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, May 19, 2011

Perry Rhodan #10, The Ghosts of Gol (1971)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #16, Friday 22 December 1961)

Chap. 1, “Spooky Phenomena”

Eight auxiliary space spheres, nicknamed “Guppies,” launch from the Stardust II to distribute themselves throughout the Vega System with space-time structural sensors scanning for disturbances. Meanwhile, Perry Rhodan has to deal yet again with the Arkonides' timidity. He gives Khrest and Thora a choice – accompany him continuing the quest for the secret of eternal life or not, but they must decide! Guppy #5, near the fifteenth planet, starts experiencing spatial oscillations that set the very hull to droning and blows out the structural sensor. They did manage to get a lock on the source, however – the fourteenth planet of Vega.

As Thora and Khrest prepare to give Rhodan their decision, the three are interrupted by the metal cartridge retrieved from the distant past of Ferrol gives off a blazing light and basically evaporates before their eyes. In quick succession, Rhodan gets the report from Commander Chaney of Guppy #5 as well as the electromagnetically sensitive mutant Tanaka Seiko's report of the message he perceived at the same time: “You shall come now. … Remember the warning! Continue your search where the disturbance occurs. … Do not come without the higher knowledge! Nobody will help you, only the mountain will pulsate for you” (pp. 20-21). Rhodan orders an almost immediate launch for planet fourteen – then remembers Khrest and Thora. Khrest laughs and says they had decided to accompany him.

Chap. 2, “Perils of Gol”

Vega 14 is a monstrous gas giant three times the diameter of Jupiter but with an enormous density, and therefore an even more monstrously enormous gravity and atmospheric pressure at its surface – 916 g's and 50,000 atmospheres under its own 12,000-mile thick atmosphere. Only the Stardust has the power to withstand the strain by means of its engines and gravity generators working in tandem to negate the terrific gravitational force, so the auxiliary ships are sent back to Ferrol. Rhodan orders surface exploration vehicles to be outfitted to withstand the grueling conditions.

Bell christens the planet “Gol,” “after an abominable ogre in some old legend” (p. 26). As the Stardust II descends into the planet's atmosphere, the first of what becomes a series of regularly recurring sixteen-second structural disturbances is detected. Seiko detects no message, however. Rhodan heads for the coordinates from which the disturbances originate, which turns out to be a twelve-mile high mountain unsuitable for landing. A more suitable landing area is about 120 miles away. Rhodan manages to set the ship down in what turns out to be a sea of thirty- to sixty-foot deep liquid methane, the same compound as the atmosphere. Actually, “[t]he gravity neutralizers together with the engines kept the Stardust in a weightless state even after the landing. The support legs had found solid ground but did not depend on it” (p. 33).

After testing a remote-controlled caterpillar-track exploration vehicle, Rhodan, Major Derringhouse, and Seiko set forth for their first survey of the utterly alien landscape, heading for the foothills beyond which is the mountain range that contains their goal. An infrared search beam provides their only “light” so deep in the thick atmosphere. But then, mysteriously, as they come to a sheer rock wall, that searchlight dies.

Chap. 3, “Glowing – Beings?”

Khrest has gotten nowhere in analyzing the continuing intermittent structural disturbances for any message that might be encoded in their modulation. Suddenly the Stardust lists to one side. Momentarily two of the gravity generators had run idle then resumed normal operation. Reginald Bell easily rights the ship, but is upset by his inability to find an explanation. A glowing shape appears in the murk outside. Khrest speculates that it is a random electrical discharge. Receiving a report of the caterpillar's dead searchlight, Bell orders a radio beacon deployed to guide Rhodan back. Making its way gingerly through the treacherous landscape, the caterpillar encounters a similarly glowing shape, whereupon Seiko is stricken by an intense roaring “sound” that only his mutant abilities can “hear,” and an intense headache. Rhodan is unable to catch up to the flitting light and finally, slowly, makes his way back to the Stardust.

Rhodan meets with his people and reveals that he roaring that Seiko perceived in conjunction with the appearance of the light was indeed hyper-radiation. He also believes that the searchlight was intentionally put out of commission. Perhaps the lights are living beings. With Khrest's help, Rhodan sets out to devise a way to convert the structural sensor in the a modulation receiver – he is still convinced the structural disturbances contain a message. His efforts pay off. Through the medium of the new device, Seiko is able to “read”: “Even though you have perceived this, you must follow the way to the mountain. Only there is the light hidden. Do not wait long. The mighty ones of [Gol] will overpower you if you hesitate too long. Do not come without the higher knowledge!” (pp. 54-55).

