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, November 1, 2011

Perry Rhodan Special Release: Menace of Atomigeddon (1977)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #21, Der Atomkrieg findet nicht statt, which Google Translate renders as “The Nuclear War Cannot Be Held,” Friday 26 January 1962)

This story takes up almost immediately after #14 Venus in Danger, with the Stardust II traveling from Venus to Earth. We get to see how the astronomically disparate technologies put Terrans at risk of even accidental annihilation as the Arkonide space sphere inadvertently plows right through the middle of an Eastern Bloc reinforcement fleet headed for Venus. It is moving at such speed that by the time the Terran ships are detected it is too late to do avert the imminent collision – in which the Arkonide protective force fields simply disintegrate the middle portion of the fleet including its command ship. The survivors can only continue to Venus where they do not suspect their first invasion force has already been decimated, and where they will themselves be stranded with no way home. Sufficient note is made of them that I can't but believe they will play a role in a later story.

The Stardust continues to Earth where Perry Rhodan implements his plan to bring about unification of the Earth even if it must be against the will of the present political powers. The stakes have become too high. He makes a show of force across the Eastern Bloc before proceeding to Galacto City. Col. Freyt is not happy, but understands, when Rhodan explains the mental compulsion against using the Third Power's Arkonide tech to intervene in Earthly politics – which Rhodan now admits was an error on his part because it allowed events to get out of hand and almost tear down what he had so painstakingly built before leaving for Vega and his unexpected delay in returning. The leaders of the Earth's major powers are “invited” to Galacto City and the process of finalizing Terran unification is begun with the establishment of an planetary court of justice. Rhodan also has what appears to be his first meeting with Thora since her and Khrest's great disappointment on Wanderer – and she seems truly taken down a few notches by the experience now that she has more or less come to terms with it.

But the core of this book follows Rhodan's agent behind the lines of the recalcitrant Eastern Bloc, Maj. Derringhouse, as he engages in a one-man campaign of espionage and sabotage that culminates with him capturing the Dictator of Russia, Strelnikow, and arranging for the wholesale surrender of the Eastern Bloc government. Arkonide technology, especially the combat suit with its invisibility screen and flight, make him virtually undetectable and unstoppable.

In the end, even as Rhodan is able to host a celebratory banquet on 19 June 1980, the ninth anniversary of the launch of his moon rocket Stardust which took him to the moon and began his journey toward this day, a day which will henceforth mark the removal of the biggest obstacle to the unification of mankind as well as the renaming of Galacto City as Terrania in hope that that unification will be finalized soon, he is able to make one last great demonstration of the might of the Third Power and its purpose to defend the Earth. An Eastern Bloc base on the moon has launched a catalytic nuclear barrage on the mother planet which Rhodan's space fighters handily sweep aside – but which Rhodan points to as further proof of the urgency of world unification.

(Another synopsis may be found at )
* * *
This is, of course, the second of the three “lost” early adventures from the earliest years of Perry Rhodan. “Lost” at least from the perspective of followers of the American Ace translations. Ostensibly, like the previous example, The Wasp Men Attack, the reason is because the action is less “science-fictiony” and confined to Earth, therefore of less interest to fans of the series who were looking for gold old space opera adventure. In the present case, even more so, because the conflict is not between humanity and monstrous alien creatures but rather between political factions, a resumption of the Cold War of East versus West that dominated the world both that the series was born in and the earlier books in the series. The antagonists are merely human beings. And, in all honesty, the unbalance between my synopsis above and the story itself may suggest that in the present case the editors' and/or the publishers' judgment may have been more accurate. The short paragraph in which I relate the mission of Deringhouse behind enemy lines grossly downplays the proportion of the book devoted to that part of the story. Without counting words or pages, because there are scattered returns to Rhodan's efforts in Galacto City along the way, my impression is that Derringhouse's story is well more than half the book. And my short paragraph does not nearly cover the complexity of his story. But frankly in the bigger scheme of the series itself I have the essentials.

On the other hand, skipping the story entirely as was done does, I hope it's obvious, miss out on telling some very significant developments in the overall story of the unification of the Earth. Not having looked ahead to the next book I just don't know if the sudden change of “Galacto City” to “Terrania” is there explained. If those Eastern Bloc reinforcements do make it to Venus after nearly being wiped out in inadvertent collision with the Stardust, as I suspect they do, and reappear in a later book (perhaps the next, #15 Escape to Venus), what is told for the unsuspecting American reader of the circumstances by which they ended up stranded with their unfortunate predecessors? These and other such little bits make clear to me how this saga is really one long story, steadily being added to book by book, and if one piece is excised from the middle it does leave a hole. It's similar to a dilemma I face in trying to cut material out of my lectures to save time. It's not an easy task because my history lectures for a class are part of one long story, with connections back and forth through the entire semester. Inevitably if I drop something out of, say, lecture four I realize in lecture ten that I didn't set something up properly that I want to talk about and I end up having to go back and do it then – sometimes ending up with a net loss of time saved! I have identified places in previous stories where it seems the translator/editor are adding explanatory material to help the English reader along – e.g. at the beginning of #6 when there had been about a year long gap since the publication of the previous volume. I wonder how much we'll see in the next?

