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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Perry Rhodan #6, The Secret of the Time Vault (1971)

By Clark Darlton (= German issue #12, 24 November 1961)

Chap. 1, “Rhodan 'Conquers' Galacto-City”

We take up at the instant that the undermanned Stardust II makes transition from the Vega System to Sol, with a perhaps more detailed description of the pains attendant on hyperspatial jumps than we've been given before. The spacesphere travels inward from Pluto's orbit to Earth with quite a bit of internal ruminations on the part of Perry Rhodan and company (Reginald Bell, Khrest, and Thora) with regards to the series thus far. The massive 3000-foot diameter ship makes quite a stir as it lands at Galacto-City, the center of the Third Power in the Gobi Desert, which has grown into a good-sized robotized industrial complex. Within hours of their landing, Rhodan opens a meeting in which Col. Freyt reports that Rhodan's orders transmitted by hyperwave from Vega have been carried out. A new crew has been hypnotrained to man the Stardust II, and the Mutant Corps is back from training on Venus and ready for action. Construction on Earth's own spaceships continues but is still a year away from launching the first cruiser. Politically, despite cooperation between Earth's powers, no united world government has been achieved, although Allan Mercant has unified all defense and secret services into one TDU, the Terran Defense Union. Rhodan declares his plans to return to Vega and deal with the Topides before they can make a serious search for the Earth. He also orders documentary films of their battles against the reptilian aliens distributed around the world – which has the desired effect of rallying the peoples of Earth behind him, calling for the union of all governments under the leadership of the one-time “enemy of mankind.” After eleven days, the newly-christened (by Thora, in what had to be one of the hardest actions of her life!) Stardust II launches for a test flight and wargames carrying two squadrons of 54 fighters each.

Chap. 2, “The Key to Eternal Life”

John Marshall and Dr. Haggard, along with a complement of Ferrons, are manning a secret Earth-base on the ice-moon Iridul of the 28th planet of Vega. Marshall launches on one of their almost-daily reconnaissance flights in-system, discovering that the Topides have recovered enough from their drubbing to start scouting missions in the outer system. Marshall reports this to Haggard and continues to Rofus to meet with the Ferron Thort-in-exile, who is greatly agitated. Agents on Ferrol report that the Topides are acting much more aggressively, preparing for a major offensive. He begs for Rhodan and “the Arkonides” to return. Marshall agrees to send a message to Rhodan at once, but he continues to wonder about the enigma of the Ferron matter transmitters as he makes his way back out to Iridul. Rhodan gets the hyperwave message just as the Stardust II is taking off for Vega.

After picking up Marshall and Haggard from Iridul, the Stardust II proceeds toward Rofus. Marshall reports to Rhodan that his meetings with the Thort have shed no real light on the mystery of the matter transmitters – but he has gleaned hints from the Thort's mind. The Ferrons indeed did not develop them on their own, and cannot presently build them, but plans are held in a sealed vault on Ferrol, secreted somewhere in the Red Palace and guarded by fifth-dimensional locks that only the Thort knows the secret to opening. The matter transmitters were the gift on an alien race to whom the Ferrons had rendered some great service, “beings that live longer than the sun,” native to “somewhere in the Vega system” (p. 44). Conrad Derringhouse's space fighters distract and harry the Topides, who are disconcerted that they cannot find their lost Arkonide battle cruiser. The Stardust II remains undetected as it sets down on Rofus and Rhodan lays out his plan to unleash the mutants on the Topides via the Thort's transmitter, to dishearten and drive away the reptiles with a minimum of bloodshed. He puts a delighted Bell in charge of the harassment. Then Rhodan coerces the Thort into setting about to gather what information still exists from the distant Ferron past about the beings who live longer than the sun.

Chap. 3, “To Live Longer Than the Sun”

Bell and the mutants, skillfully working together, lurk within various secret chambers and passageways within the Red Palace, and from there wreak havoc on the hapless Topide command structure and morale. For instance, the “hypno” André Noir imposes his will on Trker-Hon and others, forcing them to make insubordinate, treasonous proclamations to the consternation of Admiral Chrekt-Orn – who then finds himself spouting such words as he flies to and fro before the horrified eyes of his assembled officers, courtesy of Anne Sloan. The Topide commander is driven to seek permission via hyperwave across 800 light years from the Topide Despot to abandon and destroy Ferrol – whereupon Noir discovers that Chrekt-Orn believes that he now knows where the “right” planet is - “whose inhabitants live longer than the sun” (p. 60). The Despot orders the Topides to hold Ferrol and puts in charge a new commander, Rok-Gor, with orders to wipe out Ferron troops on Roful. That mission goes similarly awry thanks to the mutants. Ras Tschubai jumps from Topide ship to Topide ship, engaging in various acts of quick but devastating sabotage before jumping onward – until the ships turn back. As the Topides wait in fear for the arrival of the Despot's investigators, Ralph Marten “listens in” through their own eyes and ears. More psychic and telekinetic mayhem ensues. Meanwhile, Ferron guerrillas have some success.

