. On September 9, Denis P. Plunkett of Bristol, England, replied to the IFSB, becoming the first to volunteer as a foreign representative of the organization. Around the middle of September, Bender delivered the first issue of Space Review to the printer. Dated October 1952, it went out to members in the United States and Canada on schedule. In November 1952, Bender heard from his most famous and prestigious correspondent, who declined to give an opinion on flying saucers. This was another Albert, last name Einstein.

A second letter that November, from Gray Barker of Clarksburg, West Virginia, would prove far more fruitful. Barker wrote that he had seen Bender's missive in Other Worlds Science Stories (December 1952, p. 156) announcing the creation of the IFSB. "Bender replied enthusiastically to my letter of November 20, 1952," wrote Barker, "[and] was particularly interested in hearing more about the West Virginia 'monster' I told him of investigating." (2) The "monster" of course was the Flatwoods Monster. Although Bender had included a brief item on the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster in the first issue of Space Review, his facts were scarce and his date for the sighting was wrong. Bender wanted to know more and was eager to get Barker on board.

Nineteen fifty-two gave way to 1953. The first month of the new year was full of activity for Barker and Bender. Fate published Barker's story "The Monster and the Saucer." The second issue of  Bender's Space Review had more on the Flatwoods Monster, too, in the form of an article by a Reverend S.L. Daw of Washington, D.C. In his article, Daw relayed speculation from the Washington Daily News that what the witnesses had described in seeing the Flatwoods Monster was a misperception of some kind related to a rocketship depicted on the cover of Collier's magazine for October 18, 1952. (3) Neither Barker nor Bender was done with the Flatwoods Monster.

In that second whole issue of Space Review, Gray Barker was listed in the IFSB directory as the representative for the state of West Virginia. That same month, January, Bender called Barker and offered him the position as chief of the new Department of Investigation within the IFSB. It was the first time the two had talked by phone. Barker was already working on his own flying saucer newsletter, The Saucerian, which would not appear until later in the year. Nevertheless, he accepted Bender's offer and received from Bender a packet of business cards which he might hand out in the course of his investigations. One fell into the hands of an FBI agent who questioned Barker towards the end of the summer of 1953 as things started to get really weird with Bender and the IFSB.

So I have here an event for every month from April 1952, when Bender founded the International Flying Saucer Bureau, to January 1953, when Barker was appointed as chief investigator of the organization--every month, that is, except July 1952. And what happened that month in the Barker-Bender saga? Well, on July 30, Bender received in his home a telephone call from an unknown person warning him--telepathically no less--against delving any further into the flying saucer mystery.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender (Clarksburg, WV: Saucerian Books, 1962), p. 21.
(2) They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers by Gray Barker (Clarksburg, WV: Saucerian Press, 1956, 1975), p. 67.
(3) In They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (pp. 30-31)Gray Barker discussed the similarity, however slight it might be, between the spacecraft depicted on the cover of Collier's for October 18, 1952 (shown below), and the first eyewitness descriptions of the Flatwoods Monster. That issue of Collier's would not have come out until after the encounter with the monster, but Kathleen May evidently began insisting that what she had seen was not as she had originally described it. According to Barker, she claimed to have received a letter from "the government" explaining "that the 'monster' was a government rocket ship, propelled by an ammonia-like hydrazine and nitric acid" (p. 30), just like the spacecraft on the cover of Collier's. Thus she seems to have changed her story. A. Lee Stewart, Jr., a local newspaperman and a friend of Barker, was more likely the first person to have shown Mrs. May a publicity release of the cover, thereby--presumably--planting the suggestion in her mind that what she had seen was not a monster at all but a machine.

Outer space art was extremely popular after World War II, all in anticipation that we would soon reach the moon and have permanent stations in orbit around Earth. Some of this was fanciful, influenced by science fiction and science fiction art. Other outer space art was more grounded (no pun intended) in the realities of engineering and technology. I would consider this image, published on the cover of Collier's in the issue of October 18, 1952, an example of the latter. The sighting of the Flatwoods Monster had taken place only five weeks before the cover date shown here. With the publication of this image, the original eyewitness accounts were seemingly corrupted, as Kathleen May, the only adult to have seen the monster, began interpreting it as something machine-like rather than as an alien being. Either way, what she claimed to have seen had first been imagined by someone else. This would be a recurring theme throughout the flying saucer era.

