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, November 12, 2011

Perry Rhodan #15, Escape to Venus (1972)

by Clark Darlton (= German issue no. 22, Thoras Flucht “Thora's Flight,” Friday 2 February 1962)

19 June 1981. A year has passed since the return of the Stardust to Earth and Perry Rhodan's removal of the last major obstacle to world unification. The tenth anniversary of Rhodan's first moon mission that began the saga is a day of celebration across the world. Thora uses the distraction as an opportunity to abscond with one of the new Arkonide-designed destroyers, heading for Venus. She plans to use the hypercomm station in Venus Base to call Arkon and finally get out of this barbarian backwater. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize that the destroyers have not finished prepping with the proper authorization codes to be able to approach Venus Base – so the Positronic Brain shoots her down per Perry Rhodan's previous orders. And when Rhodan, along with two mutants, telepath John Marshall and teleoptician Son Okura, pursues her in a second destroyer, he forgets that fact as well and is similarly shot down!

So Thora along with an Arkonide robot R-17 (whom she'd outlogicked in fine James Kirk fashion), and Rhodan and his companions, end up castaways on the primeval planet – separately, but both groups without communications capability back to Earth. In fairly short order Thora is captured by a scouting party from General Tomisenkow's Eastern Bloc forces, stranded on Venus since taking a drubbing from Rhodan in #14, Venus in Danger. But two groups have splintered off from Tomisenkow – a group of “rebels” who have settled down to begin an agricultural existence, and a group of “totalitarian pacifists” who are anything but, and who in short order wipe out the agricultural rebels before heading to take on Tomisenkow's party.

Rhodan and his men have various adventures in the Venusian jungle. Rhodan is initially captured by but then takes up with Sgt. Rabow, Tomisenkow's very scout who had captured Thora but who was himself a rebel sympathizer. When they discover the destroyed rebel village and what the “pacifists'” next target is, however, they attempt to warn Tomisenkow. Realizing what a prize he has in the Arkonide woman – and that Rhodan will eventually attempt a rescue, the general has meanwhile beefed up his camp's automatic machine-gun defenses. Rabow is killed. Rhodan is shot through the shoulder, but manages to get away with Okura and Marshall.

Meanwhile, Reginald Bell and another crew including the Mutant Corps approach Venus in the Good Hope V, one of the “Guppies” from Stardust. They are stopped cold in their approach and receive a repeating transmission. The two previous approaches without proper authorization codes has resulted in the Robotic Brain locking down the planet: “SECRET BARRIER X HAS GONE INTO EFFECT. ANY PENETRATION INTO THIS PLANET'S ATMOSPHERE IS BEING REPELLED BY A HYPERGRAVITATIONAL NEGATIVE FORCE FIELD” (p. 105). Per Rhodan's orders. Only an Arkonide or Rhodan himself can countermand the order – and only from within Venus Base itself.

Rhodan determines that only with the help of the semi-intelligent seal creatures discovered in their initial trip to Venus a decade before can he hope to reach the Base. Only a telepath can communicate with them, so Marshall is elected to make a long trek to the ocean to establish contact. Shortly after his departure, Rhodan and Okura's short-range communicators pick up Bell's calls. Bell refuses Rhodan's orders to return to Earth. And so they all settle in to wait – Bell cursing in orbit, Rhodan and Okura “perched on a tree ... playing Tarzan” (p. 120), to see what the future (and Marshall's perilous quest) might bring.

(Another synopsis may be found at
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Cover: Again, it's a great-looking Grey Morrow sci-fi cover that has absolutely nothing to do with the story inside. Or almost nothing. Beyond the basic question of who the auburn-haired central figure is (Rhodan is famously blond, and usually depicted as such on Morrow's covers), who is the bald man in a bubble space helmet at lower left? Lex Luthor? ... or better, the Ultra-Humanite before? ... and after up to the right? Actually, the white ape is the one element of the cover that seems to come from the story. Although they really don't play much of a role here, I figure something must be being set up by the number of times white ape-like Venusian creatures are referred to in this story. (Also, I know the bald guy looks a lot more like classic Lex Luthor than the original Ultra-Humanite, but the juxtaposition with the white ape made me go there....)

