Dedicated to the memory of K. H. Scheer and Walter Ernsting, who first gave us Perry Rhodan in 1961 and of Forrest J and Wendayne Ackerman, who first brought his adventures to the United States in 1969.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perry Rhodan #5(a), Space Battle in the Vega Sector (1970)

By K. H. Scheer (= German issue #10, 10 November 1961)

Three years have passed since the defeat of the Mind Snatchers. General Lesley Pounder, US Space Force Commander, visits the Third Power, where he is greeted by Captain Klein and Colonel Freyt. He is to attend a diplomatic conference where Perry Rhodan will propose a central Terrestrial government. The Third Power has grown to cover 14,400 square miles and almost a quarter million inhabitants in “Galacto City,” still centered around the energy dome. But in the midst of Pounder's tour, a Condition One Alert sounds – a robot sentinel station on Pluto has detected hyperspatial transitions in the local stellar neighborhood. The Third Power goes into lock down awaiting the return of Rhodan from a space test flight. The earth's existence is in danger of being revealed to the rest of the galaxy.

In a war council convened among the founders and rulers of the Third Power, it is revealed that over two hundred hyperspatial incursions have occurred in the Vega system, just 27 light years from the earth. Thora and Khrest are convinced that it is an Arkonide fleet seeking their own original goal of the planet of eternal life, which Khrest believes is in the Vega sysem. Thora demands an immediate launch to meet it. Reginald Bell scoffs that the degenerate Arkonides could ever launch such an expedition – and is astonished when Rhodan declares his intention to take the Good Hope to the Vega system on a reconnaissance mission. In his estimation, the ships appearing at Vega are an unknown invasion force responding to the destroyed Arkonide cruiser on the moon's emergency beacon (#2[a], The Radiant Dome), an invasion meant for earth but missing by a “fraction of a decimal point” error in hyperspace navigation. It must be investigated.

After a hasty conference lays out Rhodan's plans to Pounder and the assembled delegates, the Good Hope lifts off for the stars. A short detour takes them to Venus to consult with the larger positronic brain there. The Good Hope carries a crew of fifty, including two new mutants also picked up from the Venusian base. Besides John Marshall, Betty Toufry, and Tako Kakuta, we now meet Wuriu Sengu (another clairvoyant) and Ralf Marten (can “possess” any other individual's senses, seeing through their eyes and hearing through their ears). Accelerating to near light speed, the Good Hope coasts to the orbit of Jupiter. Rhodan does not want to jump into hyperspace from too deep in the solar system because of gravitational effects on surrounding space. He uses the time to pass on the Venusian brain's data about the Vega system: 42 planets, with intelligent life on the eighth, Ferrol, which had just developed gunpowder ten thousand years ago.

Humanity's first hyperspatial jump goes without a hitch, the Good Hope appearing in the Vega system fortuitously concurrent with fifty more alien ships, whose incursions mask its own transition. But as the Good Hope coasts into the system, the telepaths report “the crying of souls. Someone is dying. Space is filled with whispered grief and sobbing. Despair, pain, death!” (p. 49) It quickly becomes apparent that the Good Hope has indeed stumbled into a massive space battle in the vicinity of the fourteenth planet. The defenders in egg-shaped vessels without shields are hopelessly outclassed by attacking rod-shaped warcraft. The Good Hope draws fire but its shields hold. Khrest recognizes the attackers as a hostile reptilian race from Orion Delta, the planet Topid, and presumes that the victims are the native humanoid Ferrons. Recognizing that the Good Hope is far advanced even over the attacking Topides, sure that he can outrun them into hyperspace, Rhodan searches for Ferron survivors, finally rescuing one. He orders that in interacting with the refugee no reference be made to “Earth” or “Terra” - as far as the Ferrons are concerned, they are to be Arkonides.

With the aid of the Good Hope's positronic translator and the mutant telepaths, communication is quickly established with the Ferron named Chaktor. The Ferron have colonized several planets of the Vega sysem and have, despite an innate inability to comprehend the fifth-dimensional mathematics fundamental to hyperspatial mechanics, possession of highly advanced matter transmission technology. Khrest takes this as evidence of previous contact with technologically superior beings, perhaps those of his world of eternal life. The Ferron were totally unprepared for the invasion that has just befallen their system.

The Good Hope “microjumps” toward Ferrol – right into the middle of a raging battle in which the Terrans take the Ferrons' part – until suddenly a massive hyperspace incursion hits almost literally “on top of” them. A 2400-foot-diameter Arkonide battleship appears only thirty miles away from the much smaller Good Hope. To Khrest's astonishment the battleship does not respond to the Arkonide auxiliary vessel's recognition code signal, except to attack. It takes but a glancing blow from an enormous energy beam that virtually wrecks the ship to send the Good Hope careening off into space. They manage to limp to a crash landing at a Ferron colony on the ninth planet, Rofus.

Meanwhile the Arkonide battleship and the Topides decimate the Ferron fleet and start setting down on Ferrol. Rhodan surmises that the Arkonide ship must have been captured by the Topides previously – they would not be in alliance with them – so he sets Khrest to training his 43 surviving crew in operating an Arkonide battleship. He has in mind to capture it back, for earth. The Ferron ruler, the Thort, and many ruling Ferrons are using the matter transmitter to evacuate from Ferrol to Rofus. Rhodan negotiates use of the matter transmitter to place his men in position to take the battleship. Discovering that a Topide life boat crashed near the north pole of Rofus, he has Tako Kakuta and Betty Toufry capture the reptilian aliens by means of a psychoradiator to render them compliant. Interrogation confirms that the Arkonide battleship had been captured and its crew killed, further proving how rapidly the Arkonide Imperium is decaying. Rhodan and his men finalize their plans for an assault to capture the battleship for themselves.


Suddenly, the Perry Rhodan series becomes a true space opera – massive space battles, alien worlds, the stage suddenly being the galaxy rather than just the earth (with a little action on Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor). As the blurb on the back of the English edition puts it: “Thunderous warfare in interstellar space.”

Only really hinted at hitherto, the characteristic faster-than-light travel of at least the early parts of the Perry Rhodan series makes its first appearance here. I think something else called a “linear drive” had appeared by the end of the English run, but what I remember most about the Perry Rhodan series is a hyperdrive much like that postulated in and perhaps most identified with Isaac Asimov's Foundation series – instantaneous leaps across the light years – but with what seem to be some well thought out descriptions and effects here. It seems that ships must accelerate to near light speed in order to transition – with the effects of relativistic speeds at least alluded to. The gravitational effects of the sudden warping of space on either entry or exit from hyperspace are detectable across interstellar distances – instantly – the assumption being that such gravitic warping of space is not itself relativistic. Such warp effects are implied to be potentially devastating to nearby celestial bodies, making it inadvisable to jump to or from too deep in a planetary system. The effects are felt on the smaller scale as well, such as when the huge Arkonide battleship emerges only thirty miles away from the Good Hope (pp. 71-72) – the hull of the smaller ship rings like a bell, with equipment and instrumentation being overloaded and ruined. I only recall reading of such potential effects of space travel on the local space and objects in one of Diane Duane's Star Trek novels – The Wounded Sky if I remember correctly, where (again, if I remember correctly, not having read the book in perhaps 25 years) a starship uses its warp field to induce a star go go nova and destroy its pursuers. It seemed to me then and still does today that here you've got a weapon of mass destruction of nearly unimaginable force, far beyond that of nuclear or even antimatter bombs. I do seem to remember (vaguely) reference to “nova bombs” or somesuch in other Perry Rhodan stories from way back when, so maybe our authors continue to deal with the ramifications of the technology they are postulating here.