Chap. 4, “The Valley of the Phantoms”

Three caterpillars set out from the Stardust. Rhodan drives one, accompanied by his previous crew plus telekineticist Anne Sloane; Bell is accompanied by the young telepath/telekineticist Betty Toufry, teleoptician Ralf Marten, and Major Nyssen; and Khrest is telekineticist Tama Yokida, teleporter Ishi Matsu, and Captain Klein. Rhodan attempts to use catapulted “oxygen-bombs” (oxygen and methan are an explosive combination) to blast his way through the rock wall encountered previously, but the first such blast attracts a small light sphere which seems to absorb the second – and swells from twenty inches diameter to fifteen feet. He then resorts to disintegrator cannon to blast a hole big enough to drive through. The three caterpillars emerge into a broad smooth plain and continue on toward the mountain. The glowing ball follows them but slowly diminishes in size. At Bell's urging, they try disintegrator fire against it, only to find that it “feeds off” that as well. Seiko continues to be plagued by a headache.

Receiving a report from Thora aboard the Stardust that more glowing balls have surrounded the ship and that the intermittent failures of gravity generators are increasing, Rhodan feels pressured to reach their goal as quickly as possible. The expedition passes through a natural fissure in another rock wall, but emerge atop a sheer precipice overlooking a deep valley filled with many of the glowing forms. Derringhouse dubs it the “Valley of the Phantoms.” They manage to follow a descending ledge along the cliff face down to the valley floor. But then a report back to the Stardust goes unanswered.

Chap. 5, “Encounter with the Ghosts”

Thora had been listening to the progress of the caterpillars until the point where they entered the valley – whereupon clanging alarms shattered the calm aboard the Stardust. All gravity neutralizing screens are down and only the ship's engines are supporting them. Thora finds herself at a loss as to how to proceed, finding herself longing for Perry Rhodan's presence of mind and cursing his absence at the same time. But she rallies herself and uses Wurio Sengu's power of “seeing” through matter to determine that the glowing spheres outside the Stardust react to energy fire just like the one dogging Rhodan's expedition. As engine power begins to decline, Gol's massive gravity seeps through, subjecting the crew of the Stardust to mounting g-forces. Thora attempts to launch the ship, but the engines fail altogether. They are only saved by the resumption of the structural modulation, which seems to drive the sphere's away.

Thora reestablishes contact with Rhodan, who orders her to launch and maintain a safe altitude beyond the range of the spheres, about a thousand miles up, and to fly the Stardust to a position above the valley. Rhodan and the caterpillars proceed forward – the light of the massed spheres is sufficient for them to turn off their search beams, which removes the caterpillars' attraction at least for the time being. But as they penetrate deeper and deeper into the valley, the spheres get denser and denser and harder to avoid. Knowing they are about to be detected, Rhodan tries a diversion. All three caterpillars fire at a single point well away from their own position, and the spheres take the bait, flocking away from the caterpillars toward a much richer feast of energy. The caterpillars continue forward and ultimately leave the field of phantom lights, coming safely to the base of the mountain.

Chap. 6, “A Message from the Unknown”

The caterpillars start ascending the lower slopes. Rhodan has concluded that the lights, higher-dimensional beings though they be, are unintelligent and driven solely by instinct. Moreover, he believes he has a way to repel them. He orders Thora to descend from its hovering position and use his remodeled structural sensor as a transmitter, as well as to flood the area with infrared light so they can see. The light spheres scatter from the Stardust's broadcast as when the sixteen-second modulation had resumed. The massive space-sphere is able to land unmolested in the valley.

But Seiko now “hears” what seems to be the buzzing of a swarm of angry hornets. As a precaution, Rhodan sends Bell's and Khrest's caterpillars back to the Stardust. They are to help Thora in case of another attack, but also to build a second structural disturbance transmitter. Major Nyssen is then to bring that transmitter to Rhodan, who continues on. Bell and Khrest complete their task quickly, and Nyssen heads back out on the trail of Rhodan.

Rhodan has meanwhile reached the true base of the mountain, which turns out to be a needle-like formation soaring into the sky. Seiko perceives another message: “You are on the right way. Keep going! Are you endowed with the higher knowledge?” (p. 94) The outline of a great door can be seen on the side of the mountain. Rhodan orders Sloane, “I assume that it takes a telekinetic knack to open it. Please apply your higher knowledge” (p. 94). But at that moment a large group of the energy balls appears, bearing down on the door.

