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.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Perry Rhodan #8, The Galactic Riddle (1971)

By Clark Darlton (= German issue #14, 8 December 1961)

Chap. 1, “The Mysterious Planet”

The Ferron scientist Lossoshér accompanies Perry Rhodan and the Terrans aboard the Stardust as they sweep through the Vega system on a charting mission. They search for the “Tenth Planet” which according to ancient Ferron records is the home of the Beings Who Live Longer Than the Sun. But the current tenth planet is a lifeless world which shows no evidence of ever having supported life. There is a discrepancy, however, between ancient Arkonide survey records of a total of 43 planets in the system and the current reality of only 42, which leads them to theorize that the former tenth planet had been moved out of the Vega system altogether. This conjecture seems in line with a gap between the ninth and tenth planets. Rhodan plans to return to the Time Vault for further clues. The positronic robot brain at the heart of the space sphere has formulated a method of negating the time lock and opening it at will.

On Earth, Col. Freyt receives a message from Rhodan reporting the successful conclusion of a trade agreement with the Ferrons and orders beginning production of export goods. But the Stardust will remain in Vega for the time being. The hyperwave blackout is to be maintained to keep secret the location of Earth.

Chap. 2, “Who Goes There?”

Rhodan meets with Thora and Khrest, agreeing to “search for the planet of eternal life first; then to [transport them] to Arkon; and finally to [return to] Terra” (Thora, p. 23) – with Rhodan's own condition that only with his express permission will the Arkonides be given the spatial coordinates of Earth. Next, he meets with Lossoshér, who proposes another theory as to the location of the “Tenth Planet” - that it was not moved completely from the system but was rather “hidden” as a moon of one of the larger planets. Although he is skeptical, Rhodan turns over a fighter pilot to take the scientist on a closer survey of the system's moons. That pilot, Sgt. Groll, is resentful of this assignment.

When the time-lock field of the Time Vault beneath the Red Palace on Ferrol is negated, objects fade into view from their hiding places scattered through time. In their midst is a matter transmitter. Unfortunately, it is found to be non-functioning. But inside is an inscription – a riddle – in the language of the immortals: “You will find the light, if your mind corresponds to that of the highest order” (p. 43).

After exploring several moons, Lossoshér and Groll approach the second moon of the thirteenth planet (“13B”). This satellite is of larger than normal size, virtually a planet in itself, with an atmosphere. Landing, they separate to explore. Then, Groll realizes that they are not alone....

Chap. 3, “The Lurking Danger”

In short order, the positronic brain works out how to repain the matter transmitter, which it turns out had been deliberately left in a non-working state. An Arkonide worker robot is programmed to carry out the repairs, accomplishing the task in a mere hour. Rhodan plans to activate it the next day.

As night falls on moon 13B, Lossoshér is unaware that he is being observed as he uncovers a pyramidal structure near a rock pillar containing a round doorway into a tunnel down into the ground. In the gloom, Groll observes the humanoid creature stalking the Ferron scientist and shouts a warning, whereupon it dashes into the tunnel.

Chap. 4, “Stranger in a Strange Tunnel”

Rhodan, Reg Bell, Khrest, Dr. Frank Haggard, Anne Sloane, and John Marshall enter the matter transmitter cage along with the Arkonide robot. They leave Ras Tschubai to stand guard over the Time Vault. When Rhodan activates the transmitter, it is apparent that they are being sent across a much further distance that just between the Rofus and Ferrol, the eighth and ninth planets of Vega respectively – they experience pain like that of a hyperspace transition across light years. They materialize inside a giant hall “cluttered with machines and all kinds of strangely formed objects” (p. 64). Another inscription appears on the high ceiling – for an instant only, too quickly for them to focus on it. Luckily, Khrest's eidetic memory allows his own brief glimpse to be enough. Rhodan dispatches the robot back to the Time Vault and the Stardust to have the positronic brain decipher the message. The group who remains then feel their minds being probed. Only the telepath Marshall can perceive a message, reporting that they have passed a second test. Next, they are subjected to feelings of panic as two giant rolling robots advance on them and the matter transmitter from opposite directions. The narrow passages between the various machines and objects allow them no escape from their paths. Sloane uses her telekinesis to pick one of the robots up and slam it to the floor, destroying it, but the effort is too much for her and she collapses. Rhodan is certain that the purpose of the remaining robot is to destroy the matter transmitter – their only way home – if they cannot stop it. Only Sloane's telekinesis could avail against it, and she is not up to another such effort. Rhodan laments that he had not brought Betty Toufry on the expedition, and almost immediately the Arkonide robot reappears in the matter transmitter along with the nine-year-old prodigy. The positronic brain had advised the robot to bring her along with the decoded message: “Welcome to the center of a thousand tasks – but only a single one of these will bring you closer to your goal” (p. 76). Rhodan focusses Betty, a much stronger telekineticist despite her youth, on destroying the second robot. But even as that is done, “[t]he matter transmitter that had brought them to this place, and which represent[s] their only link with the outside world, [vanishes]” (p. 79).

