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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Perry Rhodan #11, The Planet of the Dying Sun (1972)

By Kurt Mahr (= German #17, Friday 29 December 1961)

Chap. 1, “Star Stride”

The Stardust II floats in space, location unknown. Only 56 lonely stars are visible in a sea of blackness. Perry Rhodan takes a pursuit ship out for a reconnaissance flight. Fairly quickly, he loses contact with the Stardust, which shines starlike in the void behind him. Turning and racing back toward the ship, he notices an unexplained gravitational flux drawing him off course. He then realizes something that had been nagging at him – given his distance from the space-sphere, with no local sun, he should not be able to see it at all. There is no apparent source for the light reflecting off its hull. As he approaches, the communicator cuts back in and he lands safely. To the mystery of their location is added these new puzzles.

Meanwhile, Khrest has been using the positronic computer brain at the core of the Stardust to analyze their situation and the search for the world of eternal life thus far:

Is it reasonable to proceed step by step on the dangerous search for the civilization which knows the secret of cell conservation? …. The unknown civilization will share its knowledge only with those who prove by selective rules to have superior culture. (85.179% probability.) ….

What is the nature of the selective rules? …. The unknown civilization knows other selective rules besides scientific and technical topics. (100% probability.) ….

Which selective rules will we face on our search? …. All tests (selective rules) of scientific and technical nature have been concluded by the seekers. (52.112% probability.) (p. 19)

During a visionary trance in his cabin, the electromagnetically-sensitive Tanaka Seiko writes out a message in the language of the Unknown Immortal:

IF YOU, WHO DARES, ARE PATIENT AND DO NOT SUCCUMB TO TEMPTATION, WATCH FOR THE WORLD OF HIGHER ORDER. THE LIGHT IS NOT FAR AWAY. (Illegible letters, 91.998% probability for accuracy of translation.) (p. 23)

As he ponders the meaning of this, Rhodan is called to the Command Center, where suddenly the normal view of a star-strewn galaxy has reappeared. They are not in a void at all, but rather had been surrounded by some kind of cloaking field. They are near a small Mars-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star.

Chap. 2, “World of Mystery & Menace”

They land on the planet they call Vagabond. The similarities to Mars extend even to the iron-oxide redness of its sands. Soon after touchdown, strange happenings begin aboard the ship. Equipment moves of its own accord as if by telekinetic manipulation, but none of the mutants are behind it. The brainwave-pattern detecting mutant Fellmer Lloyd canvasses the entire ship but detects no alien mind at work. Another mystery.

Rhodan, Major Derringhouse, and Lieutenant Tanner set off with five-man crews each in three aero-cars to scout the local terrain. Rhodan feels drawn to the low hills about fifty miles from their landing site. But the aero-cars are also bedeviled by strange happenings. At the end of the 21-hour Vagabond day, they pitch camps. Soon after, they observe a group of strange animals nearby, feeding off the sparse vegetation. Their appearance, that of three-foot mice with the tails of beavers, immediately gives rise to the term, “mouse-beavers.” Lloyd detects no intelligence among them. Back in his tent, Rhodan realizes that his portable telecom is missing. He has just left his tent to alert the guard to the apparent intrusion when his tent explodes behind him! A large crater gapes where his tent had stood, but no men are injured. Subsequent investigation indicates it was a simple gunpowder blast. There are found also mysterious knobby tracks leading away from the camp. Rhodan and Derringhouse follow the tracks to where they suddenly end, near where they recover Rhodan's telecom discarded to the side.

Chap. 3, “The Danger Deepens”

Believing that the hills hold the clues they are seeking, Rhodan moves the camp to the center of the hilly area. From that base they start a systematic survey. Rhodan and Derringhouse head south. Their grav-meter detects a weak, variable gravitational source which they investigate. They find a small, glittering sphere floating in the hills - “'Damn it! Do we have light bodies here, too?' Derringhouse cussed” (p. 51). Suddenly their aero-car starts spinning like a top, throwing the two men about inside before it comes to rest nose-down on end in the sand. The assault ended, they set about righting the 'car, a process that almost ends in disaster when some force almost topples it onto Derringhouse. As they race away from the area, Rhodan ponders the occurrence. He believes they were seized by a rotating gravitational field rather than a telekinetic force.