Miles away, Nyssen's caterpillar is overtaken by a storm front. Buffeting winds are accompanied by a radical drop in temperature. Formations of frozen methane solidify out of the atmosphere almost immediately and trap the caterpillar. Nyssen calls for help from the Stardust, but before that can happen both the caterpillar and the space-sphere come under renewed attack, by a new, more effective tactic. The generators are attacked directly and start to fail. The crews are subjected to rapidly mounting gravity.

At the mountain, Sloane manages to open the door and Rhodan guns the caterpillar through just ahead of the lights. They enter a large circular chamber occupied by a single apparatus – an “impulsator” like that found in the factory-like hall of #8, The Galactic Riddle, a remote hyperspace matter-transmitter. Once again, it is up to Sloane's telekinesis to activate the mechanism.

Chap. 7, “Beyond the Galaxy”

Rhodan and his companions have the impression of “ – [a]n endless time” – “no prior transition [in Rhodan's experience] had taken as long as this one” (p. 109). They reappear in the Command Center of the Stardust. Nyssen and Klein and their caterpillar have also appeared in the ship's hangar. But the ship itself has been thrown to an entirely unknown sector of space, outside the galaxy, where only a handful of stars can even be seen. Seiko alone sees a glowing ball suspended in the middle of the Command Center – “and became terribly frightened, believing at first that it was a light body” (p. 111). It is not. And he alone “hears” a message from their “unknown mentor”:

You have been warned! Now find the world where the coordinates are secured. Remember that you cannot return home if you do not know the right way. Your goal is far!

* * *

First, the requisite silly cover question: Is that Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes?

That impression is only reinforced by the hypnotic concentric (thought?) waves radiating from the female eyes in the background of Gray Morrow's painting. And if so, is that Lightning Lad with her? … Doesn't really look like him. Just for the heck of it, I and a lot of other people had a similar “Is that Saturn Girl?” moment not too long ago when T-Mobile's new (and cute as all get-out) spokeswoman Carly Foulkes appeared in similar attire:

Again, this Ace publication initially appeared with the Johnny Bruck German cover art and the Gray Morrow art only appeared by the third edition (1974) which is what I have. I'm not sure what the second edition looked like. Bruck's painting again at least somewhat reflects some scene in the story.

This volume begins with the Editorial “From the Captain of the Stardust 4E: The Glowing Coal,” celebrating the appearance of Perry Rhodan #500: Aliens from the Void, by K. H. Scheer, earlier in 1971. At one adventure per month, Ackerman forecast that the English translation would be published sometime in the 21st century. But he held out hope for an increased frequency of publication as well as the possibility of judicious use of summaries of some issues as well as special editions of the anniversary issues years before they would normally be published. Except for a couple more adventures to be skipped altogether in the near future (like The Wasp Men Attack), which Ackerman himself apparently later repented, only the increased frequency would come about – for a time.

The aftermatter consisted of “Scientifilm World,” this time a review of First Spaceship on Venus (1962), and “The Perryscope” letters column.

Some notes and commentary:

On p. 15, Rhodan refers to the “Fable of the Fox and the Sour Grapes” when Khrest and Thora would quit the quest altogether since it seems the universe in not going to arrange itself for their convenience as Arkonides have become accustomed to. This is originally a story from the Greek fabulist Aesop; Wikipedia quotes a brief translation of the Latin version by the Roman Phaedrus:

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked, 'Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! I don't need any sour grapes.' People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

I can find no reference to any legend of “an abominable ogre” named Gol to which Bell refers in naming the monstrous gas giant on p. 24. Perhaps it's a German legend?

There is an interesting exchange between Thora and Rhodan on p. 49. After Rhodan has revealed to his fellow Terrans his theory that the glowing balls of light are “higher order” beings, she cautions him:

You ought to be more careful.... You're talking to your men about beings living in a higher order of space. I'm not sure whether these people, although they are majors, are familiar enough with the concepts of hyper-geometry to know that there's no value judgment expressed by that.”

Rhodan takes her seriously: “That's a good point. I'll keep it in mind. … Still, it does state a value.... We can achieve a transition, we can modulate hyperwaves and broadcast them. But we're at a loss as to how to handle a being whose abode is in higher space. Anybody living in space of n dimensions eludes by this fact alone the grasp of those in (n-one [read “n minus one”]) dimensional space.”

