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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Perry Rhodan #9, Quest Through Space and Time (1971)

By Clark Darlton (= German issue #15, 15 December 1961)

Chap. 1, “The Crypt of Light”

Perry Rhodan and his crew have been waiting for three Earth weeks for the positronic brain aboard the Stardust to decode and translate the message retrieved at the end of the last adventure. A partial solution is presented: ONCE THE PLANET ON WHICH YOU ARE NOW STAYING HAS ROTATED 21.3562 TIMES AROUND ITS POLAR AXIS, THE INSCRIPTION WILL FADE AWAY. THEREFORE HURRY IF YOU WISH TO FIND THE LIGHT (p. 17). Given the slightly longer day of Ferrol, Rhodan calculates that three days and fifteen hours (Earth time) remain – before the message and all record of it vanish. Masters of time and space as the immortals seem to be, Rhodan surmises that once the time limit is up, it will be as if the message had never existed.

Three more Earth days pass. Then, with only a few hours to spare, the brain spits out the finished translation: IF YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT OUR LIGHT, YOU MUST SEEK OUT THE ONE FROM WHOM YOU OBTAINED THIS KNOWLEDGE. ONLY ONE PERSON WAS AMAZED BY THE MACHINES OF KNOWLEDGE – THIS WAS IN RECENT TIMES, JUST A FEW SECONDS AGO ACCORDING TO MY CHRONOLOGY. SEEK HIM OUT AND ASK HIM! IF YOU WANT TO FIND HIM, THEN YOU MUST COME TO THE CRYPT OF THE LIGHT, BUT DO NOT COME WITHOUT SOME INFORMATION ABOUT HIS PERSON. YOU WILL BE ASKED WHAT HIS NAME IS (pp. 23-24). Rhodan and company set out to discover the initial source of the information that brought them in search of the secret of eternal life – the Arkonide explorers ten thousand years ago whose records had led Khrest and Thora on their quest. Rhodan believes that the ancient records can be most quickly accessed at the larger positronic brain on Venus.

Chap. 2, “The Story of Kerlon”

The Stardust departs Ferrol, hyperjumps to the Solar System, and approaches Venus, dropping off Rhodan and Khrest in one of the auxiliary space spheres before proceeding under the command of Reginald Bell to Galacto-City on Earth. Col. Freyt reports to Bell that negotiations are slowly bringing Rhodan's dream of one united Earth government closer to reality. On Venus, Khrest and Rhodan view the ancient 3-D film records and learn the name of the ancient commander: Kerlon. They head to Earth to rejoin the Stardust. Meanwhile, the gigantic space sphere's cargo of Ferron trade goods have been unloaded and Terrestrial trade goods have been loaded. Three days later, the Stardust jumps back to Vega.

Chap. 3, “Battle in the Past”

In a meeting, Rhodan reveals not only his and Khrest's findings on Venus but also his own conviction that rather than a race of immortals they are dealing with only one. “Way back when the immortals landed on Ferrol they were still existing as a race. Then, for unknown reasons, they decided to emigrate from the system. At the same time some catastrophe befell them which brought about the extinction of their race, despite their immortality. Only one of them survived. He did not want to keep the secret to himself and decided to find a worthy successor. He devised the galactic riddle. Whoever could solve it would be rewarded with the secret of eternal life. He set the trail, probably later than we originally assumed. ...” (pp. 43-44).

Rhodan and a team consisting of himself, Khrest, Bell, John Marshall, Anne Sloan, Dr. Haggard, Ras Tschubai, Ralf Marten (who has been “complaining that he has to stay too much in the background” [Bell, p. 45]), and the Arkonide worker robot previously enabled with five-dimensional thought enter the Time Vault beneath the Red Palace on Ferrol. But when the time-lock field is deactivated, the matter transmitter previously there has been replaced by a chair upon a small platform. Rhodan takes a seat and, with a hum and vibration, an energy screen obscures his view of the others. He feels an alien force scanning his mind, then everything returns to normal. As the others cluster closely around him, the platform descends, carrying them downward into the floor.