Back at the camp, they discover that Lloyd has absconded with one of the other aero-cars. Following the mutant's flight path, they find his wrecked vehicle a half hour away. Near it is the dead body of a mouse-beaver. But there is no sign of Lloyd himself, other than tracks disappearing up a nearby hill. Backtracking the mouse-beaver's trail from the point it had been killed, Derringhouse finds a “mouse-hole” - then glimpses a half-buried smashed sphere like had attacked himself and Rhodan. Thee is another trail of round impressions leading away for some distance, only to end just as the other trail they had found.

Searchers find Lloyd after another hour, unharmed but exhausted. Back at camp, he is put to bed. Rhodan converses with Bell aboard the Stardust, who reports than more strange occurrences have taken place. Pondering the events as he waits for Lloyd to recover enough to be interrogated, Rhodan realizes that the alien adversary is slowly getting more skilled in its telekinetic manipulations, learning by trial and error. But some things do not add up. Why the simple gunpowder explosive where there is such proficiency in telekinesis?

When Lloyd comes to, Rhodan meets with him in a storage tent doubling as an infirmary. They have barely begun conversing when Rhodan notices something strange about Lloyd. He reacts quickly and barely avoids being shot by the mutant, being forced to kill him in self-defense. The medic's examination of the body quickly establishes that this is not Lloyd at all, but rather an android duplicate, with only one detail wrong. Rhodan had spotted the absence of a small bald-spot on the back of the head and thus survived the assassination attempt.

Chap. 4, “The Mad Bomb”

Against all their expectations, Lloyd himself (complete with bald-spot) staggers into the camp the next morning. As soon as possible, Rhodan interrogates him. The mutant relates how his aero-car had failed and crashed near the already-dead mouse-beaver, just in time to witness the sphere hovering closely over it to be grabbed by some force that smashed it to the ground. He had fled on foot but something knocked him out from behind. He came to in an underground machine hall. After a time lying helpless on a type of examination table, he witnessed a number of weird, short, multi-armed bipedal robots working all around him. He ultimately managed to escape, find his way to the surface, and back to the camp. He reports two distinct, almost contradictory brainwave-pattern: “[o]ne indicating a fantastic, almost ridiculous urge to play and another revealing such a deep hatred that it makes my had hurt. Hatred against the enemy, hatred against the intruder and hatred against everything that doesn't belong here” (p. 70).

Rhodan summons reinforcements and heads out to find an invade the machine hall. They know they're getting close when some force seizes the lead cars and starts them spinning although they manage to land safely. The men continue afoot toward the hill under which Lloyd is convinced he had been examined. A single gunpowder grenade lands among them, but no one is hurt thanks to their Arkonide combat suits' force fields. Then some force seizes two men and carries them off through the air, ultimately to fall to their deaths some distance away. All the while, Lloyd detects the profound hatred. Suddenly an earthquake strikes. Rhodan seizes the opportunity to dash toward the hill where Lloyd manages to locate the entrance and lead them into the hall as he had described it. But it now appears to be deserted. He can no longer feel the hostile brainwaves. They find fifteen of the stumpy robots collapsed before a damaged apparatus that reminds Rhodan of a cyclotron. Taking the dead robots for study aboard the Stardust, they exit the hall – to find the sun in the wrong part of the sky altogether.

The Stardust's monitors reveal that a convulsion in Vagabond's dwarf-star sun had triggered a shift in the planets very axis, with the resultant earthquake. A similar gravitic shock wave doubtless explained at least the shifting gravity field Rhodan had encountered during his reconnaissance flight.

Rhodan ponders how to proceed as his technicians analyze the robots. Then a dangerous situation develops as an “Arkon Bomb,” the most devastating weapon in existance, able to wipe out a planet, breaks free of its rack and floats through the ship toward an airlock and outside. Rhodan and the mutants Tama Yokida and Tako Kakuta barely manage to intercept and gain control of it, returning it safely to the arsenal. Against the vociferous objections of Khrest and Thora, Rhodan outfits a larger expedition of ten aero-cars loaded with various equipment and weapons. To Bell's inquiry as to what his plan is, Rhodan replied, “We're going to play a little game with the strangers but this time we're going to choose the time and place, where it isn't so hazardous for us” (p. 89).