Kurt Mahr really seems to have been the original cadre of authors' go-to-guy for describing treks across alien landscapes. I found a lot of echoes in the general mood of this story to #4(b), Base on Venus, which he also wrote. Just one parallel: In both stories, our heroes have a mountain as their goal, and encounter various dangers along the way.

Mahr also took time to describe the varying reactions of Rhodan's people to their situation – p. 64:

The crew aboard the carriers had mixed feelings. Tanaka Seiko was still suffering from a splitting headache because the huge sphere kept following the vehicle doggedly. Rhodan had retreated into the cold and determined toughness which was at the core of his personality in such critical situations. Reginald Bell and Major Derringhouse vied with him in his toughness but embellished it with a certain show of flippancy and a devil-may-care attitude. Khrest had not uttered a word in the last few hours. He seemed convinced that they were on a straight path to hell and so apparently was Anne Sloane, who was squatting apathetically on the floor of Rhodan's car with a vacant look and showing little interest.

Major Nyssen was a strange man. Rhodan had never known this aspect of his qualities. Nyssen, who outwardly so much resembled Reginald Bell, had developed during the last few hours a certain fanatical urge – without losing his sense of reality or overestimating the limiting circumstances of the expedition – to subdue the energy bodies which seemed to constitute the greatest danger to the Stardust ….”

Mention of Anne Sloane's depression a moment ago brings to mind what might be the quotation of the issue! – “'Don't be afraid, baby!' [Rhodan] smiled when he saw how pale [Anne Sloane's] face was” (p. 78). I laughed out loud at that.

Once Rhodan's expedition penetrates the mountain, I hesitated a moment – Rhodan might have recognized the “impulsator” (p. 105), but I had no idea to what that word referred until reading further. Did I miss it previously being given that name? I comment on it because this seems to have happened before – some new fact or term being dropped in without (what I consider to be) proper introduction. Luckily, it quickly became clear in this case. But I think this must be another result of the series' “writing by committee” and the sheer rapid pace that these stories appeared. As Mahr was writing this story, had he had a chance to read Darlton's #8, The Galactic Riddle?  Perhaps something similar explains the out-of-the-blue dubbing of the auxiliary spheres as "Guppies."

My gut feeling is that the description of Gol is too fantastic to be realistic.  I mean, it's described as a "gas giant" three times the size of Jupiter, with an "enormous density" and gravity over nine hundred times that of Earth.  Jupiter itself has a density about one-quarter that of Earth, with a gravity about 2-1/2 times.  I frankly toyed with the idea of trying to see if the math worked out, but just as frankly I found it beyond me - or at least the time and effort that I'm willing to put into it.  Anyone else wants to have a go at it, be my guest.

* * *

As an addendum to my just previous post, about the Perry Rhodan movie that might or might not really exist (see the first paragraph here), I have a confession to make. Since viewing that film, bad as it was, I find it has changed my mental image of one of the major characters. Contrary to what I stated a few posts back (here), no longer is my mental image of Thora formed by Gray Morrow's cover to Ace #70 … now I see Essy Persson.

That is not at all unpleasant....

She's the only one, however. I still “see” Rhodan as in the banner above, from Morrow's cover to Ace #50. Frankly, I found most of the other main actors pretty interchangeable among themselves and even with the movie's Rhodan. Except for Khrest – but even so, I still retain as my mental image of the elderly Arkonide scientist US Representative Tom Lantos.

Imagine him with red eyes.  Even years after I was reading the Perry Rhodan series in the 1970s, when Lantos emerged on the political landscape (the 1980s? 1990s?) I immediately thought of Khrest, specifically of this image:

Cheers, and Ad Astra!


  1. >>I can find no reference to any legend of “an abominable ogre” named Gol to which Bell refers in naming the monstrous gas giant on p. 24. Perhaps it's a German legend?>>

    The reference is to the German legend of the Golem.

  2. That I've heard of, but didn't make the connection. Thanks! - Kent

  3. ... and I should correct myself, it's a Jewish legend, but made famous in a German silent movie!

  4. It could also allude to "GOLiath", though Reginald Bell would probably not refer to the bible as "an old legend/saga".

    Anyway, the math doesn't work out. There was a later effort to explain Gol as a possible failed sun - still impossible, but at least they tried.

  5. Interesting, I never would have thought of Gol = Golem, but it does seem to fit.