Another interesting technological appearance is that of “heavy neutron ray projectors” which “[attack] only organic life” (p. 67). I immediately thought of the neutron bomb which was a major issue in the news in the late 1970s, early 1980s if I recall correctly. The idea of the neutron bomb was a smaller scale nuclear device that would wipe out all life in a target area which leaving the technological infrastructure more or less intact except right at the blast site. A smaller-yield nuclear blast that produced a pulse of hard radiation that spread beyond the blast radius itself. It was, if I recall, condemned as a particularly insidious form of warfare. Anyway, the German author seems to have been up to date on current weapons research and development when this story was written (1961) – according to Wikipedia ( ), the concept was conceived and developed from 1958 forward.

It's these kinds of things that make it hard for me to fathom the rather low reputation the series seems to have among wider science fiction fandom, at least here in the US. This all seems rather well thought out to me. Sure, the writing style is not the highest – this is not literature, it's essentially pulp – but even in translation I find the stories generally quite readable with a driving narrative that doesn't get boring. (So far the nearest thing to what I'd call “unreadable” would be The Wasp Men Attack, but I've already postulated a reason for why that turned out as it did.) I have certainly read much worse, and sometimes by authors who have much higher reputations than our Perry Rhodan scribes. A host of Star Trek novels that I used to read come to mind.

I'm not quite sure what the implications are of the passage on p. 92 where Rhodan makes one of the Topides disrobe (after gallantly having the “lady-folk” Thora and Betty leave their presence!):

“Rhodan clamped his mouth tight in order to suppress the same horrified outcry that the Ferronian ruler had made. Here for the first time was a revelation that the returning doctors would no doubt be able to verify.

“'My God!' whispered Dr. Haggard, his forehead reddening with shock. 'I had not considered this!'”

There follows an extended description of the “reptilian” Topides … but in my opinion no real explanation of the shock that Rhodan and Haggard feel. What in the world did Haggard see? What was the revelation that the doctors were to confirm?

I would think that perhaps the message would be that this is the first truly alien intelligence that humans have encountered – the Arkonides could basically pass for humans, while the Ferrons are described as more or less stocky blue-skinned, coppery-haired humanoids – but the fact that the Topides are reptilian was made way earlier and we've already dealt not just with the insectoid Mind Snatcher “Wasp Men” but the really weird-looking inhuman Fantan who preceded them:

“'...[I]magine a cylinder with rounded off ends, my dear Haggard,' Rhodan began to lecture in professorial tones. 'This cylinder is elastic to a certain degree and is completely covered with fine scales. In its upper part this cylindrical body contains several openings, which to us would look like so many dark holes. But in reality they do fulfill the functions of eyes, nose and mouth.

“'Six identical extremities branch off this cylinder at various places. They serve as organs of locomotion, food intake and the usual functions of our own legs and arms. The only difference is that there is no difference between the Fantan people's extremities; they are all alike.

“'The Fantan race is asexual and is propagated by a process similar to one known in some of your houseplants, Doctor Haggard, where a branch of a shoot off the parent plant gives rise to a new offspring.

“'This is what the Fantan people look like. Did you assume that all intelligent races from the universe must have the same appearance as you or me or Khrest? In time we will meet up with intelligent living beings that will seem more repulsive to us than our toads or tapeworms.'” (#3[a], Galactic Alarm, pp. 94-95).

Then again, I guess it must be remembered that these books were being plotted essentially by committee then written by individuals, a number of issues being written concurrently by necessity to keep up a week-in, week-out pace of publication. There probably was no way to assure any kind of really detailed consistency beyond what was accomplished.

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Perry Rhodan Special Release, The Wasp Men Attack (September 1977)

By W. W. Shols (= German issue #9, “Help for the Earth,” 3 November 1961)

Still on Venus, Rhodan has been in deep consultation with the Robot Brain, discovering the existence of six single-seat fighter spaceships. Meanwhile, Freyt, Derringhouse, and Nyssen have been subjected to hypnotraining and raised to Arkonide-level intelligence. They are given guardianship of the new ships.

Two days later, during a training flight outside the Venusian atmosphere, Rhodan and his men detect an urgent message from John Marshall. A Mind-Snatcher ship has been detected landing on the moon. As preparations are made for a return to earth, further communications reveal that a number of Mind-Snatcher transformations are suspected around the world, most notably a powerful Chicago crime boss named Clive Cannon. The need for some kind of Mind-Snatcher-detector (besides the few telepathic mutants available) is urgent. On the flight back to earth, they detect two Mind-Snatcher ships headed for the moon. Rhodan's pilots prove the worth of the Arkonide fighters, destroying the invaders, but a life boat escapes and makes its way to the moon. The Good Hope tracks it to its landing in a farside crater, then deposits a contingent of Arkonide robots in a nearby crater before proceeding to earth.

In the time Rhodan and company have been on Venus, a great deal of building and development has been accomplished in the Gobi Desert surrounding the central energy dome. But they are greeting with news of near panic on the earth. Rhodan orders only proven non-transformed personnel to be allowed into the dome. He sets in motion the recruitment of a police force for the “New Power” by Allan Mercant. Freyt and his pilots are tasked with round-the-clock patrols of earth space. Rhodan assigns Dr. Haggard to find some biological weakness in the Mind Snatchers, toward which Rhodan plans to capture a Mind Snatcher in both its own alien body and possessed human body. Bell and Marshall are sent to lure “Clive Cannon” to the Gobi Desert. Rhodan begins consulting the Gobi Robot Brain for a way to devise a Mind-Snatcher-detector, but is interrupted by sirens. There is panicked rioting among the peoples who have been flocking to the borders of the New Power. Rhodan takes control of the situation by asserting his personality and restores order – but sees the world descending into chaos.

In Chicago, Marshall makes contact with “Clive Cannon,” saving him from an assassination attempt ordered by the US Federal Police, while telepathically confirming that he is indeed a Mind-Snatcher. He makes “Cannon” an offer he cannot refuse – a lucrative contract with the New Power, arranging a visit with Rhodan in the Gobi Desert center to seal the deal. But he also detects plans for an attempt to possess the New Power's finance minister, Homer Adams.

As a gift to Rhodan, “Cannon” brings a large-scale replica of the Stardust – which secretly houses its body and the trapped ego of the real Clive Cannon. With its body and Rhodan in close proximity, “Cannon” could bounce from Cannon through its own body thence into Rhodan, possessing the leader of the New Power and the Mind-Snatchers' greatest enemy. But Rhodan captures the Mind-Snatcher's body and immediately arrests “Cannon,” presenting it with one option by which it might preserve its own body and therefore life. Meanwhile, Bell arrives in New York too late to prevent the attack on Adams – and finds himself in the middle of an all-out Mind-Snatcher assault on the city, which has been encased in an energy shield which prevents any outside communications that their agents do not control. Bell barely escapes by using his Arkonide spacesuit. Adams has, however, successfully resisted his own Mind-Snatcher attacker – killing it and fleeing the city.

Before Rhodan interrogates “Cannon” in the presence of the Robot Brain, Adams makes contact. The nature of Adams' mutant brain (eidetic memory) had tied his own personality too closely to his own memory cells for the Mind-Snatcher to displace. He took a small plane into Canada. Rhodan dispatches Ras Tschubai to bring Adams in – even as Bell brings news of the situation in New York. Based on the interrogation of “Cannon,” the Robot Brain devises a solution to detecting Mind-Snatcher possessions, and Rhodan immediately puts a device into production. Awaiting Tschubai, Adams wonders why he fled to the specific place he had ended up. He realizes that the Mind-Snatcher's assault left an imprint upon his eidetic memory – which has subconsciously led him to the location of a cache of two hundred of the alien bodies in hiding.

