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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_bomb ), 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!