The artist on the Collier's cover understood that a mooncraft need not be streamlined, contrary to the vision of science fiction artists who envisioned sleek, fusiform rocketships setting down on the lunar surface. In the end, his or her vision proved relatively accurate, especially in the jointed, insect-like legs of the Apollo-era Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). However, the resemblance of the LEM (not BEM, LEM) to a living creature was even more pronounced than in the illustration from seventeen years before. I can see a person unfamiliar with the LEM or with advanced technology in general interpreting it as a strange creature with triangular eyes and a square mouth rather than as something built by human beings (or some other intelligence). We tend to see things--or make ourselves see things--in terms of that which we can understand . . .

A proponent of the ancient astronaut theory might offer as an example the following, from the Book of Ezekiel in the King James Version:
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
Ezekiel's description is certainly strange and his experience extraordinary. Today we might call it ecstatic or even hallucinatory. There can be no doubt that what Ezekiel saw went beyond words. The words he used could only have approximated what he saw. The point is that he described something previously unknown to him as like a machine (a simple machine, the wheel) but also as like a living being: "for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels," just as the spirit of the Apollo astronauts lived behind the machine-face of their lunar landing craft. In any case, because we live in a time ruled over by Scientism and materialism, we interpret these things in strictly scientific or materialistic terms. We say this: Ezekiel did not see or experience anything spiritual because there is nothing spiritual. Instead what he saw was merely material. Yes, he witnessed the coming of beings from another world or realm, but that realm was only physical: Ezekiel witnessed the arrival on Earth not of God or his heavenly messengers but of beings from another planet. And they came here in their machines, possibly even in the form of machines.

The NBC-TV show Project U.F.O. (1978-1979) picked up on the idea that what Ezekiel saw was not a spiritual vision but a spacecraft from another planet. Each episode begins with the image shown here and the voice of a narrator (Jack Webb), who says, "Ezekiel saw the wheel. This is the wheel he said he saw." Other drawings follow, each of a modern-day UFO. Then, the incident of the week begins, drawn from real (or supposedly real) cases.

I don't know who came up with the idea that Ezekiel's wheel was a UFO (it may have been Morris K. Jessup), but it's one that has had staying power. For example:

The resemblance of the interstellar transport machine in Contact (1997) to Ezekiel's wheel may or may not have been intentional. But in returning to Contact, I'm also returning to the beginnings of this series. Ellie Arroway has a lot more in common with Albert K. Bender and Richard S. Shaver than anyone would care to admit. She will show her face again before this series comes to an end.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Barker and Bender on the Case-Part Four

The first monster of the flying saucer era came to Flatwoods, West Virginia, on the evening of Friday, September 12, 1952. Witnesses to the event were a beautician named Kathleen May, a seventeen-year-old national guardsman, Eugene Lemon, and five boys aged ten to fourteen. Oddly enough, one of the boys was named Shaver. What they saw above Flatwoods gave them the fright of their lives. Upon encountering the monster, they turned and ran, down the hill and into town, scared, shaken, and hysterical. One or two of the boys were so badly disturbed that they vomited as night went on and as word of what they had seen spread into Flatwoods, across Braxton County, and onto a darkened continent.

On Monday morning, twenty-seven-year-old Gray Barker was having breakfast in a restaurant practically just up the road from Flatwoods when he read of the encounter with the "Braxton Monster." The newspaper spread out in front of him variously described it as a "smelly boogie-man," a "half-man, half-dragon," and a "fire-breathing monster." Kathleen May was quoted as saying, "It looked worse than Frankenstein." She added, "It couldn't have been human." Although Barker was working in Clarksburg, West Virginia, as a booking agent for movie theaters, he originally hailed from Braxton County. His birthplace is supposed to have been Riffle, located about eight miles northwest of Flatwoods as the saucer flies. (He was counted in the censuses of 1930 and 1940 in the Otter District, just outside of Gassaway to the south.) Riffle wasn't much more than a riffle, though, and so, when Barker later wrote about the Flatwoods Monster, he called the place where it had come to earth "my home town."