Rhodan meets with the Ferron chief scientist Lossoshér, who confirms that “[t]he Ferrons have never been able to build the transmitters by themselves. … It was an alien race, to whom we once were able to render a great service. They made a present to us of a large number of mysterious instruments and included the instructions for building them. But we're supposed to be able to build them only when we've reached the necessary technical and ethical maturity. Therefore the plans themselves are in a vault in the Red Palace on Ferrol, protected by five-dimensional locks and a five-dimensional force screen. It's entirely impossible to penetrate this vault unless one is capable of thinking five-dimensionally and can thus find the keys to it. These are the precautions taken by the race that made this precious gift to the Ferrons. Thus the might of the transmitters can never be misused, for only those can construct them who have the required maturity” (p. 78). He goes on to reveal that the matter transmitters were actually bestowed by the second extraplanetary people to come to Ferrol. Earlier a people piloting a gigantic sphere had landed, but now a gigantic cylinder had crashed. Its people were aided (over the course of many years) and were ultimately able to depart once again, leaving their gifts. They purported to come from the tenth planet of Vega (Ferrol and Rofus are the eighth and ninth), but the Ferrons never found any trace of them there once they had developed their own space flight. In all the years they were on Ferrol, however, the aliens did not age, and answered inquiries only that they “lived longer than the sun” … with the further cryptic remark, “but the sun itself wants to prevent us from doing so” (p. 81).

Chap. 4, “The Greatest Secret of the Universe”

As the Topides made preparations for the Despot's inquisitors, Rhodan secretly transmits to the Red Palace and with the aid of the mutants finds the vault – or rather where the vault should be according to the “seer” Wuriu Sengu. No one else can see it – it is hidden by a five-dimensional cloak that even Tako Kakuta cannot penetrate through teleportation. Rhodan determines to consult the electronic brain of the Stardust II.

When the Topide investigators arrive, Bell and the mutants treat them – and the Despot observing via hyperwave – to the same treatment given Chrekt-Orn and company, only more so. After Rok-Gor is killed, the Despot places Chrekt-Orn back in charge, with the ultimatum that he finish out the Vega campaign with success or return to Topid for execution. Nevertheless, Chrekt-Orn orders a mass evacuation of Ferrol.

Chap. 5, “The Infinity Box”

The Topides do not leave Vega, however. Rather they retreat to the 40th planet and dig in on its six moons.

Rhodan finally confronts the Thort and demands the secret of opening the vault, bluntly threatening to abandon the Vega system altogether, leaving the Ferrons to the tender mercies of the Topides if he does not cooperate. The Thort gives in. The key is a formula: “Dimension X=pentagon of space-time simultan” (p. 103). Rhodan also “negotiates” the establishment of an Earth base on Ferrol, then goes off to consult the positronic super-brain as to what the key means.

After the return to Ferrol and the establishment of “Rhodan's first galactic base” (p. 105), Rhodan reveals to Khrest and Thora that the positronic brain has cracked the formula. “The five-dimensionally secured vault is in reality a quite normal four-dimensional affair. The documents do exist, but not in the present time – that is the fourth-dimensional factor of the mystery. The protective shield consists of transformed radiowaves of far distant radio stars – well, simply cosmic rays. Add to that some technical tricks, effects created by bending light rays, and naturally existing energy walls. All these obstacles can be rendered ineffective when certain events occur at the 'simultan' instant.” To bring about these “certain events,” Rhodan proposes to “use my mutants. Tanako Seiko is a natural-born detection finder. He can receive normal radiowaves sent by intelligent living beings and understand them. But in addition to that, he can also receive the waves emanating from the radio stars – the same waves that form the energy screen around the secret vault. If he succeeds in deflecting them, we'll gain unhindered access to the documents, which will simultaneously be brought to the present time. … Tanaka won't be able to manage by himself, but together with several other mutants it will be possible, thanksto the fact that their individual gifts can be combined in their effect when the mutants touch each other or hold hands. I'll need a telekinetic and a teleporter and, of course, also Sengu, who will announce when the barrier collapses” (pp.106-7) Rhodan does gain access to the Time Vault – a task which almost ends in disaster for Ras Tschubai who is briefly lost in time when Anne Sloane collapses under the strain of diverting the cosmic rays. Inside the cube found therein, Rhodan finds the plans for the matter transmitters, but decides that the time is not yet right to actually build them. He also finds documents written in an encoded form of the ancient Arkonide language. Khrest undertakes the translation of these while Rhodan dispatches a message to Earth that he will remain in the Vega System for an indefinite period.