Rhodan tests the new Mind-Snatcher detector on Mercant's recruits. Out of 304, one is found to be a Mind-Snatcher. The rest, plus the mutants and Rhodan's associates, are to be armed with detectors for the rescue of New York. Meanwhile, Bell is to take command of the Arkonide robots on the moon and prepare to attack the Mind-Snatchers there. And Adams and Tschubai are to lead an attack on the hidden base in Canada. The attacks are carried out simultaneously. The capture of hundreds of Mind-Snatcher bodies in Canada and on the moon renders the New York invaders easily defeated because they are powerless to flee. Rhodan dictates terms to the invaders that have them returning to their home solar system in defeat and shame, knowing they have encountered a race with the ability to detect and destroy them. This crisis has convinced the world that only with the New Power can earth hope to survive in a dangerous universe: “The will of the people forced their elected representatives to go the way of Perry Rhodan in the Gobi Desert and finally to cooperate in uniting the peoples of the Earth” (p. 122).

Another synopsis can be found at


For some reason, allegedly because the publisher did not consider them to have enough science-fictional action, three early Perry Rhodan novels were skipped in the original Ace publication sequence. Later, near the end of the Ace run, they were presented as “Special Release” double novels, paired with three tales of the Immortal Arkonide Atlan, a character who first appeared about fifty issues into the series and became popular enough to carry the main spin-off series from Perry Rhodan, the Atlan series that ran for 850 issues from 1969 until the late 1980s.

I don't personally see an insufficiency of science-fictional action here, although this novel does have a different “feel” from the previous stories. For one thing, it just feels unfinished, like a first draft, compared to the 1969-era publications. My speculation is that the first draft of this story was rejected and went unfinished until, near the end of Ace's run the decision was made to get whatever product that was at hand out before the plug was pulled altogether. On the other hand, here in this story I find the first appearance of chapter titles, which it is my understanding do not appear in the German originals but were rather provided by Forrest J. Ackerman. Does the odd name for Rhodan's new state – the “New Power” here where it's always otherwise been the “Third Power” (which would seem to be the German original) - have anything to do with this unusual path to publication?

Perhaps exacerbating the odd feel of this story – and here I'm necessarily hampered by the fact that I do not know how much of its character is attributable to the author as opposed to the translator – is the fact that this is the second book I've read by W. W. Shols. I did not like his portrayal of the Third Power in #3(b), The Mutant Corps. I found this a less than pleasurable read as well. Especially at the beginning, Rhodan himself seems more arrogant and brusque with his colleagues than usual. At this point, Shols is definitely my least favorite of the Perry Rhodan scribes whom I've read. On the other hand, Clark Darlton is my favorite. Even in translation, he just seems to have a more polished writing style and presents more likeable characters with a touch of humor. This matches my memories of reading the later volumes in the 1970s, how I looked forward to any book with Darlton's name on it. I did not know then that “Clark Darlton” was the pen name for one of the co-creators, Walter Ernsting. As an aside, I also remember having less of a liking for Kurt Mahr, but so far in this current reading I find his work almost as enjoyable as Darlton's. I wonder if that will remain so.

In any case, despite my misgivings about the execution of this story, the original decision to skip it in US publication was unfortunate. (Not just because I'm an inveterate completist!) Here is the climax of the first major alien threat to the earth brought by the Arkonide cruiser's distress call. Some new Arkonide technology is introduced that I feel sure will play a role in later stories – the single-seat fighters. It also would seem to bring to a close the opening story arc of the series. Although we are only nine stories into what would be the first fifty-issue Cycle, looking ahead to the beginning of the next story it is apparent that several years pass in the meantime, during which the Third Power expands further and becomes more firmly established. The end of this book provides a satisfying conclusion to Rhodan's first goal, the unification of the earth – not complete, but well on its way.

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Perry Rhodan #4(b), Base on Venus (1969)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #8, 27 October 1961)

Perry Rhodan and company take off from the Gobi Desert aboard the Good Hope for an extended mission to establish a base on Venus. The Third Power and defense of the earth are left in the capable hands of Ras Tschubai and Betty Toufry. Their first stop is to be the Arkonide cruiser wreckage on the moon, but as they approach they find a crashed duplicate of Rhodan's old Stardust – which fires on them! It is the secret US rocket Greyhound, which had been sent to scavenge from the crashed Arkonide ship, with the astronauts Michael Freyt (an old colleague of Rhodan's), Conrad Derringhouse, Rod Nyssen, and William Sheldon (who died in the Greyhound's crash). They mistakenly took the approaching Good Hope for a Mind Snatcher attack and opened fire. Too quickly for Rhodan to stop her, Thora retaliates with a “crystal field neutralizer” disintegrator beam that dissolves the hull of the Greyhound – and reveals to the US astronauts who recognize the technology that it's really the Third Power. The Good Hope lands nearby. “Well, the only thing we can do now is walk over to them and apologize for having attacked them by mistake!” (p. 109)

Rhodan overrules Thora's objections to letting Freyt and his men aboard the space sphere – Freyt was the pilot who destroyed her cruiser (#2[a], The Radiant Dome) – forcefully asserting his command authority. Afterward, Khrest cautions Rhodan that another such clash of wills with Thora may well drive her to the brink of insanity. Rhodan dresses down Washington for their perfidious attempt at “piracy” - and demands reparations in the form of a discharge for the three astronauts from US service so they can join him if they so wish. They so wish. The Good Hope then spends several days salvaging and inventorying machinery and supplies that survived the destruction of the cruiser. Thora agrees to submit to Rhodan's command authority henceforward; Khrest points out that only now has she given up hope that the cruiser could be returned to spaceworthy condition and accepted that she must depend on the earth if she hopes to return to Arkon. The Good Hope proceeds to Venus, but when approaching the landing site selected based on the earlier scouting expedition (from which the Good Hope had been returning at the end of the previous story), a gravitational beam seizes the ship and starts drawing it toward its source. A challenge is received, but it is in a primitive dialect of Arkonide. Only Rhodan's skill as a pilot manages to break the ship free to a landing in a deep crater, hidden from the enemy.

They spend some time scouting the local area, including making contact with primitive but intelligent seal-like creatures who regard them as gods. Then an expedition consisting of Rhodan, Reginald Bell, Eric Manoli, the three US astronauts, Tako Kakuta, and Anne Sloane – along with a robot dubbed “Tom” - sets out to march cross country the three hundred miles to the source of the gravitational beam. Khrest and Thora remain with the Good Hope, which remains undiscovered by various small scout probes that flit through the skies. Over the course of a few long Venusian days (a couple earthly weeks) – and verious harrowing encounters with Venusian monsters – the expedition makes its way across jungles, rivers, and mountains to a high plateau and into a cave which serves as a disintegrator cannon emplacement, which does not fire but does show evidence of being maintained. Not knowing they are being observed by the puzzled commander of the base, and with all other attempts at finding entrance to the base coming to naught, Rhodan finally orders Tako to teleport inside. Tako is captured and interrogated under psychohypnosis by the base commander's robots. Then paths open up for the earthlings to be shepherded into the base, ultimately to a human-like robotic alien who speaks first Japanese, then English, extracted from Tako's brain, and who leads them to a large central chamber housing a gigantic positronic robot brain. “This is the commander. He is happy to see you” (p. 179).