Back on moon 13B, Lossoshér is certain that they have found the world of the immortals. As soon as it is light once more, he and Groll set off down the tunnel – where they come upon a reptilian humanoid pointing a weapon directly at them.

Chap. 5, “Countdown to Eternity”

Rhodan and his group find the chamber in which they are now trapped growing warmer and warmer. In the coolest area, they find a strange machine which Khrest identifies as a “fictive-transmitter” - “a theoretical possibility … never practically explored” by the Arkonides. “It functions according to the principles of fifth-dimensional geometry. Mechanical teleportation with ray impulses capable of seizing objects. This way it is possible to teleport things from any place in the universe to somewhere else” (p. 87). When Rhodan activates it, the back wall of the chamber vanishes, revealing a much larger version of the same apparatus. The group approaches it, whereupon the telepaths receive a message: “You have exactly 15 minutes … in which to leave this place. However, you will find the light only if you are able to return” (p. 90). An oppressive droning noise now accompanies the even more rapidly escalating temperature of the larger chamber – a further testing of their nerves and stamina. Rhodan perceives that their only escape is in activating the fictive-transmitter – but then finds its controls blocked by an invisible barrier. He is stymied at first, then a general telepathic broadcast they can all perceive gives him the clue he needs. “You have just a few minutes left! Apply the ultimate wisdom and knowledge – otherwise you will be lost forever...” (p. 94). With seconds to spare, Rhodan has Betty activate the fictive-transmitter by telekinesis. “They dematerialized and were hurtled through the fifth dimension. They were unaware that the giant machine hall with the fictive-transmitter inside became vaporized in the sudden hell of an atomic chain reaction” (p. 95).

Chap. 6, “Mystery of the Glowing Sphere”

Groll and Lossoshér recognize the creature threatening them as a Topide! Groll and the Topide fire on each other simultaneously. Only Groll's instinctive dive for the floor saves him – the Topide is vaporized. Shaken, he and the Ferron scientist continue to the end of the tunnel, finding themselves in a large, multipaneled control room with various mystifying instruments. They depart without disturbing anything, to take news of their discovery back to Rhodan, seeing as they leave the wreck of a Topide life pod.

When Rhodan and his group reappear in the underground hall of the Time Vault, they find that while they have experienced over four hours only five minutes have passed for Ras Tschubai. A glowing sphere of energy appears, in which can be seen a dark shape. Rhodan plucks from the ball a small metal capsule which he finds to contain another message.

Chap. 7, “Mental Giants”

Back aboard the Stardust, the positronic brain confirms that the new message is encoded and will take time to decipher. Groll and Lossoshér report to Rhodan, who also feeds the inscription from the pyramid on moon 13B into the brain. He is momentarily angered that Groll killed what must have been a lone Topide refugee from the repulsed invasion force, until Lossoshér assures him it was self-defense. The brain almost immediately spits out a cryptic translation of the pyramid inscription: “Many ways are leading to the right. Some are only detours. The trail points toward the right direction” (p. 114).

* * *

The extras in this third “magabook” are: “Forry Rhodan's” foreword, “The Rhodan Magnetic Digest”; a 25-question “Scientifilm World” true-false quiz in which all the answers are “false” (I can hear the howls from my students were I to try such a stunt!); and the “Perryscope” letters' column, which also contains a very poor quality photo of Swedish acress Essy Persson as Thora in the 1960s European film based on the first Perry Rhodan story. Ironically, after all his twisted little alterations to titles and such in the aforementioned quiz, Forry then flubs the US title of this movie, calling it “Operation Stardust” when in reality it was Mission Stardust. I'm not even going to try scanning the picture of Thora; here's one in color from :

I've never seen that movie, but reportedly it's pretty bad.