* * *
This volume marks an important event. Approximately a year passed between the publication of #5 and #6 due to “international contractual transactions” (p. 7). But Forrest J. Ackerman now announces a new monthly publication schedule in a new format, which he calls alternatively a “magabook” or a “bookazine” complete with the editorial from which I drew this information (signed “Forry Rhodan”), illustrations by “exciting new 'find,' Bill Nelson” (p. 8), letters pages entitled “The Perryscope” (which this issue contains a letter [p. 125] by Dwight R. Decker, most recently the translator of Perry Rhodan: Lemuria vol. 1, Star Ark by Frank Borsch [FanPro, November 2006] [this most recent effort to reignite Perry Rhodan publication in the United States fizzled out with that one book]), and Ackerman's own science fiction film review feature, “Scientifilm World.”  Unremarked in the editorial there was also the introduction of chapter titles – as I comment in a previous post, these were created for the English translation by Ackerman himself; a list of major characters on the first page; a “series colophon” (above left); and a teaser for the next issue, “The Ship of Things to Come.” (I can see why some science fiction fans, unenchanted with “4SJ's” bad puns and neologisms, would find the worth of the entire series diminished.  Add the pompous "Peacelord of the Universe" title ...  I can only take so much myself.)  And there were chapter end blurbs such as “50 adventures from now you will meet The Blue Dwarf!” Of course, the promise that “400 adventures from now you will experience Danger from the Sun!” went unfulfilled.

Acknowledging that it had been an extended period since the publication of #5, this issue has a bit more fully written expository material near the beginning, which I suspect was introduced by the translator. However, my own suspicion that it was at this point that what had been the “Third Power” became the “New Power” as in The Wasp Men Attack proves unfounded. I read somewhere that “New Power” is one of Ackerman's changes – is that indeed the case or is there such a shift at some point in the German original as well, explained within the stories themselves?

Perhaps related to the new contract governing English translation and publication, starting with this issue Waltern Ernsting's pen-name “Clark Darlton” will be used, even though Ernsting continues to be identified under his real name as one of the co-creators of Perry Rhodan. Whichever name is used, I still find Ernsting/Darlton the most engaging of the writers, even in translation. One point I previously made is that his characters seem more fully developed, with a more humorous air – this we see full tilt as Bell's mischievous nature is unleashed without restraint upon the hapless Topides. It's very much in keeping with what we witnessed in #1(b), The Third Power, albeit with less tragic results – at least for humans.

The humano- or anthropocentric bias of the series overall is still very much in evidence. Rhodan does everything for the good of humans – even the humanoid but blue-skinned Ferrons seem a lesser breed in his eyes. Both the Terrans and the Ferrons routinely refer to the Topides as “lizards.” But at two points in this book we see an interesting contrast to this attitude. First, from (the humanoid alien Arkonide) Khrest in response to Bell's disbelief that a peace treaty would even be possible:

“The intelligent races of the universe come in many different shapes; that doesn't mean they're better or worse than we are. The Arkonides have concluded friendly deals with spider-type creatures. Our best friends belong to an aquatic race living in the oceans of a watery world. No, my friend, the outer appearance is not what matters. Only character should count.”

“Do the Topides have any character?”

“Everyone has a character …. Sometimes the character is good, sometimes it's bad. That's the only difference.” (pp. 27-8)

Perhaps Rhodan contemplates these words through the course of the adventure (although we see no evidence of it along the way). At the very end, he suggests that some “amicable arrangement” might be reached with Chrekt-Orn, who “seems to be a sensible man.”

Bell takes exception to this: “Man! … How can you call that lizard a man?”

“You must learn to think in galactic terms, Reg …. What does it matter what an intelligent life form looks like if we want to remove the barriers between us. I don't doubt but what you're not exactly a beauty in the eyes of the topides, Reg ….” Which gives birth to some good-natured teasing of Bell by his friends, closing out the story.

There was one question that bugged me throughout the reading of this story, that went unanswered (technically) until p. 101. Only there does Rhodan reveal that the plans for the matter transmitters that he had extorted from the Thort in the previous story, which had been so much a plot point there, were nothing more than skillful forgeries – something obvious to the reader long before that point but that I thought the heroes (and writer) did not remember or realize. Given Rhodan's promise to use the automated manufacturing capability of the Third Power to produce a number of transmitters that he would bring back, and the idea that his plans for opposing the Topides dependded on such a multiplicity of transmitters, it was odd that this was never mentioned at all most of the way through the story, especially when the Stardust II arrived on Earth. There are times when logical story-telling seems to break down, which I believe is due to the plotting-by-committee then writing-by-individuals nature of the series. It had (has?) to be hard to keep the continuity and consistency straight. But to draw my oft-used comparison, it makes me think of the creative process by which comic books are written, especially “families” of titles like the Batman “universe.” Similar lapses of consistency and continuity are inevitable.

