Richard Sharpe Shaver (October 8, 1907 - November 5, 1975) was your grandpa's David Icke.
Intrigued? Let's start at the beginning.
Richard Sharpe Shaver was an American factory worker who, in The '40s, began contributing short stories and art to Science Fiction Pulp Magazines, notably Amazing Stories. He became renowned for a novella called I Remember Lemuria! about the decline of an ancient race of Precursors on Earth. The story became so popular that Amazing Stories ran almost nothing but sequels and other related material for some time afterwards, to the dismay of some of their readership, including a young Harlan Ellison. After the craze had run its course, Shaver abandoned writing to pursue an interest in geology and died in 1975.
Pretty standard stuff so far, right? That's because we haven't gotten to the good part.
Richard Shaver maintained that he wasn't writing fiction. Following a workplace accident, he became convinced that he'd gained the power of telepathy and could hear not only the thoughts of the people around him, but secret conversations between the monsters described in his stories (which he named "Deros", short for "detrimental robots") and the anguished screams of their human victims. He sent his work to Amazing Stories as a warning to mankind, but his publisher, Ray Palmer, saw gold and edited his manuscript to make it fit the magazine's style.
Sure enough, the story was a hit — and not only with readers who enjoyed Shaver's work as fiction. Scores of letters began pouring in from people claiming to have had similar experiences as Shaver, hearing or having been captured and tortured by the Deros. So-called "Shaver Mystery Clubs" started popping up around the globe where believers in Shaver's mythos could share their experiences, some of which are still extant. Over time, the Shaver Mystery grew to include other elements, each more fantastical than the last, including Teros ("good" counterparts to the evil Deros; humanoid cavern dwellers who liberate the Deros' human captives) and the notion that the Deros were in contact with alien invaders (a response to the Flying Saucer craze of The '50s) and plotting to exterminate the human species.
Oh, and Shaver's interest in geology? He thought he could read Tero and Dero hieroglyphs in the rocks.
Deros themselves seem to have fallen by the pop-cultural wayside, supplanted by The Grays (and more recently, the Reptilian Conspiracy) as the ultimate hub of conspiracy theories, but they still crop up now and then among devotees of pulpy weirdness. Dungeons & Dragons and, even more centrally, its spinoff Pathfinder both feature "derros" note , and they turn up in Japanese horror movie Marebito too, while Jordan Peele's horror movie Us also depicts a subterranean world of machine-like half-people. Even Harlan Ellison got over his frustration with dero-mania, at least briefly, with his short story "The Elevator People" presenting a very Shaver-like scenario.
While Shaver's work has had a long-term impact on weird fiction, it has been suggested that he himself was influenced by the film serial The Phantom Empire and H. P. Lovecraft's novella The Mound, which also describe advanced subterranean civilizations.
Not to be confused with Richard Sharpe the fictional English soldier.
- "I Remember Lemuria" (Amazing Stories, March 1945)
- "Thought Records of Lemuria" (Amazing Stories, June 1945)
- "Cave City of Hel" (Amazing Stories, September 1945)
- "Quest of Brail" (Amazing Stories, December 1945)
- "Invasion of the Micro-Men" (Amazing Stories, February 1946)
- "The Masked World" (Amazing Stories, May 1946)
- "Cult of the Witch-Queen" (Amazing Stories, July 1946)
- "The Sea People" (Amazing Stories, August 1946)
- "Earth Slaves to Space" (Amazing Stories, September 1946)
- "The Return of Sathanas" (Amazing Stories, November 1946)
- "The Land of Kui" (Amazing Stories, December 1946)
- "Joe Dannon Pioneer" (Amazing Stories, March 1947)
- "Loot of Babylon" (Amazing Stories, May 1947)
- "The Tale of the Red Dwarf Who Writes with his Tail" (Amazing Stories, May 1947)
- "Formula from The Underworld" (Amazing Stories, June 1947)
- "Zigor Mephisto's Collection of Mentalia" (Amazing Stories, June 1947)
- "Witch's Daughter" (Amazing Stories, June 1947)
- "The Red Legion" (Amazing Stories, June 1947)
- "Mer-Witch of Ether 18" (Amazing Stories, August 1947)
- "When the Moon Bounced" (Amazing Stories, May 1949)
- "The Fall of Lemuria" (Other Worlds, November 1949)
- "We Dance for the Dom!" (Amazing Stories, January 1950)
- "The Sun-Smiths" (Other Worlds, July 1952)
- "Beyond the Barrier"(Other Worlds, November 1952-February 1953)
- "The Dream Makers"(Fantastic, July 1958)
- The Secret World (co-written with Ray Palmer)
Tropes in the Shaver Mystery include:
- Aerith and Bob: Most of the named characters from the underworld have exotic, fantastical names like Tanitia, Shola, or Zigo... but there's also Hank the snail-man.
- All Myths Are True: The first mortal beings to learn to use the Atlan technology are supposed to have inspired all the god mythologies and tales of The Fair Folk around the world - including the Abrahamic God. The more malevolent of them, likewise, inspired tales of demons, with Sathanas a particularly notorious instance of this.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Deros and Hobloks, to the point where "evil" might not evil be the right word. The stories repeatedly stress that the Deros have been exposed to so much of a kind of detrimental radiation from the ancient technology (they never learned how to use the filtering machines to protect themselves) that doing harm to others is utterly instinctive to them. They can no more resist that instinct than a rabbit can resist the instinct to hop.