It turns out that the base on Venus was established by Arkonides over ten thousand years ago as a staging area for colonization of the earth – specifically a continent between America, Europe, and Africa – Atlantis. But that colony was destroyed with few survivors in a great cataclysm. The survivors proceeded in the remaining ships to another destination and contact was lost with them. The robot brain has been maintaining the base by means of its robots ever since, through the millennia, waiting for Arkonides to return. It recognizes Rhodan and Bell's psychoenhanced brains as Arkonide, and based on its own observations and what it learned from interrogating Tako it recognizes Rhodan as its new master. Perry Rhodan gains all the weapons, power, resources, and facilities he needs to defend the earth from any alien threat.

Another synopsis may be found at


The first impression is that “Base on Venus” refers to the base that Rhodan plans to establish. But in reality, it is the ancient Arkonide base that he discovers and takes possession of.

See my previous comments on the soon-to-be (1962) untenable image of Venus as a primitive earth.

Derringhouse is another name that I remember from my long-ago reading of the later US Perry Rhodan. I actually recognized him when he first appeared in #2(a), The Radiant Dome, accompanying Freyt in the destruction of the Arkonide cruiser, and wondered then exactly how he would be brought to Rhodan's side.

Anne Sloane appears here as another typical female character of an age gone past. She is presented as something of a weak sister, even an outright damsel in distress in one sequence – dragged away by a big worm-monster and saved from a horrific fate only in the nick of time by our heroes. She engages in self-pitying self-recrimination when her telekinetics and “radar-sense” clairvoyance prove to be of little value - “[S]he reported to Rhodan what she had been able to find out about the passageways. She seemed to be discouraged and crestfallen. 'You've lost a lot of precious time, haven't you?” she asked. 'And because of me.'” Our gallant hero denies this, of course (p. 167).

In an earlier story, Khrest intimated that Thora didn't like Anne Sloane because of the attention Rhodan was giving her – she was jealous! Good thing she didn't accompany this expedition, where she could have witnessed Anne pretty overtly flirting with Rhodan: “Anne Sloane pushed her way close to Rhodan. 'It's pretty scary here, don't you agree?' she asked, as if Rhodan were a teenage pal of hers.” Rhodan of course takes her in his arms and comforts her … er, no he doesn't: “Rhodan gave a signal to his troop. 'Let's go!'” (p. 139)


Some thoughts on the nature of story-telling in the Perry Rhodan universe:

I think that one of the attractions of Perry Rhodan for me was thirty-odd years ago and continues to be the overall similarity of the idea of a huge, shared universe with what can be found in comic books – whether the DC Universe or the Marvel Universe. (I'm a DC man myself.) I've been thinking along these lines for the last week or so, since a conversation with a colleague on whom I've foisted my three-volume library-bound collection of the recent New Krypton mega-sized story arc in the Superman titles. We were considering how this type of story-telling is almost unique to comics – a huge shared universe in which sprawling stories such as New Krypton, Blackest Night, or a number of other examples that cross over a large number of titles over several months, perhaps even over a year or more, can be told.

It's something that's not possible – or at least not done – on TV, for instance. Most series are there self contained. The only examples that even hint at something larger that come readily to mind are the occasional crossovers that happen (or happened) between, say, the various Jerry Bruckheimer shows, or the various Law & Order iterations, etc. Or when Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine or the latter and Voyager overlapped. Or – an example I threw out, that period in the 1960s when you had the "Hooterville" family of shows – Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, to which was related The Beverly Hillbillies. Not even in the same ball park! Or (and I have only the vaguest notion of such things) perhaps some of the old daytime soap operas – some of them do or did at least have the longevity! In that respect, although it hasn't been continuous, I cannot pass up mentioning Doctor Who – almost as old as Rhodan, appearing first in 1963.

But Perry Rhodan seems to comprise something like the large shared universe in prose form, as I understand it. Already when I was reading the Ackerman translations in the 1970s I was aware of such things as the spinoff Atlan series, the so-called Planet Novels, and so forth. Well, it turns out that thirty-plus years have expanded the Perry Rhodan universe exponentially. Courtesy of the Perry Rhodan Yahoo group member David Sears, here's what it looks like currently:

2582 Perry Rhodan: Main Series;
850 Atlan: Main Series;
12 Atlan: Traversan;
12 Atlan: Centauri;
12 Atlan: Obsidian;
12 Atlan: Die Lordrichter;
12 Atlan: Der Dunkelstern;
12 Atlan: Intrawelt;
12 Atlan: Flammenstaub;
36 Perry Rhodan: Action;
11 Perry Rhodan: Extra;
415 Perry Rhodan: Planet Stories;
6 Perry Rhodan: Classics;
4 Perry Rhodan: Space Thrillers;
5 Perry Rhodan: Autorenbibliothek;
2 Perry Rhodan: Kosmos Kroniken;
6 Perry Rhodan: Andromeda;
6 Perry Rhodan: Odyssee;
6 Perry Rhodan: Lemuria;
3 Perry Rhodan: PAN-THAU-RA;
6 Perry Rhodan: Der Posbi-Krieg;
6 Perry Rhodan: Ara Toxin;
3 Perry Rhodan: Das Rote Imperium;
3 Perry Rhodan: Die Tefroder;
3 Perry Rhodan: Jupiter;
3 Atlan: The Arkon Trilogie (14-16, 1-13 are reprints of Planet Stories, 17 on are reprints of Atlan main series);
2 Atlan: Moewig Fantastic;
3 Atlan: Lepso Trilogie;
3 Atlan: Die Rudyn Trilogie;
3 Atlan: Die Illochin Trilogie;
6 Atlan: Der Monolith Zyklus;
1 Atlan: Rico;
3 Atlan X: Kreta Zyklus;
3 Atlan: Hollenwelt;
3 Atlan: Marasin Trilogie;
3 Atlan X: Der Tamaran Zyklus;
for a total of 4070 Total unique episodes!

I have no idea what most of that material is. Only a minuscule fraction of it is available in English – just the first 146 or so of the Main Series (leaving the third major story arc or “cycle” incomplete), five of the Atlan adventures, and one Planet Story were published back in the 1970s; as I understand it another four of the Main Series appeared as an abortive attempt to restart US publication sometime in the 1990s; and another abortive attempt to bring Perry Rhodan back to the US several years ago folded after only one volume, the first of the six Lemuria stories. And a lot of that mass of material listed above is currently available to the German readers – there have been several reprint series, starting at the beginning and republishing the stories in sequence, as well as collections in various paperback, trade, and hardcover formats as well as, most recently, electronic versions. It is a wide, wonderful, accessible universe … if you read German. Unfortunately, I do not. Sigh.

It does occur to me that there is something similar in the making in the Star Trek and Star Wars licensed novels, but the similarity is only superficial, especially in the case of the former. Back in the day, I read a lot of Star Trek novels; they are almost all in independent continuities with no connection and many inconsistencies between them. As I understand it the Star Wars novels from the early 1990s forward do in general fit into some kind of overall continuity and there is some effort at keeping some kind of consistency – but I've read few of them. And in both cases anything that appears in print may well be later rendered outside any continuity by a subsequent show or movie which then preempts canonicity.

To bring this back toward my initial point, I see a lot of similarity between Perry Rhodan and the comic book universe (multiverse?) that I love so deeply. The breadth of story-telling is just one aspect. There is of course also the larger-than life characters facing universe-threatening menaces. And I already mentioned in a previous post how my discovery of the Mutant Corps in Perry Rhodan coincided with my discovery of the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men (I've not always been exclusively DC!). As I continue reading my way from the beginning, such similarities will doubtless be a recurring theme as I try to convey my renewed enthusiasm for “Die Grosse Weltraum-Serie” “the Great Space Series” (thanks, Google translator).