Once again, Johnny Bruck's original German pulp cover far more directly derives from the story, although the overall color scheme is not the impression I get for the Venus described in the book. But maybe I'm bringing my own preconception of a grey, overcast day to the table. Since Venus is closer to the sun such a bright glow would perhaps penetrate the omnipresent cloud banks. The scene is from soon after Rhodan, Okura, and Marshall are shot down – with Rhodan's bandaged head and Okura's thick glasses clearly visible. Ironically, the “teleoptician” who has, for lack of a better term, a form of “X-Ray vision,” has poor eyesight in the normally visible bands of light.

The dedication is to Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Whose 'Escape On Venus' Was Just One Of His Myriads Of Marveleous [sic] Classics Of Escape Literature” (p. [4]). Although there is no ad for other Perry Rhodan books in this volume, there is one for various of Ace's ERB novels of the early 1970s ... which is all, I think serendipitously, quite appropriate given the reference to “playing Tarzan” that appears as quoted above.

The editorial is a rather silly exercise in creating a shorter and shorter “story” by subtracting one letter from previous iterations, driven by the passing of Frederic Brown at age 65, the writer of a “wacky parallel world novel What Mad Universe” (p. 7). “Did it ever occur to you that it can sometimes be a kind of desperate thing to come up with a new editorial every 4 weeks? Well, now you see the result” (p. 8). I don't think anyone ever said Forry couldn't poke fun at himself.

Scientifilm World is largely devoted to When Worlds Collide – which could have been made almost twenty years earlier than it was (1951), and by Cecil B. DeMille. Now there's something I never would have suspected. It ended up made by George Pal. There's also an announcement of an upcoming World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles, to be held 1-4 September, followed by an announcement for the United States' first Science Fiction Film Festival for “a couple of months later.” Finally, notice is taken of a new book about to be published which would give “the most extensive coverage of fantastic films ever undertaken by the human mind,” by one Walter W. Lee Jr. “Would you beleve something like 25,000 titles?!” (p. 128).

No letters column this go'round. At the very end of the editorial Ackerman blames its absence on a glitch in publication scheduling. Once again, there are no interior illustrations to this American edition. Are those a thing of the past?

The promise last issue of a thicker magabook with other features included beginning in this issue didn't actually come true. It will next issue, however.
* * *
Random Annotations and Comments:

Here's something a bit different – a story of man versus an alien planet not written by Kurt Mahr. And the tone of Clark Darlton's story ends up being quite different – lighter, less ominous. Yes there are token references to and attacks by hostile fauna, and the requisite trek through the jungle, but generally the story is of human conflict. And it's typically quite complicated plotwise. There are several different players going – and that's without even bringing in the hanging plot thread of the stranded Eastern Bloc reinforcements that the Stardust blew right through at the beginning of the Special Release, Menace of Atomigeddon. Unless I missed something, they are never referred to in this book. Of course, original Ace readers would not even miss them. Might the Ackermans have simply edited out any reference to those reinforcements since they had not been properly introduced in the missing story? Without reference to the German original I have no way of knowing. But as the story develops here we end up with Thora and the Robot, Rhodan and his companions, three different groups of Easterners – and ultimately Bell orbiting the planet impotently!

Speculation: Perhaps the survivors of the Eastern Bloc reinforcement fleet were shot down by the Positronic Brain since they could not send the authentication code. Maybe that's why they seem to play no part in this story. And apparently Rhodan gave them no thought after observing them continuing to Venus after he inadvertently decimated their numbers. Granted, he had a lot on his mind 'round about then, but it does seem to be yet another oversight on his part. Is it just me, or have the plots lately been a bit overdriven by Perry Rhodan's own lack of foresight, especially where programming the Robot Brain on Venus Base is concerned? Sometimes, of course, it's a result of the way these stories are produced – plotted by committee, written very swiftly by individuals for weekly publication. But sometimes it seems that that's just the way the plot is driven.