One comment, and I don't know if this has to do with publication schedules, when it was translated, or (and I suspect this has a lot to do with it) just that Kurt Mahr seems to have been a better writer than W. W. Schols, who wrote The Wasp Men Attack. Granted, I've only read two stories by him so far, but I've been unimpressed with either. See my previous comments. This one overall seemed much like any other Kurt Mahr story, even with the unusual setting. With one qualification: There seems to be excessive use of what I might term “shorthand,” very informal style – e.g., “thruout” (p. 22), “nextime” (p. 34), “rightime” (p. 69) … numbers are not properly spelt out so often that there's no way I could possibly enumerate them. That last is a feature I've noticed to a lesser degree in other stories so far (besides Wasp Men Attack), but here there overuse becomes downright annoying. I figure it's a quirk of the English translation rather than the German original, but it points to a problem that I think contributes to the generally low esteem with which this series is held. Yes, this is pulp fiction, but there are some standards I think should be maintained for even this level of formal prose. I've never seen such bad style in any other published works of this genre, and I can't help but believe that along with Forry's neologisms like “Atomigeddon” it contributed to an overall sense that the Perry Rhodan series was fundamentally juvenile.

And of course there's the one that made me laugh out loud – “12:00 o'clock” (p. 29). That just makes no sense whatsoever.

Enough with bashing the style. The story itself is pretty good. I hope my synopsis above conveys that. It just could have been presented so much better. I am having some tickling memories now, however, of thinking some similar thoughts way back then when I was reading some of the later books. I'm not looking ahead to confirm it, but perhaps there was an overall drop in the quality of editing as the series went eventually to as many as three novels per month...? And this “Special Edition” was published in that later period. When exactly was it translated?

Enough, I said!

Anyway, a few notes and comments:

I'm still confused about exactly when Rhodan and his crew lost the four-and-a-half years. On p. 56 of this book the indication seems to be that they were lost on Wanderer. As part of a couple of pages' exposition basically recapping the series to this point, the following statement is made: “[T]hey had come home to Earth from Wanderer after they had been absent, according to their own chronology, only a few months. However 4½ years had passed on Terra during their visit to Wanderer where time was measured on a different scale.” I don't think that's the case. If you go back and examine the end of #13 The Immortal Unknown, p. 111, they have just transited back from Wanderer to Vega, where Rhodan orders a short stopover before proceding back to Earth. Presumably that happened, and they would have noticed the time discrepancy. No, the “time-slip” had to have happened subsequently, presumably in the transition from Vega to Sol that begins Venus in Danger. I still wonder if this will ever be cleared up.

On p. 67, in his conversation with Thora, Rhodan explains why he is engaging going about the unification of mankind in the way he is, rather than making use of the overwhelming technological advantage that he enjoys and forcing the issue: “I want to achieve the concord of all peoples. This is my great goal. But not with force. I prefer to use a special method which will enable every citizen to draw the same sensible conclusion by himself. If I were to follow your advice, history would remember me as a brutal man who had insisted on uniting our nations by force. This I wish to avoid by all possible means!”

There's nothing really to say about the Ace cover. The illustration has nothing to do with the present story, but rather the Atlan story that it was paired with. Perhaps once I have made my way through the English Perry Rhodan stories I'll go back and read the few stories from that spinoff series that appeared in English – which in German went to eight or nine hundred issues. But that will be a while. If I do, I'll deal with what little extra material that appears here, which is limited to a “Guest Editorial” associated with the Atlan story and the letters column generally making reference to Perry Rhodan stories in the “hundred-teens” range.

The German cover by Johnny Bruck is interesting, however. I think this is the first time that a “real-world” locale forms the backdrop for the cover. Near the end of the story, the leaders of the Eastern Bloc are rounded up under Deringhouse's hypnoblock and marched under the guard of Arkonide robots into the Stardust … which has landed in Red Square, Moscow.

Next up: #15, Escape to Venus!

Thanks for reading, Cheers, and Ad Astra!


  1. The time slip happened on Wanderer. This becomes clear during a later issue when the authors address the problem and take steps to prevent further confusion.

    Also, remember that at that time they thought they'd get to 30 to 50 issues at most and thus didn't plan far ahead. The whole big arc thingie didn't come to full fruition until issues 200 to 299.

  2. That makes most sense. I wonder if they corrected the discrepancy in later editions - I may be mistaken, but didn't they make such "minor" editorial changes in later editions?

    Yes, I'm aware of the initial plan for a thirty-issue story. I wonder if anyone today knows what the overall plan for those thirty issues was? To what point in Earth's expansion into space would the story have gotten? How soon after the first issues appeared did they realize they had a "hit" with "legs," so to speak, and revise their plans? Those things would be interesting to know.

    - Kent

  3. Most of the editing I know of took place in and for the silver edition, especially regarding the treatment of aliens. I don't think they concerned themselves with consistency edits in the normal series that much.

    As such, they didn't retcon or rewrite the 4-year gap but just made sure that they wouldn't help again.

    *What* they did during the first issues was toning down Rhodan and some other stuff. The original plan had him gaining superhuman mental powers by his Arkonide training, making him some superhero. You can see the remnants in the early issues, where they allude and make use of his weak telepathy . But they quickly realised that making him too powerful would take the suspension out of the series, that's why they depowered Ernst Ellert, the German psychic who could visit his future self and this know about the future, pretty fast.

    I think they realised that they they had a hit pretty fast, as they had to reprint quite early - before there were new reprint series at all. I'd guess they started series planning around issue 40, as issue 49 brings the series to a planned break, picking up 60 years later with Atlan reappearing. The story ran a lot smoother afterwards (still lots of filler-issues, of course), true foreshadowing and world-building, with stories and characters really interlocking.

    It's too bad that you Americans missed 150 - 300, as 150 - 200 introduced a major new non-humans species and their empire, which gave depth to the idea that the galaxy is a damn big place with huge political blocks and 200 - 299 was a truly galaxies and history spanning event that answered a lot of questions about why there are so many human - Arkonide, Terran, Vegans, Akons, etc worlds.

    By the way, since mentioned Atlan and as I found this blog because of the podcast discussing Rhodan: Atlan survived the millennia on Earth by using deep sleep technology and being in possession of a rejuvenating device. (No spoiler, as this is told on the first two pages of his origin issue.)