* * *

Here's the real riddle: What do Brainiac 5 ...

                   ..., Man-Thing ...
                                                                          ... and a platinum-blonde Orion slave girl ...

... have in common?  Answer: They're all on Gray Morrow's cover for this Perry Rhodan adventure!

 ... By the way, I've always found “Giant-Size Man-Thing” the funniest title for a comic book ever! And then there's the modern reprint volume, The Essential Man-Thing! Anyway, is the visual similarity a coincidence? The Marvel character first appeared with a May 1971 publication date, the same year this book was published in English, but note that the first Ace printing actually had a cropped version of the German issue's cover and that Gray Morrow's cover didn't appear until the second printing in 1972. Could be.  ... Sadly, I couldn't find a blonde Orion slave girl except various cosplayers ...

..., but I've always found the raven-haired original, Vina, to be so hot-- er, iconic. ... Seriously, I think the man and woman on the cover of PR #8 are supposed to be Perry and Thora, with the green tint just for effect – but I have no idea what that creature is or what the stylized atomic structure is meant to represent (or why Thora would be wearing a swimsuit).

Incidentally, notice how the German cover painting seems to at least attempt to represent an image in the story – the group in the matter transmitter – although there are not enough characters present and they are not terribly recognizable. Is that Moses on the right?

Not for nothing does Sgt. Groll's name translate to “resentment”! Throughout this story he is (annoyingly) disgruntled at the assignment that he has been given. Playing chauffeur to the Ferron scientist Lossoshér is not his idea of an exciting “special mission.”

Another translation note/question: “fictive transmitter” appears to “translate” the German term fiktivtransmitter. I thought maybe fiktiv might mean something different from the connotation of English cognate words, but as far as I can tell it does mean “fictitious, fictional,” and so forth. I'm not sure what we're supposed to take from this.

There's a great deal of discussion along the way through this book, between what almost seems to be an overly enthusiastic Perry Rhodan following the trail left by the immortals and Khrest, who sure seems to have developed cold feet and doubts as to their very existence given that the search was what brought the Arkonides to this sector of space in the first place as well as what all they've seen to this point.

Interesting again, in light of the oft-commented humano-centric character of the series, is mention of “Rhodan's principles,” against which it is “to judge any alien by his outer appearance” (p. 68). In practice, as I've noticed previously, it doesn't really work out that way. The more closely in human appearance the aliens we've seen are, the more sympathetic has been their portrayal.

Notice that the former Stardust II is in this book simply called the Stardust.  It's also interesting (and I've noticed but not noted in previous stories) how the events of the first stories are summarized very sparsely as "Rhodan finds a crashed Arkonide space ship on the moon and rescues two survivors."  Not exactly how it happened. 

As usual, here are a couple of stylistic comments:

The French danse macabre does directly translate to “dance macabre” (p. 98), but it's usually rendered “dance of death” in English. Properly it refers to a medieval artistic trope inspired by the horrific crises that struck Europe in the fourteenth century – famine, plague, war – usually visualized as a bunch of skeletons of individuals from all walks of life, peasant to king, Pope, and emperor line-dancing their way to the grave. Metaphorically the term seems, as here, to convey the idea of mad, frenzied, jerky thrashings.

I've noticed but not noted in previous adventures the misuse of the term “constellation” to describe the Vega star system. The error seems to pervade this volume. A constellation is in reality only an apparent grouping of stars as seen from Earth – it is not the same thing as a star system or any other natural grouping of stars. The star Vega is also known as Alpha Lyrae, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, The Lyre – as seen from Earth. Here's the Wikipedia article: . But the stars which make up the constellation Lyra are in reality separated from one another by tens, hundreds, even thousands of light years and have no relation to each other except from the Earth's specific location and perspective. From a point a hundred light years distant from Earth, most if not all of the constellations with which we are familiar simply would not exist – the stars would be visible, but the apparent “pictures” they form would be totally different.

And I find that I've gone on way too much about a minor error in terminology.... When I start rambling so, it's time to sign off.

Cheers, and Ad Astra!