P. 97: Betty Toufry described as “the 15-year-old telepathic wonder girl.” Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that she was born on 2 February 1966 according to the Perrypedia's calendar page, which cites German issue #7, American issue #4(a) Invasion from Space where she is introduced as six years old; that earlier adventure occurred in the first part of 1972. So in Earth's elapsed time she is indeed fifteen years old in June 1981. Of course, in her own elapsed time – as for Rhodan and the rest of his crew on the Stardust's mysteriously extended journey – you would need to shave four and a half years off that, making her effectively only ten years old.

Incidentally, the mystery of when the time shift noticed at the beginning of Venus in Danger continues: “For 10 years – if one took into consideration the peculiar time-leap on Wanderer...” (p. 28). It's soon yet, but I get the feeling this will become the orthodoxy, that the “peculiar time-leap” occurred while they were with the Immortal Unknown on his planet, although I think it's pretty obvious that it did not – see my comments to Menace of Atomigeddon.

The change in name of Galacto City to Terrania which occurred in Menace of Atomigeddon and was therefore “off screen” in the original Ace publication of the series is handled with just a couple of identical phrases repeated near the beginning of this book: “Terrania, formerly known as Galacto City” (p. 10 in narration, p. 21 in Rhodan's speech to the world).

The end of Rhodan's speech to the world sets up a bit of irony: “The New Power loves peace but will hit swift and hard, should peace be disturbed anywhere in this world” (p. 27). The words of him who Ackerman dubbed “The Peacelord of the Universe.” The iron hand in the velvet glove. Compare this with Son Okura's ruminations after witnessing the destruction of one of a rival splinter group of Easterners' villages – perpetrated by a fanatic devoted to pacifism: “[Okura] knew how much mischief had been committed in the name of 'pacifism.' It was the fashion nowadays to hide aggressive actions under the cloak of pacifism and to pretend that these war-like acts served the cause of peace” (p. 90). Of course, implying that the authors do not see the irony in what they are writing, this is followed by: “Thank God things had changed since Perry Rhodan's New Power had come into existence.” And, of course, things have not changed in the world since these words were written fifty years ago – some of the world's worst violence is perpetrated in the name of “peace.”

“One full Venusian day lasted as long as 10 days on Earth. This meant 120 hours of uninterrupted daylight, which was followed by an equally long stretch of darkness. One Venusian year lasted 224.7 Earth-days” (p. 30). This is preceded by a paragraph on the atmosphere and climate of Venus, which are obviously as believed until the early 1960s. The early Perry Rhodan stories set on Venus have to have been among the last science fiction stories that could be set on that putative primeval jungle planet with that environment being in any way a possibility. I've already commented on the rapidly changing understanding of the reality of Venus in my post on #4(b) Base on Venus. I'm sure the data given for the annual and diurnal cycle of Venus were given then, but I didn't do any research on it at that time. How do they stack up? According to, the length of the year is correct, “about 225 Earth days.” But the reported length of the year is wildly wrong (as I suspected from the round numbers given, but little did I dream of the magnitude of the error!). In actuality, “it takes Venus 243 Earth days to rotate on its axis.” And its rotation is unusual among all the planets of the solar system: “If viewed from above, while most planets rotate the same way on their axes, Venus rotates the opposite way. While on Earth, the sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west, if on Venus, the sun would rise in the west and set in the east. … [The disparity between the 225 Earth-day long year and the 243 Earth-day rotation], which normally would mean that days on Venus would be longer than years. However, because of Venus' curious retrograde rotation, the time from one sunrise to the next is only about 117 earth days long.”

Finally, would it be pedantic to point out that the proper adjectival form of “Venus” is “Venerian,” not “Venusian”? – Probably so, but it's another bit of odd knowledge I owe to Isaac Asimov.

Next up: Secret Barrier X.

Thanks for reading. Cheers, and Ad Astra!

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!