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perry Rhodan #4(a), Invasion from Space (1969)

By Walter Ernsting (= German issue #7 “by Clark Darlton,” 20 October 1961)

Sammy Derring, a clerk in the Western Bloc Ministry of Defense, is taken over by a Mind Snatcher – by mistake, because the Mind Snatcher believes he is taking over Samuel Daring, the US Secretary of Defense. It is part of a concerted new plot by the aliens to scout information preparatory to an all-out assault on the earth. The plot is discovered when “Derring” requests documents far exceeding his security clearance. Allan Mercant is called in but the Mind Snatcher flees (leaving a confused Derring) and makes its way to the real Secretary Daring.

In the Gobi Desert, Khrest has taken charge of training the new Mutant Corps, among whom we are introduced to Tama Yokida, telekinetic and “elemental energy converter” (for lack of a better term – he can “change an element into another and gather up the released energy at will and use it whichever way [he] want[s]” - p. 26), and Ishi Matsu, “televisionary” (essentially X-Ray Vision). Khrest is notified of the new Mind Snatcher threat and contacts Perry Rhodan as he returns on the Arkonide auxiliary space sphere, now christened the Good Hope, from scouting the planet Venus for a site to establish a new base. Putting the Mutant Corps into action against the Mind Snatchers must be priority. As soon as Rhodan arrives back in the Gobi, he and his circle meet in a war council with (now-)Captain Klein, Mercant's liaison to Rhodan – who brings the further news that Li Tschai-tung, Klein's Asiatic Federation counterpart and fellow ally to the Third Power, has vanished and is presumed under Mind Snatcher control. Rhodan theorizes that because the Mind Snatchers cast their minds across space from their bodies to their victims the mutant teleporters and/or the teletemporter Ernst Ellert may be able to “tag along” with the aliens as they jump from a human host body back to their own. (There is also some discussion that Ellert could perhaps jump into the future and return to tell them whether and how the Mind Snatchers were defeated. But Ellert says that will not be possible because from any present point in time there are for all intents and purposes an infinite number of futures that he may visit, and there is no way to know which will become “real.”) Rhodan tasks Ellert and Tako Kakuta with tracking “Li.”

Rhodan meets – virtually, via telecom – with the leaders of the big powers who agree to coordinate the earth's defense efforts as well as to building a space fleet. Ellert and Tako, along with Ras Tschubai, track “Li” from Peking to Batang in Mongolia – the teleporters succeeding in a new technique of carrying Ellert along between themselves. “Li” tarries in Batang then boards a flight to the US. The Mind Snatchers have realized that Li's body is under suspicion and have formulated a new way to use it. Ellert discovers that the Mind Snatchers communicate between themselves telepathically, which he reports to Rhodan. Rhodan then dispatches Ellert on another mission – follow the future timeline of a six-year-old girl, Betty Toufry, who inexplicably murdered her own father, an atomic scientist. “Li” arrives at Nevada Spaceport, where John Marshall has discovered that the scientist Dr. Lehmann has also been taken over. “Li” and “Lehmann” are working together to sabotage the test of a powerful new fuel, triggering a chain reaction that will destroy the US space base. The mutants devise a plan to use the Mind Snatchers' own effort against them, forcing them into an unprepared return to their bodies in their as yet undiscovered base on earth. Ellert makes contact with future Betty Toufry and confirms that she is a super-intelligent telepath/telekinetic who discovered her father was taken by the Mind Snatchers. She had to kill him to thwart his own act of sabotage. Betty also cryptically tells Ellert that his fate is the turning point of human history, linked with that of the galactic empire of the far future.

When the Mind Snatchers flee Li and Lehmann's bodies to escape the explosion they set, Tako manages to piggyback with them, teleporting into their base. But in preventing the blast, Ellert's attempt to accompany Tako goes awry and his consciousness is lost in time and space. His body enters a kind of stasis, undecaying, neither alive nor dead. Later, Rhodan constructs an elaborate pyramidal tomb to protect the teletemporter's body for all time in hopes that he will find his way home.

Tako confirms that the Mind Snatcher base is in a Himalayan cave in Tibet. Rhodan, Reginald Bell, Khrest, and Thora invade the base and capture to Mind Snatchers for interrogation, using the psychoradiator to forestall the Mind Snatchers taking over anyone of them. The others they kill as soon as the various Mind Snatchers return to their own bodies one by one, which allows their hosts to survive. Through interrogation under the psychoradiator hypnosis Rhodan confirms that the Mind Snatchers' only motivation is genocide against all other beings. "It's a question of survival - them or us!" (p. 83)

Mercant puts together various pieces of evidence to discover that the Western Bloc is secretly planning to obtain Arkonide technology from the ruin of the cruiser on the moon to allow a challenge of the Third Power's dominance – in violation of their agreement with Rhodan. The reader discovers that a new moon ship is almost ready for such an attempt. Meanwhile, Rhodan determines that although the present Mind Snatcher threat is past, that and other menaces from space are bound to come soon. He plans to continue his effort to establish a base on Venus. Thora and Khrest's search for the planet of eternal life – which Rhodan regards with skepticism in any case – will have to wait.

Another synopsis may be found at


I'm not so sure the misunderstanding on which the opening sequence of this story turns would really work. As we discover in this story, the Mind Snatchers communicate telepathically. Would they even have a conception of sound-based speech, such that the phonetic similarity between "Sammy Derring" and "Samuel Daring" would be apparent to them? It's a minor point.

The description of Venus as a jungle world inhabited by prehistoric beasts much like the earth of hundreds of millions of years ago may have just been plausible in 1961, but by the end of the next year Mariner 2 would dispel any possibility of earthlike life. A quick summary of how quickly our knowledge of our sister planet changed in the 1960s and 1970s can be found on Wikipedia: . It seems, at least in this case, that the “Rhodan universe” science-fiction author of Adventure on Venus (p. 31) was more prescient regarding the Venus of that universe than were the Rhodan authors in our own.

There is a minor discrepancy between Enterprise Stardust and this book in the name of the space physician at the Nevada space center. His name changed from “Fleet” in the first book to “Fleeps” in this one. I don't know which if either is the German original.

When I read Perry Rhodan many years ago, one of the intriguing titles I encountered was Ernst Ellert Returns! (Ace #83) Complete with exclamation point. I never read it, I believe, one reason being that I had no idea who Ellert was. The impression was that he had been a major character earlier in the series – which is not untrue. But I would have expected his earlier tenure in the series to have lasted a bit longer than it did given the emphasis that seemed to be placed by that title. At this point I feel like we barely got to know him – and he's gone. Perhaps that is the point. And he is a memorable character - if only because I know that in about eighty books I will finally find out how he returns!

When Rhodan sends Ellert to follow the future timeline of little Betty Toufry, it seems a pointless quest given the earlier discussion regarding infinite and indistinguishable potential futures. But Rhodan's specific aim is to find out what kind of person the little girl will grow up to be, given the circumstances surrounding her killing her father which seem to indicate she may be a mutant. Ellert confirms that “[w]hatever direction the future may eventually take has no effect on the personality. That remains always the same regardless. It does not matter into which of the many potential futures I land; the main point is that Betty Toufry is alive now” (p. 54). Similarly, the information he receives as to what triggered her act is an established fact because it is in the past by the point from which Ellert launched into the future. The past does not change.