- Ancient Astronauts: The Atlans and Titans had a spacefaring civilization, and it's ultimately ambiguous whether Earth was even their original homeworld.
- Artistic License - Although he wouldn't call it that, since he genuinely thought it was true.
- Artistic License – Biology: All of Shaver's ideas about the nature of aging, which he believes to be a symptom of accumulating poisons coming from the sun, and therefore, could be filtered out (or avoided entirely by moving to a planet with a different, younger sun), allowing people to theoretically live forever. He seems quite aware that this goes against the scientific orthodoxy of his day, but insists it's nonetheless true.
- Artistic License – Space: In I Remember Lemuria!, Mutan Mion attends a lecture on the nature of the sun, in which he learns that stars are formed from especially large and carbon-rich planets that catch fire. After enough time, however, the star burns through the carbon and starts burning heavy metals, which pollute the sunlight and cause aging. The Atlans and Titans' plan was to leave Earth just as this was starting to happen.
- Author Appeal: Apparently Palmer had to cut out, or at least reduce, a lot of uncomfortably horny content.
...wandering over the figure of a variform female on the walk whose upper part was the perfect torso of a woman and whose lower part was a sinuously gliding thirty feet of brilliantly mottled snake. You could never have escaped her embrace of your own will once she had wrapped those life-generating coils around you!
- Shaver had a thing for monster girls (see Little Bit Beastly, below), as evidenced in I Remember Lemuria! when the hero finds his eyes...
All of eighty feet tall she must have been. She towered over our heads as she arose to greet us, a vast cloud of the glittering hair of the Nor women floating about her head, the sex aura a visible iridescence flashing about her form. I yearned toward that vast beauty which was not hidden for in Nor it is considered impolite to conceal the body greatly, being an offense against art and friendship to take beauty out of life. I was impelled madly toward her until I fell on my knees before her, my hands outstretched to touch the gleaming, ultra-living flesh of her feet.
- He seemed to be into giantesses, too.
- Beneath the Earth: Where most of it happened
- Body Horror: One of the Jerkass Gods of the setting, Mula, who Was Once a Man (or something like one)....some one of the cavern dwellers had turned on a growth force generator and lain down to sleep in it. The results were that he had become another, greater life. He had not turned it off, but stayed beside it and growth had made a super being of him. It was not balanced growth. He was a vast mass of pink flesh with sprouts of peculiar life protruding from him. This Thing was the boss of the place. The captives were destined to serve this mass of flesh. His appetite for women was enormous, to judge by the harem that surrounded him, stroking the quivering pinkness, carefully removing the sprouts when they were ripe, dancing for the vast eyes that surmounted the awful pile of flesh. I did not like this modern god.
- Generation Xerox: Determinism is one of the core themes of Shaver's work. Most people, according to his writing, were essentially at the whim of suggestion, and doomed to repeat the same generational cycles as their ancestors unless they have some powerful outside stimulus. This is the principle of "ro" - beings with no real agency of their own.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Shaver himself, to the nth degree.
- Conlang: The language "Mantong", a precursor to all human languages. In Mantong, every sound has a specific meaning, and by applying its grammatical rules to any word, phrase, name, or sentence in any modern language, one could discover a hidden meaning. Notable because Shaver claimed to have discovered the language, not invented it.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Shaver himself is often described as such, but depending on your definition of "conspiracy", he may not qualify: Shaver believed that most human politicians and governments were simply following the social script, just as caught up in the machine as the rest of us. The conspiracy, if such it can be called, came wholly from outside. Therefore, his worldview is refreshingly devoid of the racist and antisemitic subtext of a lot of other conspiracy theories, and is largely apolitical.
- Direct Line to the Author: A rare case where the author seems to have genuinely believed it.
- Eyepatch of Power: Implied in "Formula from the Underworld", where the hero, a rugged and resourceful explorer named Harte Manville, tells us he's missing an eye in the opening paragraph. He doesn't specifically mention wearing a patch, but it's implied.
- Footnote Fever: Amazing Stories printed a lot of Shaver's work with a lot of explanatory editor's notes in the form of footnotes, detailing concepts that the main narratives only lightly touch on, or else providing definitions for the technobabble.
- For the Evulz: All the motivation the Deros need to mess with us.
- Giant Woman: Most prominently, the eighty foot-tall Princess Vanue, who becomes a literal Big Good in I Remember Lemuria!. We're told that there are other Elders who get to her size and even bigger.
- Hidden Elf Village: The Deros and Teros have their roots in the same tradition of Victorian era "Lost Race" literature that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien's elves, as well as books like She and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race.
- Jerkass Gods: Shaver's underworld is littered with godlike powers of cruelty, malice, and insanity.
- Just Before the End: The stories about Mutan Mion are set on the eve of the Atlans' and Titans' departure from Earth, in the final days of their glorious terrestrial empire.