At a time when people still sent telegrams, Barker contacted Fate magazine by wire, asking if it was interested in the story. Raymond Palmer was still publisher or co-publisher at the time. Whether it was he or someone else who wired back, Gray Barker had his reply:
STORY PROBABLY HOAX BUT INVESTIGATE RIGOROUSLY. DON'T SPECULATE SIMPLY STATE FACTS. 3 OR 4 PICS UP TO 3000 WORDS MONDAY DEADLINE. (1)
That Friday after work, Barker drove the fifty-five or sixty miles from Clarksburg to Flatwoods to begin his investigation. While in town, he met another investigator, the zoologist and explorer Ivan T. Sanderson, who, as he himself admitted later, also thought the story was a hoax. Both men came away from Braxton County that weekend convinced that the witnesses had really seen and experienced something extraordinary and that their sighting of the Flatwoods Monster was no hoax.

Sanderson got his story in print first. The Pittsburgh Press, for example, ran it on Wednesday, September 24, under the title "Saucer Reports Valid, Expert Says" (page 14). Gray Barker, on the other hand, had to wait until the January 1953 issue of Fate before his account, entitled "The Monster and the Saucer," saw the light of day. In the meantime, he had introduced himself by mail to Albert K. Bender of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the two had begun corresponding and even talking by telephone. After that, things moved pretty quickly towards a strange and mysterious climax and denouement.

To be continued . . .

Note
(1) According to Albert K. Bender, Jr., in his book Flying Saucers and the Three Men, Robert N. Webster was editor of Fate when Webster wrote to Bender on August 29, 1952. (p. 40)

The drawings are undated, but these may have been the first depictions of what became known as the Flatwoods Monster. The sources are authoritative: they were three of the boys who saw the monster in its one and only visit to Earth. From The Encyclopedia of UFOs, Ronald D. Story, ed., (1980), page 128.

Here is the first or one of the first attempts to depict the actual scene that took place on the hill above Flatwoods. The monster and the witnesses are here, as is the fence, the flashlight, and the rural setting. Mrs. May is missing, though. So are the oak tree and the dog. (Maybe he has already hightailed it home.) Also missing is the glowing light or grounded saucer some of the witnesses saw in the distance. The artist was Dick Bothwell, a columnist and cartoonist with the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times. The source is the Times for October 11, 1952, page 11.

The sighting of the Flatwoods Monster opened a door for Grayson Roscoe Barker (1925-1984) of Braxton County and Clarksburg, West Virginia. Later describing himself as "a frustrated writer," he jumped on the chance to get his name in print again. (I don't know where or when he was first published.) His article "The Monster and the Saucer" appeared in Fate in January 1953, topped with a drawing of the monster, done by an unknown artist. By the end of the 1950s, Barker was one of the most well-known writers on and investigators of flying saucers in America. He also began publishing his own newsletter, The Saucerian, and he created his own publishing company, Saucerian Press or Saucerian Books, based in Clarksburg. In 1956, he published his own book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (from which much of the information here is drawn). His title only hints at the mystery and rampant paranoia of the flying saucer era.

On Friday, September 19, 1952, the day on which Gray Barker arrived in Flatwoods to begin investigating the incident, Kathleen May, Gene Lemon, and newspaper publisher A. Lee Stewart, Jr., were in New York City to appear on the NBC-TV program We the People. As this undated newspaper item says, an artist in New York drew the monster from eyewitness descriptions. That unidentified artist was probably the first to have a published depiction of the Flatwoods Monster, and this is the image we now have of it, despite all attempts at revision or reinterpretation. Source: the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette.

Gray Barker, who admitted that he was no artist, seems to have taken the New York artist's drawing and superimposed it on a photographic background. The result is pretty creepy, I think. I don't know whether the background photo was taken at the actual location or not, but there was a large white oak tree along the edge of the field in which the witnesses walked, and the monster floated under one of its branches, as shown here. The tree has since died, but there may still be a rotten stub or stump in its place. I think it deserves a historical marker.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, May 20, 2018

From Palmer and Shaver to Barker and Bender

If it weren't for Ray Palmer, we wouldn't have had a Shaver Mystery, and if it weren't for him, we probably wouldn't have flying saucers. You can curse him or praise him, but you sure can't ignore him.