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Perry Rhodan #3(b), The Mutant Corps (1969)

By W. W. Shols (= German issue #6, 13 October 1961)

The great power blocs formally recognize the Third Power as a sovereign government and Rhodan has Reg begin negotiations with the People's Republic of China to purchase the land which they have occupied, out to a radius of thirty miles from the Stardust. But the PRC is demanding an exhorbitant price to purchase the land outright, far beyond the meager financial resources of the Third Power for all their technological and scientific might. Lending urgency to the need to get the Third Power up and going is the fact that Rhodan has been running data through the positronic brain of the Arkonide auxiliary vessel regarding the threat of a new invasion, and repeatedly reaching the conclusion that the invasion is already taking place. Although it is not clear exactly what that means and a quick sweep of near earth space finds no evidence of alien activity, the need for swift preparation is clear.

Securing the finances of the Third Power is of paramount importance. To that end, John Marshall makes contact with a newly released British felon, Homer G. Adams, who has been set free after serving fourteen years of a twenty-year sentence for embezzlement. After a hijacking incident on their flight to Tokyo makes them allies and forges a bond of trust between them, Marshall reveals that Adams' early release was itself arranged by the Third Power so that Adams might be recruited to become its Secretary of the Treasury, which appointment Adams accepts.

Adams sets in motion schemes that both offers various industrial powers Arkonide technologies in return for a financial stake in their business for the Third Power (through a front corporation, General Cosmic Company or “GCC”) and manipulates the stock markets around the world to create a financial panic and crash that allows the Third Power to gain controlling interests in other concerns. It's a one-time thing – Adams warns that a repeat would cause a total collapse of the world economy – and it is not without its cost in ruined lives and even suicides by individuals who lost everything. But the Third Power is left with a secure financial base on which to build the necessary industries to begin building a space fleet. As a first step, they are able to purchase their land free and clear. During a meeting, Rhodan seemingly randomly asks Adams a complex mathematical question, then provides the answer for himself.

Their next task is to start recruiting suitable personnel, which they do in a novel fashion. Recognizing the potential of the new mutants that have appeared and joined them already, Bell and Tako quite literally kidnap a number of (mostly but not exclusively Japanese) individuals whom their Arkonide tech has determined to exhibit paranormal brain activity. They will be brought back to the Gobi Desert and offered a place in the Third Power. Others, most notably Ernst Ellert whom Bell sets off to meet, are already seeking to approach the Third Power on their own volition.

Meanwhile, at his headquarters in Greenland, Allan Mercant is mysteriously attacked by one of his own trusted aides, Captain Zimmermann, upon the latter's return from a reconnaissance flight during which some mysterious incident had occurred. Only Mercant's nascent telepathic ability allows him to detect Zimmermann's intention in time to kill him first. Investigating what happened to Zimmermann leads Mercant to an odd black dome out on the Greenland ice. Blasting his way into it, he finds the remains of an unearthly creature. He takes the remains to Rhodan in the Gobi Desert, arriving there soon after the Third Power had unsuccessfully tried to engage a mysterious oval-shaped ship that had appeared in the moon's orbit then accelerated away. Khrest identifies the alien remains as those of a far more dangerous menace than the Fantan – the “M.S.” or Mind Snatchers, an insectoid race bitterly inimical to all other intelligences, who can literally switch minds and bodies with other beings. This one had taken over Zimmermann and tried to kill Mercant.

An attack is almost immediately made against the Third Power itself. As Reg is returning from Germany with Ernst Ellert, a Mind Snatcher ship approaches earth and tries to take him over. Only his Arkonide-hypnoschooled mind allows Reg to resist as Rhodan and crew launch and attack the Mind Snatcher ship. Tako teleports into and out from the enemy's command center, depositing a bomb which destroyed it.

In the end, all of the mutants, once Rhodan has explained his plans and given them a week to consider them, voluntarily join Rhodan and pledge their allegiance to the Third Power – including Mercant. Thus is born the “Mutant Corps.” It includes Homer G. Adams, whose financial abilities are revealed to be a result of his eidetic memory when Rhodan asks him the same complex mathematical question as days earlier and Adams immediately gives him back the same answer Rhodan had himself provided, a feat of memory beyond any normal human being.

Another synopsis may be found at .


The use of the abbreviation “M.S.” for “Mind Snatchers” - I wonder if that is a feature of the original German or one of the jargonistic, quasi-futuristic, “science-fictional” terms that Forrest J. Ackerman was known for. He is, after all, the originator of the term “sci-fi” and went by the abbreviation “4SJ.” He came up with some rather odd titles for some of the Ace Perry Rhodan paperbacks - “Horn: Green,” if I recall correctly about an inexperienced spaceman (it's been thirty-plus years!) being my own “favorite,” one of a number of such hyphenated titles that seem quite forced and I'm pretty sure do not accurately reflect the style of the German titles.

The Arkonide positronic brain - “Asimov's dream” according to Tasha Yar on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more accurately “Asimov's science-fictional jargon” that has passed into popular science-fictional culture and been picked up by many other works, from Perry Rhodan to Doctor Who to Star Trek. Wikipedia currently has a pretty good write-up about it: .

I don't understand the significance of Homer Adams' seeming to deliberately miss his first flight to Tokyo. His concern that his luggage must be loaded onto the flight, then his leaving the airport on a seemingly pointless series of taxi rides that left him arriving back too late to do more than watch the plane vanish into the sky with “an expression of great satisfaction” (p. 116) – had I not known that he would end up among Rhodan's crew I would have thought he was himself a terrorist. Of course my reaction is doubtless colored by the times in which we live today. Then, having fallen in with Marshall making their way toward Tokyo via a roundabout route through Zanzibar, Adams finds “a headline that did not surprise him much. After all this occurrence had played a big role in his calculations, and he had been quite convinced that it had a high degree of probability” - that first flight had exploded in mid air (p. 117). Is the hint that his financial abilities hinge on a mutant ability to weigh probabilities and extrapolate outcomes? That doesn't seem to have been set up, nor does that seem to square with what is ultimately revealed to be his mutation, an eidetic memory, in popular parlance a “photographic” memory.

Adams certainly doesn't endear himself to this reader – nor does Marshall, for that matter – immediately after he tells his travelling companion of the tragedy, they both seem callously less concerned with the fate of the downed airplane's passengers than with their own good fortune that any luggage they had lost, having been loaded onto the flight that they both missed, was of little value.

Adams' callousness is reinforced in his lack of contrition after his actions on behalf of his new employer, the Third Power, cause a near financial meltdown of the world's economy and no little grief and hardship, even despair and suicide in some instances. “I do not feel responsible for the suicides committed. If they can't get over the loss of material possessions, well, it's their own affair” (p. 151). Rhodan expressly agrees, which doesn't put our hero in too good a light, even with his rationalization that the ends justify the means. Even the holographic simulation of an alien invasion in progress that contributed to the sense of panic and the financial chaos he justifies as “it might happen.”

Add that to the means by which the Third Power goes about “recruiting” mutants – in this book, which I bet you've already figured out is my least favorite so far, we see a Third Power that is callous, ruthless, amoral, and generally deserving of some of the worst criticisms that have been made against the Perry Rhodan series as a whole. Just google “Perry Rhodan fascist” to see what I'm talking about. I don't agree that those criticisms are justified for the series as a whole, but this book taken alone does nothing to dispel such a viewpoint.

Not quite so cheery right now ….

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Perry Rhodan #3(a), Galactic Alarm (1969)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #5, Atom-Alarm or “Atomic Alarm,” 6 October 1961)

Rhodan and Bell accompany Thora and Khrest to the moon on a mission to try to salvage whatever may have survived the destruction of the Arkonide mother ship. Along the way, they undergo another hypno-training session to basically raise their minds to the level of the Arkonides themselves. Thora tries to use the time they are incommunicado under hypno-training to turn back and force the earth to build she and Khrest a ship, but Khrest risks interrupting Rhodan and Bell's session – which could well have had disastrous results – and they stop her. They are able to complete the training by the time they reach the moon. Obviously they were not going full speed!