“Weak sister” Anne Sloane once again swoons into Perry Rhodan's arms during the climactic opening of the Time Vault – nearly leading to the loss of Ras Tschubai. Rhodan promptly deposits her into Reg Bell's care.

Another point of (mis-)translation that I discovered in trying to figure out a question I had regarding Cedric Beust's English summary of Perry Rhodan nr. 12, Das Geheimnis der Zeitgruft – the other summary linked to as usual at the end of my own – is that the “Topides” in the English Perry Rhodan series were originally the “Topsiders” in German. Beust preserves this in his summary.  I can definitely see why this minor change was introduced - "Topsiders?  On the top side of what?"

Besides the couple of recurring art pieces shown above, here are a couple of representative examples of the art pages that were introduced into the series with this volume:

 Perhaps I'm overly harsh, but I'm not impressed so far and hope the quality improves in future installments. 

But reference to the interior art brings to mind that I've never yet commented on the cover art. First, I find some of the cover art of the English translations downright gorgeous – but then I've always been a bit of a fan of the work of Gray Morrow. You can read more about this three-time Hugo Award winning illustrator here on Wikipedia and see some examples of his comic book art here . Unfortunately many or most of his Perry Rhodan covers have little or nothing to do with the stories themselves. Nevertheless, the image of the hero himself that graces #50 and which I used to create the banner for this blog is for me iconic. It will forever be how I envision Perry Rhodan. And the cover to #70, Thora's Sacrifice will forever shape my image of the haughty Arkonide princess.  Although the attire is not all that flattering, it reminds me of Princess Projectra from the Legion of Super-Heroes.  And some other of Morrow's women … wow! (On the cover of #59 may well be Thora as well, not looking quite so haughty.)

But Gray Morrow did not provide cover art for all of the English translations. I'm not sure of the reason, but several early volumes that I haven't gotten to yet instead duplicated the original German art (sometimes not of the corresponding German issue, however). That art was, as I understand it, during this early period of the series the work of Johnny Bruck. You can of course see examples at the top of each of my postings. A German-language page about Bruck may be found here . There seems to have been something of an effort to make the cover art match some element of the story, at least in concept, but not always. I find his style overall very reminiscent of the art of such American pulp magazine cover artists as Walter Baumhofer, the usual artist for Doc Savage Magazine. Here's an example pulled at random.

Which do I prefer? Well, as my old drunken mentor would often say, (mumble). Seriously, I like them both. Were I forced to choose, however, I would (barely) go with Bruck, simply because it's the original and because, well, after all, the original German Perry Rhodan is indeed a pulp magazine series.

* * *

I would like to return a plug given me by a Brazilian Perry Rhodan fan, César Maciel. I was playing around with Blogger the other day, checking out something called “Stats,” and discovered that among all kinds of other information it gives data on how people have come across my blog. You can trace back to the referring page. Which brought me to the Blog de César Maciel: Um pouco sobre mim e muito sobre “Perry Rhodan”, a maior série de ficção cientifica do mundo. It is in Portuguese, but I find that Google Chrome's internal translator renders Portuguese into much more readable English than it does German. It probably has something to do with word order and syntax. Anyway, even without a translator you can see that Perry Rhodan is something central to Maciel's blog. And it is indeed a treasure trove of information and ruminations on the series and what it means to a Brazilian fan. About a month ago he took notice of my own blog, and since I've discovered his I've been having a lot of fun. Thanks, César!

Wow. This was a long post!

Ad Astra!

* * *

Note:  Sorry for the really weird, whompy-joed formatting in places.  I've been playing with images in this post.  The results are definitely not to my satisfaction and I doubt I'll ever get this ambitious again.  Live and learn!


  1. The "New Power" was indeed one of Forry's editorial changes, after concerns were raised that people would mistakenly think "The Third Power" was in some way meant to echo the "Third Reich" (and in fact as recently as 2003 an academic article hyperlinked to the website of leading SF publication Locus was perpetuating this same misconception). In truth "Third Power" was meant as a deliberate parallel to "third way" or "centrist" political philosophy.

  2. Interesting. I've been reading in #7 Fortress of the Six Moons and already have as one of my points to mention in the Blog that there on the first page (as well as the back cover) is the first appearance, without any in-story explanation, of the term "New Power." So now I know at what point the change was introduced. Thanks, Al. I'll try to find that article, too.