Chap. 5, “Rhodan's Revelation”

They set up the various equipment, all of which are complicated in their use and should occupy the alien mind for a while, near the camp. Rhodan means “to offer him some entertainment close to home in the hope that he [will] be distracted from the Stardust. If he [can] be lured to play with the gadgets displayed, they might – with luck – be able to capture him” (p. 91). Meanwhile, analysis of Rhodan's telecom reveals that it had been stolen by one of the robots, not an organic being as he had expected. C14 dating has also shown that the robots are tens of thousands of years old. In the night, Lloyd detects the hate-filled brainwaves approaching. Five spheres attack. When psycho-beamers prove useless, disintegrators make short work of them – and as the spheres are picked off Lloyd feels the hatred progressively diminishing. Then, when morning comes, Lloyd feels the playful mental emissions just as the “toys” Rhodan had left start behaving in typically mysterious fashion. One of the sentries detects a mouse-beaver digging up from below the ground in the midst of the equipment. It emerges to examine the various pieces. Then a small refrigeration unit starts to float, apparently at the direction of the animal, which follows it back down the hole. Rhodan and a force of his men follow into an underground tunnel.

Soon after, Bell contacts Tanner who had remained at the camp:

The technicians have disassembled and examined the robots. Although their bodies are mechanical structures, their brains are of organic growth with infinitely lasting life. The mental processes of the robots are, therefore, on a par with other organic beings.

By any comparison they excel in a complicated memory bank. We have so far succeeded in deciphering two items.

First: robots received orders to attack immediately any alien invading this world and to annihilate same by any and all means.

Second: there exists a total of twenty robots on this world. The last data about organically grown beings go back forty thousand Vagabond years, corresponding to thirty-five thousand Terrestrial years” (p. 99).

Tanner passes this on to Rhodan, who is not at all surprised.

Over the course of several hours, Rhodan and his men crawl several miles underground, eventually emerging in a cavern at the center of which is suspended a brightly shining disc. It is a model of the Milky Way Galaxy, which Rhodan's men record before it dissolves. The cavern is shrouded in darkness, but now a number of exits upward can be seen, visible through which is the dim light of the stars in Vagabond's night sky. Examination of the cavern itself reveals it to be the lair of a band of mouse-beavers which are currently outside feeding. Rhodan and his men climb out of the cavern, which they find to lie under one of the many broad, low hills that dot this area of Vagabond.

Back aboard the Stardust, Rhodan sums up their findings. Their challenge here on Vagabond had been to determine that there were indeed two intelligences, and which of them held the key to their continuing the quest. Rather than a single intelligence with conflicting emotions, there was the hostile, hate-filled robots with organic brains, left by a dying race to guard the remains of their civilization. The spheres were some kind of transportation for them, but they could themselves both walk (hence the knobby tracks) and fly a short distance (hence the disappearance of the tracks). And there was the mouse-beavers – which exhibit only intermittent intelligence that appeared only during the hours of daylight, along with parapsychological, telekinetic abilities. The fifteen “dead” robots are simply powerless due to the destruction of their power generator during the earthquake. The remaining five must have been powered by a separate source. They were as willing to use “simple” technology such as gunpowder as well as more complex robotic impersonation to try to accomplish their destructive imperative. Second, study of the three-dimensional galactic map found in the mouse-beaver cavern has revealed not only their own location, a “mere” 2,400 light-years from Sol and Vega, but also the location of what Rhodan believes to be the World of Eternal Life.

Ten days later, the Stardust launches to continue its quest, first heading toward Vega to report in. As they leave, Rhodan is still puzzled by two mysteries going back to his reconnaissance flight: What caused his telecom to fail? Why could he not see the sun of Vagabond directly but could clearly perceive its light reflected off the hull of the Stardust?

* * *

As far as I've been able to find, there was never a Gray Morrow cover for the American edition. I am in possession of the second printing (1974) which retains Johnny Bruck's art from the German original. If someone knows otherwise, please let me know. All of the alien landscapes so far, I believe, look more like the moon than anything else, don't they?

On the contents page, a mysterious title “Rohan - ?!” appears in the place the Preface should have been listed. I have no idea what that's all about.  Maybe somebody had been reading The Lord of the Rings....

The Preface “From the Captain of the Stardust 4E” is really entitled “Stardust Meloday” … Forrest J Ackerman then has to explain his own neologism/pun: “A 'meloday' is a good day, a mellow one” (p. 7). Even were that somewhat clever, having to explain your own wit is never a good sign. As far as substance goes, the preface is basically a report of the grateful letters received since Rhodan and his pals have returned, focusing on one from as far away as Buenos Aires, by one Hector Pessina.