During Rhodan and Bell's excursion to the moon, there is a rather lengthy digression following the adventures of Tako Kakuta on earth, where he has been given the mission of arranging deals with industrial firms to obtain various prefabricated parts and equipment that are necessary to get the Third Power's nascent ship-building industry up and going. The major powers have all criminalized any such dealings with the Third Power, and Tako has his most success dealing with a representative of the American trade unions, who assures him that he can get the Third Power anything it needs. The workers believe that Rhodan's goal is worthy and that their government's opposition is wrong – and they want to back what they believe is going to be the winning horse.

On the moon, Rhodan and Bell excavate into the slagged wreckage of the Arkonide cruiser all the way to the intact core of the ship – but Khrest calls them back when Thora discovers to her glee that the destruction of the mother ship set off an automatic distress beacon aimed at the nearest Arkonide base. An Arkonide fleet can be expected to arrive within days. They rush back to the earth, where Rhodan uses an Arkonide battle-suit with its invisibility capacity to penetrate the arctic headquarters of Allan Mercant's International Intelligence Agency. He convinces Mercant of the threat facing the earth. Once the Arkonide robot battle fleet determines that it was an earthly power that destroyed the cruiser, it will make no distinction between earthly powers but will essentially sterilize the planet. Mercant reveals his own two minds about Rhodan – it is his duty to oppose the Third Power although he's personally sympathetic to its goals. Recognizing the threat revealed by Rhodan, he convinces the US President as well as the other major powers to go to a situation of “atomic alarm,” preparing to evacuate primary targets at short notice.

Bell proposes a plan to use the Arkonide auxiliary vessel, which would not be recognized as a threat by the expected fleet, to lure the attacking ships into separating so they can take them on individually. That is their only hope of defeating them in battle. Thora has other plans – having no faith in the Terrans' ability to prevail, she offers as commander of the destroyed cruiser to give asylum to Rhodan and other selected representatives of the earth whom she grudgingly considers worth saving. They can surely be of some service to the Imperium. Rhodan rejects this idea out of hand. He assures her that although human civilization might be destroyed, scattered remnants of the human race will survive and rebuild – he's leaving them the knowledge he has gained through hypnotraining which will greatly speed their recovery – as bitter enemies of the Imperium which they will eventually conquer.

A few days later, an incursion into earth space is detected – not an Arkonide battle fleet but rather a single ship of unknown origin. Khrest believes that this proves that the Arkonide base is no longer part of the Imperium but has rather fallen in the progressing dissolution of the outer reaches of the empire. From the configuration of the ship it is determined that it is indeed from a hostile race known as the Fantan. Rhodan and company take the Arkonide auxiliary ship and surprise the Fantan as they are scanning the wreckage on the moon – and defeat it in battle. As a result of Rhodan's actions, the major earth powers accept that he is acting in the interests of all humankind. They lift the embargo against the Third Power and start allowing parts and equipment to flow to it freely. Rhodan knows that the Fantan ship was just the first threat that humanity now faces.

In the last scene, Thora swears to Rhodan she will no longer oppose his efforts.

Another synopsis may be found at – this time I find that mine is actually the fuller summary of the two.


The President of the United States in 1970 is, according to this story written in 1961, named “Nyson.” Wow.

The English title is not a translation of the German title. They have different meanings, referring to different aspects of the story. “Atomic Alarm” I take to refer to the placing of all earth's power blocs' defenses on highest alert, as is done in the story. “Galactic Alarm,” on the other hand, I take to refer to the distress call that went out upon the destruction of the Arkonide cruiser at the end of #2(a), The Radiant Dome, revealing the presence of the earth to the galaxy at large. I'm not sure which one I feel to be a better title.

Why does the fact that the Arkonide cruiser is sending out an automatic distress call come as a surprise? Thora was indeed obviously expecting it – she was actually searching for it. But the sense I get is that they all, Rhodan and Bell at least once they received the hypnotraining, knew that such an automatic distress signal was standard procedure. Why was that not Khrest, Rhodan, and Bell's purpose in going to the moon, to confirm whether or not such a signal actually went out? I get that, it being a directional signal, they had to be in the vicinity, perhaps in its line-of-sight toward its target star, to detect it and would therefore not have been able to detect it from earth, but that would seem to have been of much higher priority than a salvage operation – particularly given the frenzy into which it sends them … Rhodan, Bell, and Khrest, at least. Thora is tickled pink. The monkeys are about to be put in their place.

Oh, come on – Thora – fainting? Twice? - first, when her plan to hijack the auxiliary ship and use its power to force humanity to do her will fails, then upon discovering that the expected Arkonide rescue fleet is not coming. I guess the idea of a female starship captain was pretty far-fetched in the 1960s. See my previous post. To return to the other examples I cited there, although Honor Harrington or Kathryn Janeway would never swoon, the Romulan commander did, if I recall correctly, end up being thwarted by her own emotions. Of course, this work, as are all writings, is a product of its time.

In that light, the conclusion of the exchange between Rhodan and Thora is worth quoting:

"Here on Earth we know of many cases like yours. Young girls that have been brought up in a sheltered, wealthy environment and who one day find out, to their utmost horror, that the majority of mankind lives in poverty and must struggle for sheer survival.

"You are not at all different from these young girls in your attitude. You feel compelled to despise us for the simple fact that we are a younger race than your own.

"The day that you come to me and tell me how foolishly you have behaved during the past weeks, I will confess how much I am in love with you, Thora!" (p. 80)


Allan Mercant faces the same dilemma confronting any person in service to a state when their own personal beliefs differ from the policies and goals of the state. I wonder how this will ultimately be resolved?

In the past couple of days I discovered and joined the Yahoo Group “perryrhodan2 – Perry Rhodan – A place for English language Perry Rhodan fans”: . I've been having a lot of fun just skimming through about a decade's worth of postings. One thing it has are summaries of what I presume to be the current German issues – the most recent posted, yesterday, is listed as “2520 Border Crosser of the Veil.” Man, I'm jealous of those who can read the German originals!

Cheers – and Ad Astra!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Perry Rhodan #2(b), Twilight of the Gods (1969)