They end up in a large empty chamber at the center of which a metal cube fades into view. The cube bears the writing of the immortals, which the robot (Rhodan refers to it as “Markon”) translates as “Now seek out the man whose name you know. Only he possesses what you need in order to find the way to the Light. Do you know the meaning of time?” (p. 51). The robot further identifies the cube as a “time-transformer,” in effect a time machine set to a specific destination in time. A telepathic message impinges on their consciousnesses: “I am speaking to the one who has followed my trail this far. When you arrive, be on guard; don't let yourself get killed. No one will come to your assistance; you must help yourself. And only if you find Kerlon, and with him that which will show you the way to the Light, will you be able to return to your own time. Wait for a period of three days, not more nor less. Only then will the machine bring you back again. I hope you will succeed in this task. I have been waiting for such a long time already!” (p. 53) As the message ends, the walls of the chamber transform into a rough-walled dungeon with a stout wooden door. The sounds of battle – screams, shouts, clanging of swords, an explosion – come from outside.

Cautiously opening the door, they find several dead Ferrons in armor. Rhodan dispatches Tschubai to scout the area. Teleporting outside (and having to teleport again quickly when his initial destination, the throne room of the Red Palace turns out to be open air far above the ground!), the mutant encounters a group of four Ferrons with whom he can communicate since he knows the “New Ferron” language of ten thousand years hence. They are ancestors of the Sichas (see #5b, Mutants in Action), and enlighten him as to the current conflict. They are scavenging the field for weapons and armor after the most recent of several battles in which a neighboring castle-holder is trying to seize the castle where the Red Palace will one day be built. The Sichas believe Tshubai to be friends of the “Gods of the Sun” (p. 59) – the immortals. Suddenly, Tschubai and the Sichas come under attach by a dozen soldiers. Tschubai's Arkonide ray gun, set to its lowest level of stun only, quickly knocks the attackers out. The Sichas bid him farewell as they leave for their mountain home – then are astonished to see him vanish into thin air, teleporting back to Rhodan's group.

Chap. 4, “The Gods Intervene”

Inside the castle, Lesur, the district Thort (one of many on Ferrol at this time), leads his people as they retreat further into the vaults below the castle, driven back by the latest assault. One of his soldiers comes to him with a tale of seeing “the Gods” outside the now-open door of the “holy chamber.” Lesur dashes for that chamber.

Back with Rhodan, Tschubai renders his report. The group are discussing what to do when they hear the sounds of the Thort and his men approaching. Upon seeing “the Gods,” the Ferrons prostrate themselves. Marshall reads the Thort's mind and mentally reports to Rhodan that “[h]e believes us to be Gods who've come in order to help him against the barbarians. … His name is Lesur, the Thort” (p. 68). Rhodan plays along. Upon learning the situation, that barbarians are already within the castle, he dispatches Bell with Khrest and the robot to sweep the inner chambers; Rhodan and the mutants take on the attackers outside. Particularly Sloane's telekinesis, but also Tschubai's teleportation and ray guns on wide-field electron shower mode, wreak havoc. The barbarian chieftain Gagat (flying uncontrollably thanks to Sloane) orders a panicked retreat. Meanwhile, Markon the robot proves an excellent fighter and almost single-handedly defeats another chieftain named Bogar, driving the invaders from the castle.

Chap. 5, “Time Turned Back”

Two days pass. Rhodan and his crew are honored guests of the Thort. They discover that the “first Gods” had left certain “gifts,” including cages scattered all over “the country” - but whoever enters them vanishes never to return. Except for one intrepid scientist, who two years later had finished a long trek back from the other side of the world where he had reappeared. Rhodan risks a trip through the palace matter transmitter and discovers that its destination is a temple – whose priests immediately attack him even as he activates the return mechanism. The real mystery, it turns out, is how that lone scientist had avoided the fate of all others!

“On the morning of the third day the three ships of the Arkonides touched down on Ferrol” (p. 82). Their commander, Kerlon, has followed hints and signs of a race that had discovered the secret of cellular regeneration. Vega is the first of two probable systems where they might be found – the other is a yellow sun with nine planets, one with rings. On the eighth planet of Vega Kerlon has already discovered a pyramid, under which was a chamber containing a small metallic cylinder that has so far eluded all his attempts to open it. The chamber also contained a matter transmitter, which Kerlon briefly stepped through, returning moments later to express his astonishment to his men. His search for clues leading to the immortals has now brought Kerlon to Lesur's castle.

Not knowing that the new ships' landing was also observed by Gagat's barbarians, Khrest and the robot Markon accompanied by Lesur go out to meet Kerlon. Khrest poses as an earlier Arkonide explorer. During their meeting, Gagat bursts from hiding, determined to take hostages and seize the magical spheres. Once again Sloane's telekinesis overawes the barbarians, disarming them and sending their swords dancing in the air above them. Gagat and his barbarians flee.

Chap. 6, “The Black Ghost”

Kerlon takes Khrest and Lesur into his flagship to show them something. Teleoptician Ralf Marten possesses Kerlon's senses and reports to Rhodan as Kerlon tells his tale of the pyramid, the cylinder, and the matter transmitter. Khrest is sure that the cylinder is the clue for which Rhodan searches, but Kerlon will not let him even touch it. Khrest and Lesur leave the ship, but in an almost immediate attack by the barbarians Kerlon drops the cylinder and then witnesses a dark-skinned figure appear from thin air and pluck it from the ground where it fell before vanishing once more – Ras Tschubai. Faced with the barbarians' pressing attack and the current Arkonide law against engaging in battle with primitives even in self-defense, Kerlon furiously launches for space, eventually to head for the system of the yellow sun ….

Chap. 7, “Immortality – or – Fatality?”

Rhodan and his crew have returned to the empty vaulted chamber. Even as the barbarians renew their assault on the castle and he realizes that their presence made no difference for Lesur and his people in the long term, Rhodan places the cylinder on the time-transformer. Just in time – as a blast blows in the wooden door to the chamber – the return journey to the future begins.

Only half an hour has passed for the waiting Thora when they reappear in the future. As soon as they appear, the cylinder opens to reveal another message. Unencoded, it is quickly translated by the robot brain: WHOEVER WISHES TO FIND THE WAY MAY STILL TURN BACK. BUT IF HE DECIDES TO PURSUE THE TRAIL, HE MAY REST ASSURED THAT HE WILL NO LONGER RECEIVE ANY ASSISTANCE. SOON THE UNIVERSE WILL BE SHAKEN. INVESTIGATE, BUT CONSIDER THAT THIS WORLD IS ALIEN AND GIGANTIC. (p. 110)

* * *

For some reason I always think of the title of this adventure being Quest Through Time and Space … which would be a better translation of the German original, Die Spur durch Zeit und Raum.  It just seems to me that "time and space" sounds more natural than "space and time."  Maybe it's because of the old TV series theme - "It's about time!  It's about space! ..."

This time, I know of no Gray Morrow Ace edition cover for this issue. I have the second edition, which still has the cover art by Johnny Bruck from the German original; I don't know if there ever was a third edition although some sources state that all Ace volumes eventually gained a Gray Morrow cover.  If anyone has such an image, let me know.  Anyway, a space-suit clad astronaut spies on a couple of what look like Vikings in armor (except they are wearing skirts rather than breeches, which makes them appear at first glance more Roman) fighting with sword and battle ax on the moon. Too bad the dueling warriors are not at least blue-skinned as Ferrons would be. Bruck's covers look good, with an appropriately vintage “pulpy” feel – but really tend not to be a whole lot better representative of the contents of the stories than Gray Morrow's much more science-fictiony cover paintings.

“Forry Rhodan's” editorial this issue is “A Pioneer Passes,” an obituary of John W. Campbell, died 11 July 1971, the editor of the pulp magazine Astounding Stories (later Astounding Science Fiction then Analog Science Fiction and Fact) from 1937 until his death and one of the architects of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”

After the main story comes an announcement of a “Contest!” - written in the first-person (with another low quality black-and-white picture) by the character known in the German original as “Gucky.” The contest is to find a new name for this character for the English translation. Color versions of the black-and-white picture were first and second prizes, which makes me surprised that I could find no recognizable image of it through Google. So here is another image that I found:

I have to admit, I think the change in this case was well-advised. “Gucky” makes me think of “Yucky!” The name that would eventually be chosen sounds much more appropriate to English readers.  But some of the name-changes don't make so much sense, including that of one of the characters in this very story. The Arkonide robot from the previous issue here suddenly gains a name. In German, it was “Robby,” a hallowed robotic name in science-fiction circles, borne most famously by the robot from the great movie Forbidden Planet (1956):

(also, phonetically at least, by the protagonist of Isaac Asimov's first robot story, “Robbie”) … but in English the poor Arkonide Robby is renamed “Markon.” “Mark One”? “M-Arkon”? Does it matter? Why change what would be an obvious nickname for a robot?

“Scientifilm World” constitutes another obituary, this time for “Klaatu,” or rather the Earthling who portrayed him in the original film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one Michael Rennie (died 10 June 1971).

Rounding out this issue is “The Perryscope” letters column and, for the first time (at least in the copy of the second edition that I have) a new Subscription Form to order six issues for $6.75 or twelve issues for $13.50.

* * *

Various notes:

Does the paradox of the message and all record of it vanishing – being completely annulled from time – extend to our heroes' memories as well? In that case they would never know that they had failed and I presume the immortals would have created some other task … huh?

Ancient Arkonides “settled on Earth, where they merged and become part of the bloodstream of humanity” (p. 26). Have we previously been told that? Similarly, toward the end of the book a similar allusion is made, at least as I read it, regarding Kerlon's expedition that is headed toward Earth: “The forefathers of those who eventually would build the Tower of Babel were about to be born” (p. 104).

Once again, emphasis is made of the potential damage to the orbits of planets when a hyperjump is made within a solar system: “The Arkonide spaceship [Rhodan's Stardust II] cut across the various orbital paths of the Vegan planets. It traveled at simple speed of light. Only several hours later it reached the depth of interstellar space, where the transition could take place. Otherwise the ensuing shock to the space-time structure might have endangered the orbits of the Vegan planets around their sun” (p. 28).

Ras Tschubai teleports into thin air, starts falling, and reteleports to the ground landing “safely.” (p. 56) It's unclear whether conservation of momentum applies, i.e. whether he reappears with the same vector and velocity as when he dematerializes. If it does, then Tschubai's situation is basically the same as that of another teleporting mutant, Nightcrawler, at the beginning of Uncanny X-Men #95 (October 1975). The X-Men had bailed from the Black Bird just as it exploded in mid-air.  When Cyclops ordered Nightcrawler to teleport to the ground while those mutants capable of flight (Banshee and Storm) save the others, Nightcrawler replied that he could not because he would appear on the ground still falling at a fatal velocity. (Bamf - SPLAT!)  I would guess that Rhodan's mutants are not bound by the same laws of physics, given how often we have seen Tschubai and Tako Kakuta jump from one ship to another in space – between ships doubtless moving at astronomically different velocities and directions.

As Rhodan and his crew are debating how to proceed once they have appeared in the distant past of Ferrol … “[t]his time it was Anne Sloane who suggested a plan, demonstrating that women, too, can think logically” (p. 66). Ah, old school 1960s sci-fi misogyny! - well, really cultural in general …. It reminds me in spirit of the inspiration for the title of one of the comic book blogs I follow, “Too Dangerous for a Girl!”  The irony of that title comes home when you find out, as that blog writer explains, that it comes from a fairly early adventure of the Legion of Super-Heroes, specifically referring to Saturn Girl - who was even then portrayed as one of the most capable female characters in all comics!

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

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