Palmer didn't invent either of these belief systems, but he knew a good thing when he saw it, and he was likely unmatched among science fiction editors in bringing fringe ideas into the real world. Perhaps thwarted in his visions and ambitions while at Ziff-Davis of Chicago, Palmer founded, with Curtis Fuller (1912-1991), Clark Publishing Company sometime in 1947. Venture Press, also founded or co-founded by Palmer, may have been a forerunner to Clark Publishing Company. On the other hand, the two may have run side by side, with Fuller and Palmer at the helm of one and Palmer alone on the other. In any case, in 1948, Venture Press published in hardback I Remember Lemuria! by Richard S. Shaver, while Fuller and Palmer put out the first issue of Fate under their jointly held Clark Publishing Company. The cover story in that inaugural issue of Fate was of course Kenneth Arnold's account of his sighting of flying saucers over Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. That was the same month--June 1947--in which Ziff-Davis put out an all-Shaver Mystery issue of Amazing Stories under the editorship of Ray Palmer. It's funny how all of these things fit together.

Palmer was out the door at Ziff-Davis at the end of 1949. The last issues of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in which he was credited as editor were those of December 1949. By then he was already working as editor of a new digest-sized magazine, Other Worlds Science Stories, first issued in November 1949. Put out by Clark Publishing Company, then by Palmer Publications, Other Worlds printed both fiction and non-fiction (plus pseudo-fiction and pseudo-non-fiction) in its eight years in print. Just before giving up the ghost in 1957, Other Worlds Science Stories became Flying Saucers from Other Worlds.

It was through the letters column of Other Worlds that Gray Barker and Albert K. Bender met in 1952-1953, and it was through their meeting that a new and bizarre chapter in the history of science (non-)fiction (or science-pseudo-non-fiction) began. It occurs to me now that in writing about the Flatwoods Monster, Men in Black (MIB), the Shaver Mystery, secret bases in Antarctica, and people who knew too much about flying saucers, Barker played the Palmer role to Bender's mad Shaver.

To be continued . . . 

Other Worlds Science Stories, November 1949, the first issue, with a cover story by Richard S. Shaver called "The Fall of Lemuria." In hindsight, the title can be seen as ironic, for the Shaver Mystery was, as we now know, in decline by the end of the 1940s. Very nearly banished from the Ziff-Davis titles, it would survive another few years under the wing of Raymond A. Palmer. The cover art is by Malcolm H. Smith.

Shaver's name next appeared on the cover of the March 1950 issue of Other Worlds. I don't know what's going on in this picture, but it looks like it involves a giant red rubber band. (The slingshot effect maybe?) The cover artist was once again Malcolm H. Smith. 

The September 1950 issue, with cover art by Smith, included a story by Shaver under his pseudonym Peter Dexter.

Shaver's name reappeared on the cover for October 1951, but only his surname and only at the bottom of the page. Far more prominent were the title and author's byline of the presumed cover story, "I Flew in a Flying Saucer." The confessional title of Captain A.V.G.'s two-part serial evokes the equally confessional "I Remember Lemuria!" from Amazing Stories from six years before. The cover artist by the way was H.W. McCauley.

This issue of Other Worlds was probably on the newsstand in September 1951, the same month in which The Day the Earth Stood Still was released. (The exact date of release was September 18.) I can't say for sure, but that film may have been the first to show an alien abduction. A more sensationalistic title could easily have been I Was Abducted by an Alien from Outer Space or I Went Aboard a Flying Saucer. Keep in mind, all of this took place several months before George Adamski first claimed to have gone aboard a flying saucer. In other words, it happened in science fiction (or science-pseudo-non-fiction) before anyone made any claims that it had happened to him or her in real life. This trend continued throughout the prime years of the flying saucer era, from 1947 to 1968 (or 1973): ordinary people imagined little if anything before it was imagined by authors and artists of science fiction. 

Other Worlds Science Stories, January 1952, with more flying saucer content, this time concerning Kenneth Arnold, the original witness. The cover art, again by McCauley, was reused, I think, for a cover of Fate magazine. Or maybe it was on the front of Fate first.

Other Worlds Science Stories, March 1952, with cover art by Malcolm H. Smith. This was the first issue of the magazine to show flying saucer-like craft on the cover, this despite Palmer's obvious enthusiasm for the subject.

Other Worlds got along for many issues with good cover art, not only by Malcolm H. Smith--the artist here--and H.W. McCauley but also by Hannes Bok and others. Smith's cover, from April 1952, is one of my favorites. This is the kind of image that made people love science fiction during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. The interior of the ship in the foreground reminds me of the the tomb-lid at Palenque, which some people believe shows a Mayan king at the controls of a rocketship.