- Light Is Not Good: The sun is the source of mortality and all corruption on Earth.
- Living Forever Is Awesome:
- Shaver seemed to have seen death as an aberration of existence, rather than a fundamental part of it. One of the key traits of the Atlans and Titans is that they had figured out how to live practically forever, so they were always looking for new worlds to explore and colonize. This is presented as a good and natural order, from which humanity has sadly been cut off.
- In "A Formula From The Underworld", Harte Manville travels Beneath the Earth in search of the eponymous formula, which he believes will grant immunity to aging. This is presented as an unambiguously good thing, and is something he fully intends to share with the surface world - and ultimately does, ending the story by explaining directly to the reader how it can be achieved if the governments of Earth will put in the effort and budget.
- Immortal Apathy: Zigzagged. Some of the oldest beings on the planet - such as the loathsome Mula - do fall into this, seeing mortal life as their playthings, while the more benevolent ones, like Queen Tanitia, care very deeply about the rest of us, and are keen to share their secrets. It seems to mainly be a matter of the kind of influences and rays an individual immortal is exposed to: Mula has become a Sense Freak addicted to pleasure rays, while Tanitia is a sober-minded leader with lots of friends.
- Little Bit Beastly: The Atlans had created "variform hybrids", genetic fusions of themselves and other alien races they had encountered, who lived in Tean City and enjoyed full citizenship. In "I Remember Lemuria!", Mutan Mion briefly pauses to admire an attractive woman with a snake tail instead of legs, and his main love interest, Arl, is a faun-like creature with purple skin.
- Mole Men: The subterranean deros, along with many other underground races.
- Never Heard That One Before: In the foreword to "I Remember Lemuria!", the author complains that one of the factors preventing him from being taken seriously is that most people get too distracted making puns about "sharp shavers".
- Non-Indicative Name: Dero is short for "Detrimental Robot", even though they're not actually robots in our modern sense. Shaver seems to have meant it to refer more to "mindless beings that only follow their programming" and less to mean "mechanical being" - although some of his stories do also feature things that are robots in both senses of the term.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Say what you will about Shaver's tenuous sanity, but he had a lot of imagination. "Formula From The Underworld" features a race of benevolent centaur-like snail people, for example. Also see Body Horror, above.
- Past-Life Memories: Kind of. Shaver claimed that he can remember the life of Mutan Mion, an Atlan who lived millennia ago, as if he was there - hence I Remember Lemuria!. There is, however, no particular indication that he is supposed to be the reincarnation of Mutan Mion.
- Peeve Goblins: Deros are this on a macro level, with a hand in more or less every tragedy and disaster you've heard of.
- Phlebotinum du Jour: Shaver wrote mainly in the late 1940s, and most of his speculative technology takes the form of rays and different types of radiation.
- Precursors: The Atlans and Titans, whose technology the Deros had appropriated after they vanished.
- Benevolent Precursors: With the aid of the alien Nortans, Mutan Mion (an Atlan) left behind records of ancient secrets so that modern man could share in the Precursors' wisdom. Among those records are the psychic resonances picked up by Shaver and transcribed into his writings.
- Proud Scholar Race Guy: The good subterranean forces, such as the Teros and snail-men, are all very enlightened and can psychically commune to pool their collective intelligence as a kind of benevolent, temporary Hive Mind. The Atlans and Titans themselves were also very much this trope before they had to abandon the Earth.
- Ragnarök Proofing: Downplayed. The various subterranean machines are thousands upon thousands of years old, and do still work - but the radiation filters mostly don't, allowing corrupting energy to seep out.
- Scavenger World: The various underworld factions are almost entirely defined by their relationship to scavenged Atlan technology.
- The Schizophrenia Conspiracy: It will likely come as no surprise that Shaver was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and spent some time in a mental hospital, although details on this are scarce. Fittingly, a lot of the technology in his stories revolves around rays that can project thoughts into other people's heads, allowing Mind Control and Agony Beams.
- Stupid Evil: The Hobloks. They're evil and extremely dangerous, but also very dumb. Since Shaver saw evil as an inherently detrimental force, most of his villains are ultimately venial, small-minded brutes, and even his Diabolical Masterminds aren't as smart as they think they are.
- In I Remember Lemuria!, Mutan Mion hears a rumour of a conspiracy among some of the ray technicians to hijack the planned migration from Earth, leaving behind the bulk of Atlan civilization to die and reserving the new planet for themselves. Mutan points out that, if this is true, then the conspirators must not only be evil but utterly insane, since they wouldn't really benefit from being alone on a newly-formed world.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Mutan Mion's reaction upon seeing a Titan die a sudden death in the middle of a function."By the Elder Gods!" I swore to myself at the realization that no guard ray was going to protect us. "It is true; our perfect government is not so perfect after all!"
- Totally Radical: When describing the appearance of the Hobloks in "Formula from the Underworld":Super-goofy, I believe modern youth would call them.
- Ultraterrestrials: The ancestors of the Teros and Deros left the Earth because the sun's radiation became harmful to them; those that stayed behind gradually evolved into their respective two forms, similarly to the Eloi and the Morlocks in The Time Machine.