Amazing Stories and Flying Saucers/UFOs/UAPs/SUTs*

In light of the recent Congressional hearing –

There has long been an association between “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” and Science Fiction, and a largely unfortunate one at that.  There are several reasons for this, with perhaps the two largest contributing factors being –

similar subject matter (high technology, life on alien worlds, outer space, etc) and,

Ray Palmer.

Ray was the editor of Amazing Stories from 1938 until 1949.  Ray was a First Fandom member, one of the editors of the first fanzine and a  member of early SF clubs.

He was also arguably the magazine’s most successful and longest-serving editor (11 years) and most likely directly responsible for the association of Science Fiction and UFOs in their most sensational form – not things in the sky we can’t identify at the moment, but technologies from outer space, controlled by alien intelligences who mostly want to do us harm.

Ray apparently recognized that there was a close emotional and intellectual association between the readers of science fiction and a willingness to suspend disbelief in the face of sensationalized reports of SFnal-adjacent things supposedly manifesting in the real world.

I believe that it is related to the same dynamic that shows up as an interest in Charles Fort’s writings, Campbell’s embrace and popularization of faux-technologies…whether through education, experience or native propensity, SF readers live on the borderline between firm reality and the fantastical, which, as the genre has amply proven for nearly 100 years, is fertile ground.

First appearance of Shaver’s Lemuria in Amazing Stories March, 1945

Palmer first tested whatever theories or strategies he had in mind with his introduction of the “Shaver Mysteries”.  Authored by Richard  Shaver (and most likely Palmer as well), these tales of ancient civilizations deep within the Earth, possessing advanced technologies and a seeming desire to interfere with the inhabitants of the surface began appearing in the aftermath of World War II, and it was intimated that while they might be appearing as fictionalized accounts, they were, in fact, based on things that actually happened.

They struck a chord with the news stand reading public and Amazing’s circulation grew tremendously.  (This suggests that the larger audience for SF-related material is found among individuals who want their fantasies to be real “now”, rather than at some distant time and place they will never personally experience.)

A couple of years later, Shaver got in on the ground floor of the Flying Saucer game.  He’d left Amazing and established several magazines of his own, including one called Fate, which dealt with Fortean tales (!), the paranormal and Flying Saucers with the first published account of Kenneth Arnold’s encounter that started the whole craze off. (He would later co-write the book The Coming of the Saucers  with Arnold in 1952.)  He would include such material in most of his publications.  Eventually, one of his science fiction magazines (Universe Science Fiction) would be re-titled as Flying Saucers magazine.

That, in a nutshell, is why so many Science Fiction Fans are familiar with what is often the first question they are asked following the revelation that they read SF:  “So, you believe in Flying Saucers?”.  (Usually followed, or at least in my case, followed by an explanation that “Certainly, there are things seen in the air that their observers could not identify, but that doesn’t mean we  jump to the conclusion that it must be a vehicle from another world, piloted by alien beings who, following their epic journey across untold light years, desire nothing so much as to capture and probe human beings.”)

I’ve had my own  personal experiences with this.  I was hugely fascinated by the von Daniken Ancient Astronauts books…when I was ten. (Chariots of the Gods? was first published in English in 1968…right when I began my reading involvement with science fiction.  Most bookstores of that time shelved such fare with the SF.)  But, as they say, “I got better”.

It is my position (not necessarily that of Amazing’s, though I do have some influence) that UAPs, when defined as technologies not of this earth, piloted – remotely or otherwise – by “biological entities” also not of this earth, are, to put it bluntly, a crock of shit.  Maybe I should have written a “saucer of shit”.

My rejection of those claims is based on lack of evidence and the sheer implausibility of such claims based on what we now know of our universe.  And I’m not the only Science Fiction fan to reject these claims.  There was revolt amongst the fans when the precursor to Saucers appeared in Amazing – “…fans, already distressed by Palmer’s shift away from the literary or hard science fiction of earlier years to often slapdash space operas, organized letter-writing campaigns to try to persuade the publishers of Amazing Stories to cease all Shaver Mystery.”

I also have no doubt that many, if not most, people claiming to have had such encounters believe what they are saying.  They are mistaken.  The video of Carl Sagan was included at the head of this piece for a reason.  To date, every completed investigation has concluded that the “saucers” were either known natural phenomena, digital artifacts, malfunctioning equipment or hoaxes.

All future sightings will resolve in the same manner.

If  you had never been exposed to the street hustle known as Three Card Monty, you might be tempted to try your luck.  If, after losing your disposable income to the card sharp, friends, online resources and other resources informed you that it was a scam, showed you how the scam worked, one hopes that a reasonably intelligent individual would approach their next encounter with the game with a great degree of skepticism.  THAT particular game might not be a scam, but since every other one has been, there’s a VERY high degree of probability that this one is also.  Don’t play, go with the probabilities and save your money.

So it is with UAPs as anything other than a thing in the sky that some observers don’t recognize, or that appear to behave in “unnatural” ways.  The probability that what is seen is NOT “something not of this Earth” is very, very, very high, while the probability that is an alien spacecraft is so vanishingly low as to be akin to “not at all”.

We are unfortunately wired to get emotionally entangled in sensational things, as well as to seek connections and find explanations for things we’re unfamiliar with.  Our brains want to put “something” where the “unknown” is.  Failing to guard against that tendency leads to all manner of unrealistic belief.

Which, as the recent Congressional hearing on UAPs has shown can be a tremendous waste of time and money.


(“Shaver was hospitalized briefly for psychiatric problems in 1934, but there does not appear to have been a clear diagnosis” and “Ray Palmer reported that “Shaver had spent eight years not in the Cavern World, but in a mental institution”” (Wikipedia))

*SUT – Something Up There

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