Shaver's byline was back on the cover of Other Worlds in July 1952. The artist was Malcolm H. Smith.

Other Worlds Science Stories, August 1952, with cover art by Smith. This was the last issue of the magazine to appear before the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster, which took place on September 12, 1952. (There was no September 1952 issue of Other Worlds.) I doubt that any of the witnesses saw this image, but the men shown here encased in their machines bear a vague resemblance to the monster, especially a later interpretation that says that what Kathleen May and the boys of Flatwoods saw was not an alien itself but an alien riding inside a kind of machine. I would refer you to the theories and artwork of Frank Feschino, Jr.

Albert K. Bender's letter to the world, informing it of the creation of the International Flying Saucer Bureau, appeared in the December issue of Other Worlds. Gray Barker down in West Virginia read that letter and sent one of his own to Bender in his Connecticut home, thereby introducing himself. For a year or more prior to writing, the two men must have read a lot of flying saucer content in Other Worlds: fiction, non-fiction, and even advertisements. Both had been interested in science fiction, flying saucers, and--significantly--the Shaver Mystery for years prior to that. Their enthusiasm must have been high at the end of 1952, and each must have felt he had found in the other a kindred spirit. This remarkable cover, by Malcolm H. Smith, shows what might be called an influencing machine at work. See the last image below for another machine of this type.

This cover of Other Worlds, from January 1953, has nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't pass it by. The artist was H.W. McCauley. You might notice an influence on Frank Frazetta. I thought of a different image by Dave Stevens . . .

. . . proof that there is nothing new under the sun (or moon).

Something happened to Other Worlds Science Stories in 1953. Although Bea Mahaffey, a science fiction fan out of Cincinnati, came on to assist Raymond Palmer, the magazine disappeared after its July issue that year and didn't reappear until May 1955. Palmer and Mahaffey were still editors then, but the magazine was now published by Palmer Publications, Inc. I suspect this was all tied up with Palmer's selling his interest in Fate (presumably also in Clark Publishing Company) to Curtis and Mary Fuller. That may have left him with Other Worlds Science Stories, but the magazine seems to have taken a step down after the deal. That's Virgil Finlay art on the cover and you can't go wrong there, but it was old art even then and reproduced here in black and white instead of the original color. The design and maybe the paper and printing were cheaper, too. After seventeen years as an editor of science fiction magazines, Palmer seems to have gone into decline. 

Other Worlds Science Stories, May 1957, with cover art by an unknown artist, colored and recycled from a previous appearance on the cover of a Shaver Mystery-related title. I have wondered about this image before. It may have been done originally by Steele Savage, but I can't say for sure, and I don't think that anyone can at this point. In any case, its use demonstrates, I think, that Other Worlds and Palmer himself were falling on hard times. 

Then, in June 1957, Palmer issued Flying Saucers from Other Worlds, an unnumbered issue that may or may not have been a continuation of Other Worlds Science Stories. The occasion was no doubt the tenth anniversary of the first sighting of flying saucers. The cover art, if you can call it that, is pretty horrendous, a collage of photographic images and blobs of ink. I suspect that the moirĂ© effects are in the scanning rather than in the original, but you never know.

Palmer returned to the Other Worlds format in July 1957 but retitled his magazine Flying Saucers from Other Worlds. The cover art, by Malcolm Smith, was recycled from the December 1951 issue. Inside was the story "Quest of Brail" by Richard S. Shaver, also recycled, from Amazing Stories, December 1945, that golden year of the Shaver Mystery. This was the penultimate issue of Other Worlds. The magazine came to an end in October 1957.

Finally, in July 1958, Shaver and his mystery had their last gasp in an American science fiction magazine when Fantastic published a special Shaver Mystery issue. Thereafter, he and it were relegated to the pages of magazines on the fringes, magazines published by Palmer and by Shaver himself. To be fair to both men, science fiction pulps were coming to an end, too, in the late '50s. I have read that the last pulp magazine of this genre was published in 1958 and the last pulp magazine of any genre in the early 1970s. By then, the flying saucer era had reached its end, too, while Shaver and Palmer were in the last decade of their lives. In the meantime, Gray Barker and Albert K. Bender kept the memory of the Shaver Mystery alive, at least for a while.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley