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, October 27, 2011

The Book Cave Podcast Episode #150: Perry Rhodan

Along with hosts Ric Croxton and Art Sippo, as well as fellow guest Andrew Salmon, I talk Perry Rhodan and a whole bunch of other stuff as the conversation takes us.  And a good time was had by all....

You can check it out at The Book Cave's own website:, or at iTunes.  Then browse around a bit in The Book Cave.  It's full of pulpy and comic-book goodness - my kind of reading!

Cheers, and Ad Astra!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Perry Rhodan #14, Venus in Danger (1972)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #20, 19 January 1962)

First, a couple of words. Welcome back to what I intend to be the leaner and hopefully meaner Perry Rhodan Reading Project blog. Several things have kept me away from this for the past several months: A busier than usual summer – followed by a significantly busier than usual fall semester; The other blog I started back at the beginning of the summer because I do read much more than just Perry Rhodan, and I found myself wanting a forum through which to share my reading experiences on all that other stuff as well; The fact that I did reach a good place to take a break; And finally, the fact that I tend toward a certain degree of obsessive compulsiveness that had me adding more and more detail to the recaps that I was doing for the past few Perry Rhodan books, to the point that the whole thing became more a chore than a hobby. That last is something I constantly fight against on the other blog as well.

But I'm back now, and hopefully if I can restrain myself from going overboard with my individual entries I can maintain more of a steady pace. The most immediately apparent difference between my more recent (?) entries is that I'm abandoning the chapter-by-chapter summaries in favor of a more general synopsis of the story as a whole. The other commentary will be basically just whatever comes to me – as it always was – with no effort at full-scale annotation. Maybe that will be more manageable, because frankly I've been hankering to get back into the saga for some time … but dreading sitting down to write it up as well.

Anyway, let's look at this book …
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Hypertransitioning back into the solar system, Perry Rhodan and the crew of the Stardust II establish contact with Col. Freyt in Galacto-City – only to find that over four years have passed since they departed and began their adventures in the Vega System culminating in the quest for the planet Wanderer where Rhodan met the mysterious, almost godlike intelligence It and was granted a form of immortality that nonetheless requires him to return to Wanderer every sixty-odd years or so. From his and his companions' own perspective it has been only a few months. In those years of Earth-time, however, the fragile beginnings of Terran unification that Rhodan had brought about have begun to break down, with the Eastern Bloc attempting to reassert itself as an independent, even dominant power. The danger of a third world war has resurfaced. As they move through the solar system toward the Earth, the perplexed returnees detect a large number of small vessels approaching and landing on Venus. Needing to use the great Arkonide robot brain in the ancient base on that world to plot out the orbit of Wanderer for their eventual return, Rhodan diverts toward Earth's sister planet.

Approaching Venus, they are attacked by a nuclear missile – which of course has little effect against the advanced defenses of the Arkonide battlesphere. Racing low above the surface of the jungle planet at an incredible nine miles per second, the Stardust effectively becomes a fireball that inadvertently decimates the just-deployed forces of the Asian Bloc, who have been sent to secure the Arkonide technology of Venus Base for that government. Approaching Venus Base, the Stardust is suddenly stopped cold by the base's defense screens – and Rhodan realizes that his previous command to the robot brain contained a fatal flaw. His reprogramming the positronic brain to allow humans access had almost allowed the invading Easterners access – which was only averted by the “dangerous and unusual” situation created by the nuclear detonation that has now caused the base to go into total lockdown such than even Rhodan himself cannot get in without demonstrably averting the dangerous situation first!

The bulk of the story thereafter is the tale of how Rhodan balances the need to eliminate the threat posed by the surviving Eastern Bloc forces with his wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, alternating with the trek of those Eastern Bloc forces – mainly focussing on General Tomisenkov who ends up separated from his comrades – across the hostile jungle terrain of Venus where they face a variety of monstrous threats that include giant dinosaur-like creatures of various types including pterodactyls in addition to storms that out-strip the worst Terran hurricanes. Eventually Rhodan and his men round up most of the Easterners (except for Tomisenkov and a few of his men who remain at large, albeit now without ships or the means to threaten Rhodan or the base) and sufficiently demonstrate to the robot brain in charge of the Arkonide base that the “dangerous and unusual” situation has been neutralized. That news is conveyed by mutant teleporter Tako Kakuta, who jumps through the force field, allowing himself to be captured by the robots so that the sophisticated computer can read it directly from his mind.

Once inside the base, Rhodan sets the brain to the task of calculating the orbit of Wanderer – just in time. Had only a day or two more passed, the coordinates of vanishingly small arc of the orbit that they had plotted would have been too out-of-date for even the great robot intelligence to extrapolate with any accuracy. His ability to return to Wanderer assured, Rhodan announces to Reginald Bell his new resolve: “I think we've shown patience long enough. … If the people of Earth haven't the sense, the will, the ability – if they don't want to be united – they'll have to be for their own good. We can't afford to move out into the universe with the threat of disunity at our back. We must make a clean sweep and we'll start with the troublemakers” (p. 105).

(Another synopsis may be found at )
* * *
From here on out, all the way down until after #100, the Ace edition covers will be painted by Gray Morrow.

This volume has the usual editorial, which “the Captain of the Stardust 4E” gives over to a German fan's letter that drops hints of storylines to come; a short tribute to “Pucky's Papas,” i.e. Walter Ernsting who went by the pen-name of Clark Darlton; an announcement of a slight change in the format of the “magabooks” starting with the next issue, consisting of a page increase to accommodate backup short stories and serial chapters; “Scientifilm World” commenting on an ambiguity as to what Klaatu's actual words are at the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still; the “Perryscope” letters column, subscription information; and a couple of very low quality photographs that I can't even get a decent scan of. The first of these is of a gentleman in a sport coat perched debonnairely atop the fender of an automobile beside a small stuffed animal that may be a mousebeaver … is that Walter Ernsting/Clark Darlton with a Pucky-doll? It doesn't really look like other pictures I've seen of Ernsting, but those were from later in life. The second picture is from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Other than those two photos there aren't any interior illustrations.

Besides Rhodan's reprogramming of the Venus Base positronic brain having some unintended consequences, so do the “orders” he had left Freyt with in command of Galacto-City. Wishing to head off any temptation that Freyt might have to use Arkonide techology for his own political benefit in Rhodan's absence, he had left him under a hypnotically-enhanced inhibition against interfering in Terran politics – which left him impotent as the situation deteriorated and Eastern Bloc ambitions led to escalating political instability. Rhodan chastises himself pretty roughly for his lack of imagination in both cases – neither imagining that another Earth power might attempt to invade Venus, nor that there might develop a situation in which Freyt might have a legitimate need to deploy the power of Arkonide technology – and announces to Bell his intention to consult more closely with the positronic brain in future because of its dispassionate nature and lack of preconceived notions.

Why can't Tako Kakuta teleport into the base from the beginning? I think it's because there was the necessity that his mind be clear on the fact that the dangerous situation had indeed been averted. Had the positronic brain detected subterfuge or deceit, the result may have been worse than the situation that had developed.

I've commented on this before, but Kurt Mahr seems to have been the series' go-to writer for describing humans pitted against hostile alien worlds, their monstrous animals and environments. He of course wrote #4(b) Base on Venus, #10 The Ghosts of Gol, and #11 The Planet of the Dying Sun. There's a lot of similarity of mood among these stories – particularly between this one and Base on Venus for obvious reasons.

Pucky is noticeably absent in this story, but I didn't miss him. Thora is still sulking in her quarters, unseen since the crushing disappointment of the Unknown Immortal denying the decadent Arkonides the goal of their quest that had brought them to this part of the galaxy in the first place, bestowing effective immortality on the “primitive barbarian” Perry Rhodan instead.

When exactly did the Stardust II jump forward in time? There was no indication that anything was amiss at the end of the previous book when they returned from Wanderer to the Vega System. So it would have had to have been in during the jump from there back to the Solar System, right? Is it ever explained? And, even though Freyt was under orders to keep hypercomm silence, why didn't whomever Rhodan left in the Vega System start wondering why Rhodan's jump back to Earth at the very end of the previous book was then followed by no contact whatsoever for years? Surely they weren't expecting that. Why did they not try contacting Freyt in Galacto-City?

Title of the first chapter: “Lost – One Lustrum!” The term doesn't appear in the text of the story, not surprisingly since it's not a word that is in very common usage. The chapter titles that have appeared since #6 and the beginning of the one-story-per-book “magabook” phase of the English edition are, it's my understanding, products of Forrest J. Ackerman's fevered mind. On the evidence of the many puns that appear in his various editorials and letter column comments, he obviously had a great love for words … although the results could be quite painful. “Lustrum” is actually a Latin term, meaning a five-year period. I don't know that I've ever heard it used in “real-life” conversation – although I must confess I drop it on my students from time to time in its proper historic context just to see if they'll ask me what it means. A lustrum was specifically the five-year period between censuses under the old Roman Republic. I don't remember in which of his many books it was, but I do know to what author I owe that little piece of odd knowledge – Isaac Asimov. More than just a science fiction writer, Asimov wrote many works of popular history and religious/literary commentary as well (e.g., Asimov's Guide to the Bible, albeit from a thoroughly secular humanist perspective), and for much of my teenage years I voraciously plowed through as much of that as I could get my hands on. Although I liked his science fiction – especially the Foundation trilogy as The Fall of the Roman Empire-recast-in-space – those other works probably made more of an impression on me and probably helped instill in me the love of history that eventually led me into my career. But I wonder how many readers way back when went scurrying for their dictionaries looking for "lustrum" – or needed to whether they bothered to or not.

Incidentally, although that first chapter title as well as other references I've seen, including Freyt himself, state that there is a five year gap at this point, it's really closer to four years. According to ship-time it is 29 January (p. 12); according to Freyt the date is really 24 May, “nearly five years … since you last called” (p. 13). I haven't kept up with passing time, but the wonderful Perrypedia site's German-language synopses do, stating that the years are 1976 and 1980 respectively, which makes it of course only four years and just shy of four months later.

The cover copy of the Ace edition, both front and back cover, deserves notice. On the front cover, it's sheer hyperbole to proclaim that “Venus Base waited in terror for the attack.” On the back, well, one of Ackerman's more painful puns adds to a misrepresentation of the situation somewhat along the same lines: “... the Base was in danger of being swept away by the deadly horrorcanes …” (his emphasis – I'm pretty confident in assuming it's to Forry that we owe this). <Shaking head.>

Contrary to what “The Ship of Things to Come” announces, next up will not be #15 Escape to Venus. We've come to the second point in the series where the Ackermans opted to skip a story entirely in the original English publication. Of course, the hue and cry eventually led to its publication in a special edition years later at the very end of Ace's tenure as publisher. So, next up: Menace of Atomigeddon.

I'll try not to let it be so long in coming....

Cheers, and Ad Astra!