By Walter Ernsting (= German issue #4 “by Clark Darlton,” 29 September 1961; published as the second half of the second US volume)
The siege has continued, but augmented by the Arkonide auxiliary vessel’s shields, the force field dome is holding. Rhodan lays out his plan to Thora to prepare humanity for the stars as a condition for helping her and Khrest return to Arkon. Meanwhile, the heads of the security services of NATO, the USSR, and the Asiatic Federation meet, and after consulting with the agents Klein and company regarding the failed bacteriological attack (with Mercant hinting to Klein that he suspects why it failed), they adopt a new plan. Under cover of the violence of the bombardment, they will dig a shaft and place a nuclear bomb beneath the Stardust – the force field does not extend underground. Oblivious to this threat, Rhodan and Bell undergo the first of their hypnotraining sessions to raise their intelligence and knowledge far beyond that of current humanity. In the wider world, a series of vignettes reveal a quantum leap in human evolution is coming to fruition. The birth of the Atomic Age a generation before (remember this is 1970) has created a new breed of human mutants. In short order, the telepath John Marshall, the telekinetic Anne Sloan, the teleporter Ras Tschubai, and the “teletemporter” (can jump through time) Ernst Ellert are introduced. In a secret excursion outside the dome seeking suppliers for the Third Power’s nascent shipbuilding effort, Rhodan meets and recruits Marshall. With the help of another teleporter to whom the force field presents no obstacle, Tako Kakuta (whose parents had survived Hiroshima), Klein and company warn Rhodan of the underground threat in time for Arkonide weaponry to slag it. The Third Power has survived and gain more allies. In a final humorous bit, Tako accidentally teleports into Thora’s quarters, where he surprises her in a disrobed state – whereupon Reg begs the mutant to teach him how to teleport!
The geopolitical situation: In earlier posts I characterized it as “East” vs. “West,” which is true but a bit of an oversimplification. The context is specifically the Cold War, which has continued to escalate through the 1960s bringing the world to the point that the slightest upset could trigger a nuclear war. But the People’s Republic of China has risen to ascendancy, outstripping the Soviet Union which stands as a sort of weaker partner of the Asiatic Federation, which oddly enough includes Japan alongside the PRC. Together they stand as the “Eastern” Bloc against the Western Bloc, essentially NATO with the USA still the dominant power. But there have been times when the terminology seems to distinguish between Eastern and Asiatic blocs, so I’m not entirely clear. Interestingly, Australia maintains a precarious neutrality. The major powers are in a tense standoff, a balance of power. Rhodan recognizes that any one bloc gaining Arkonide technology would disrupt the balance. The real danger he perceives is that if any one gained the tech the others would feel compelled to launch a preemptive strike that would bring Armageddon. The fear is borne out by the end of the second story, The Third Power. This seems to me to be a more realistic portrayal of the realities of geopolitical wrangling than is present in more recent sagas such as Stargate SG-1 (much as I love it) where one state gains alien science but then does not use it for its own advantage over the others. (A difference is that SG-1 is supposedly happening in real time and that the creators were compelled to keep the overall situation to some degree reflective of real world events. Perry Rhodan was written as happening in the future with no such restriction.) Rhodan intends to use Arkonide tech for the good of all mankind. In fact, he renounces his US citizenship and declares himself a “Terran” – a citizen of the world.
Advent of the mutants – Oh yeah! I discovered the Perry Rhodan series sometime in 1975, I believe, about the same time that Marvel Comics published Giant-Size X-Men #1 with “the All-New, All-Different X-Men”:

By the point in the Perry Rhodan series that I started with, an important part of the saga was Rhodan’s “Mutant Corps” – a legion of mutants wielding all sorts of crazy spectacular powers. Talk about serendipity! My Perry Rhodan reading thus coincided with the greatest era of the X-Men, the Claremont-Byrne years, and for the latter half of the 1970s I was mutant happy! Of course, since I never until now read these early issues of Perry Rhodan, I never knew how the mutants had come to join Perry Rhodan.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Perry Rhodan #2(a), The Radiant Dome (1969)

By K. H. Scheer (= German issue #3, 22 September 1961)

Several weeks have passed. The Stardust and her crew are being constantly bombarded by the Asiatic Federation from beyond the range of the antigrav or psychoradiator. The force field dome is showing signs of stress – as are the people within. Drs. Manoli and Haggard have been treating Khrest and generally, despite complications arising from his alien physiology, are meeting with success. He has been cured of leukemia, but he remains in a deep sleep due to the effects of the human medicines. After the interdiction of their self-inflicted nuclear annihilation, the presence of the Third Power has driven the terrestrial power blocs together. They initiate two attacks – one on Rhodan via a bacteriological agent and the other on the moon via a new type of “cold fusion” bomb in which the nuclear reaction will not be inhibited by the Arkonide suppression field. Three spaceships launch from the United States, Russia, and China carrying out the latter mission. Three agents of those states, including Lt. Klein representing the West, seek to gain access to the force field dome based on Klein's previous contact and release the bacteriological weapon. But it transpires that the two other agents agree with Klein that Rhodan is the best hope for peace and that if the Third Power is destroyed human civilization will soon immolate itself. They instead warn Rhodan of both plans of attack. Unfortunately, Rhodan cannot contact Thora on the moon to warn her. The hyperwave radio has stopped functioning – and the force field generator seems on the verge of failure. The doctors reluctantly give Khrest a stimulant – which works and brings him instantly to consciousness. In short order Khrest has activated the simple self-repair function on the hyperwave radio and called Thora. But as soon as she learns the force field is failing she breaks off contact to rush towards earth in a “small” (200-meter) auxiliary vessel – before she can be warned of the threat to the Arkonide mothership. Only after she has appeared over the Gobi Desert mere minutes later and used gravitic technology to unleash a small hurricane-like storm that sweeps away the attackers is Rhodan able to warn her. They head back to the moon but are too late. The giant Arkonide cruiser vanishes in a blazing nuclear maelstrom. Rhodan is, however, able to avert her taking vengeance on the earth and they return to the realm of the Third Power in the Gobi Desert.

For a fuller synopsis see


“Cold fusion” - I initially stopped “cold” upon encountering that turn of phrase. I remember the brief excitement surrounding the seeming discovery of a cheap, clean form of nuclear power back in the 1980s, long after this book had appeared. See here: . This is, of course, not the same thing. A description is found on p. 36 of the Ace edition: “About three months ago we put into practice for the first time the thoretically known principle of 'cold' fusion process. This 'catalyst' bomb uses only mesonic atoms. A chemically induced ignition of only 3865 degrees Celsius is sufficient to begin the nuclear reaction. Free neutrons have thus become entirely superfluous.”

Another good title – albeit less science-fictiony – would have been “The Siege.” One thing that Scheer does very well in this story is convey the psychological effects of he constant bombardment – the deafening noise which requires the Stardust crew to wear huge earphones and communicate by radio even when standing next to each other. Even the normally cool and calm Perry Rhodan is showing signs of stress, much to the alarm of Reg.

Thora's capitulation at the end seemed a bit too easy at first, but on rereading the passage it's clear that not only is she in shock after witnessing the destruction of her ship and crew but her pride will not allow her to lower herself to taking crude vengeance. Rhodan actually plays to that in his argument, although his points are themselves well taken. If she indulges in reprisal she will doom herself and Khrest to being marooned on earth with no hope of returning to Arkonide space.

I neglected in earlier posts to make clear the mission the Arkonides were on when they were stranded on earth's moon. They were seeking a planet in the local stellar neighborhood which possesses the secret of cellular regeneration to preserve the life of Khrest, the greatest mind of the Arkonides and one of the few Arkonide men who has not succumbed to the degenerate lassitude that threatens the very fabric of the Imperium. Women don't seem to be as susceptible to that malady, as evidenced by Thora. In 1961 I would imagine the very idea of a female starship commander would have been much more remarkable than it is today in the age of such heroines as Honor Harrington and Kathryn Janeway. But perhaps the fact that Thora was alien itself made her status more acceptable in 1961 even as it did later in the decade on Star Trek with the Romulan Commander. Anyway, it's that general apathy as well as hubris that have left the Arkonide cruiser unable to take off from the moon. Not only are the crew basically wasting their lives in what may be the Arkonide equivalent of virtual reality rather than even attempting repairs, but the possibility of an Arkonide ship suffering such a calamity as to render it unflightworthy was considered so inconceivable that they had not laid in the proper spare parts! Rhodan makes much of this. Against Thora's clear prejudices, Khrest has quickly come to believe that the one hope of reversing the degeneration of the Arkonide race is to incorporate the vitality of the Terran race. Although it's made clear that Khrest does not mean this as a literal interbreeding - and a couple of times Rhodan has already declared he's “not marrying that woman” - I bet even those reading this saga for the first time as it came out could see that that's just where the story was heading!