The column “Scientifilm World” promotes a new film that Ackerman has seen that will be released soon – Silent Running (1972). I've only ever seen this once that I recall, on television sometime in the early to mid 1970s. I recall not liking it at all, but I might have been too young to appreciate it.

The Perryscope” proclaims that “The mailman on Spaceborn Drive just quit” (p. 121) after tipping the scales to over a hundred pounds a day of fan mail by adding his own letter to the pile. Ackerman proposed as a solution to provide the hapless mailman with an antigravity belt. Then follows a sampling of the mail, including one missive that castigates the Ackermans – Forrest J for his bad puns as well as the general adolescent (the letter-writer's term) tone of the books, and Wendayne for a bad translation job and writing style. Not unpredictably, Ackerman devoted a great deal of space – about a page and a half – to refuting the criticisms. He concentrates on justifying his wife's credentials, but I get the feeling that it was the criticism of the general tone that really struck a nerve. In my opinion, that is indeed the more valid aspect of the criticisms, which are not (if what Ackerman printed is representative) put forward in the most diplomatic terms. I don't find the writing itself that bad – in general. It must be remembered that this is based on German pulp fiction – written quickly, considered disposable. But although I will always be grateful to Forrest J Ackerman as the driving force in giving me and so many others the opportunity to at least taste the greatness that is Perry Rhodan (witness my dedication at the top of this page), believe you me that the puns and childishness do get a bit tiresome. It's easy to understand why many readers never could get past them and thus dismissed the series out of hand. And in fact – and here there is of course no way for me to know for sure – I suspect that some of the worse aspects of the writing itself are owed to FJA himself more so than to his wife. I don't think I'm alone in that assessment.

* * *

Here we see introduced the “Arkon Bomb!” “Weapons which had the capacity to cause an unextinguishable atomic conflagration of all elements above the atomic number 10 and of any other chosen element by setting the trigger of the bomb for the specific selection.” I get that they were wanting to ratchet up the sense of threat when one is seized by the mysterious force (wow! They felt the need to?), but doesn't "all elements above the atomic number 10" make the very next paragraph redundant? - “The bomb triggers in arsenal Deck E were set for 26. Atomic number 26 – iron. There was more iron present in the Stardust than in a steel mill! The ship was doomed if the bomb exploded!” (pp. 82-83) Anyway, I well remember this horrific weapon of mass destruction, the image of unstoppable atomic fire devouring a planet. It's one of the things that stuck with me from my original reading. If I recall correctly, Rhodan and company made pretty free use of them.... But about that name: “Arkon Bomb”? It has to be a Terran term. I mean, if it had been developed by humans would we have called it an “Earth Bomb”? Or maybe the Arkonides were that arrogant.

I think the interior artist, one Sandy Huffaker (perhaps this Sandy Huffaker, early in what would be a distinguished career as a political cartoonist? [note:  an email exchange has confirmed that this is indeed the artist - 26 May 2011 - isn't the internet great!]) took the prose description of the stumpy robots a bit too literally. From the second, slightly better, descripion: “They consisted mainly of a bulky midsection in the form of an ellipsoid and were made of a gray metallic substance. Below the ellipsoid extended two short stumps of legs without feet. The upper end had a rotating ring with short arms. The contraption was about twenty inches high, standing up...” (p. 78).

(p. 69)

Do we ever get a good explanation for what compelled Fellmer Lloyd to commandeer the aero-car and strike out on his own? All I know of is the “Lloyd-bot's” testimony that he felt he could accomplish his task of finding the alien intelligence better by getting away on his own. When the real Lloyd starts telling his story, he starts with his aero-car experiencing trouble and going down.

Next up:  The Rebels of Tuglan by Clark Darlton.

Cheers, and Ad Astra!


  1. At this stage of the game for the series writers, were the hostile, hate-filled robots on Vagabond a deliberate foreshadowing of the Posbis? Or was that a kind of retrocon?

  2. Since I have only the very vaguest of memories of the Posbis, I have no idea. Anyone else?

  3. I'm noticing subtle changes in the German artwork used for the covers, or #11 in particular... I suppose the art director or someone at Ace Books had to tinker with the originals, or what other answer could there be, and why would they do this anyhow? This cover art is the first I've noticed changes immediately, even at thumbnail size, now I'll be way=tching... and still wondering why.