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.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong, R.I.P.


Along with much of the world, seven-year-old Kent sat mesmerized in front of the TV to see mankind's first steps on another world on the evening of Sunday, 20 July 1969.  At that moment, like millions of other kids of my generation, I conceived a deep interest in science, astronomy, and so forth.  Like millions of other kids, I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.  That didn't happen.  I didn't even become a scientist -- although I was an engineer for a time, and did try to join the Air Force as an engineer (severe myopia shot that down).  Star Trek had, sadly and ironically, aired its last new episode only six or seven weeks before (3 June), but by the next year I discovered it in early syndication and that conception was nurtured to manifest itself in my life-long love of science fiction and fantastic fiction in general.  Within a few years, I discovered Perry Rhodan.  Had I not been primed for it by the sense of wonder inspired by Neil Armstrong's first steps onto the moon, however, would I have ever picked up that first novel and gotten so caught up in it?

To play off the words spoken from Tranquility Base six or so hours before those steps, "The Eagle has ascended."

Ad Astra!  As Jerry Pournelle states in his own blog entry of last night, "We will be back."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Perry Rhodan #18, Menace of the Mutant Master (1972)

By Kurt Mahr (= German issue #25, “The Overlord,” Friday 23 February 1962)

On the very eve of Perry Rhodan's return from his extended stay on Venus, Terrania is hit by acts of sabotage and hijacking. Rhodan – and the Robot Brain – perceive that this has to be the work of other mutants besides those who have been identified and enlisted in the ranks of the New Power. They are, of course, right. The mastermind – German Overhead “Overlord,” English “Mutant Master” – is Clifford Monterny, whose powerful talent is mind control. He hates Perry Rhodan and the New Power for no good reason other than Rhodan's success. He aims to bring them down and establish his own political and economic dominance.

Almost immediately after the incidents which open this story, Monterny starts exploiting advanced technology on the market. Rhodan and the Mutant Corps cannot predict his next target. So Rhodan travels to California and confronts the president of one front company. When the Arkonide hypnoray does not work against his target, Rhodan is almost captured, but turns the tables and takes him prisoner instead, sending him back to Terrania for interrogation. Meanwhile, another of Monterny's enthralled agents inflicts a major economic blow against the New Power through Homer Adams and the General Cosmic Company – but that agent chickens out from carrying through with the complete plot, leaving the damage incomplete.

In Terrania, Khrest and Thora psychoprobe Rhodan's captive, getting nothing useful. Rhodan, however, formulates a plan and sets the Mutant Corps on lookout and guard. Eventually a hostile effort is made to abduct Khrest. The mental control from outside Terrania is detected by John Marshall, and teleporter Tako Kakuta surprises and follows the hostile teleporter as he jumps away. Reappearing in Monterny's base, Kakuta comes under overwhelming psychic attack and barely manages to jump back to Terrania. During his debriefing, Kakuta then attempts to assassinate Rhodan – but Rhodan had foreseen this and is prepared. Rhodan's people have managed to track Kakuta's jump through hyperspace, which gives them a rough idea where their enemy is based. Major Nyssen is therefore dispatched to Osaka.

Monterny's agent Ted McMurray makes a second foray into Terrania. This time he goes undetected because Monterny realizes his previous error – that it was his constant sending of mind waves to his agent that had been detected. McMurray abducts Khrest and jumps away. While in captivity, Khrest discovers that Monterny has crude technological means to augment his telepathic commands.

Nyssen having made progress in Osaka, Rhodan leads a team to support him. But Nyssen is abducted. Tracking Nyssen by means of a subdural micro-telecom allows Rhodan to further narrow the strike. Nyssen finds Khrest and coordinates their rescue/escape with Rhodan. Monterny eludes capture – abandoning his agents, including McMurray, who are all killed by a neutron bomb set in the base by Nyssen when they believe Rhodan's warning to be a ruse.

In the face of the continuing threat, Perry Rhodan sends Betty Toufry off to protect Homer Adams and the General Cosmic Company from further mental influence. Rhodan remains bothered by the nature of the sabotage which began the book – which took the form of a localized nuclear detonation in an area where no nuclear materials were detected – but receives an unexpected vote of confidence from Thora that he would solve the mystery.

Another synopsis may be found at .
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Well, overall I found this a much more engaging story than the “Venus Saga” which preceded it, but it wasn't as good as I hoped. Doubtless it is an effect of my essentially burning myself out on Perry Rhodan last year; notice how long it has been between my last and this entry. I will persevere, however, but likely nowhere near the pace I established at the beginning. I am curious how the “Mutant Master Saga” will progress....
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I have nothing snarky to say about the covers, other than the bad guy with the pet monster on the English edition looks like Lex Luthor, and that I particularly like the look of sheer terror on the face shown on the German cover.

The dedication is “to (quite naturally) the Master Mind of Nexialist Fiction A. E. 'SLAN' VOGT.”

Ray Bradbury contributes the foreword, “Apollo Murdered: The Sun Goes Out.” Forty years later, we know that Bradbury's impassioned plea against gutting the US space program went tragically unheeded. Since I can find no trace of this short essay on the Internet, I am going to fly in the face of copyright restrictions and reproduce it in whole at the bottom of this post.

“Scientifilm World” is essentially a set report from Forrest J. Ackerman about the mishaps which plagued Riders to the Stars (1954, Directed by Richard Carlson) during production, which included one fatality. This is accompanied by a couple of typically low-quality, murky black and white photographs.

The first of two “Shock Shorts” is “The Survivor” by Spencer Strong, telling of an old, bald scientist who is offended by the visual appearance of a long-haired young assistant – “No hairy hippie is going to ride in my time machine!” The younger man nevertheless stows away as the older man begins his first attempt to travel forward in time. Something goes wrong and they end up tens of thousands of years in the past, where a group of Neanderthals are horrified at the old man – “Tesku targu!” they cry as they kill him. Inexplicably, they welcome the young man, who proceeds to jumpstart human technological advancement and only over time comes to understand their language, and that “tesku targu” means … “hairless monster.”

Garrett P. Serviss' unauthorized sequel to H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, here titled Pursuit to Mars, continues its serialization with Part 3, containing Chapters 5, “The Martians are Coming!,” and 6, “Touchdown: Enemy Planet.” The Martians who were detected last installment land on the asteroid, but the humans win the subsequent firefight. They then engage in some fun experiments with extremely low gravity ballistics before launching on the last leg of their flight to Mars. This includes shooting some gold toward Earth. I haven't run any of the math to know if the figures given here are in any way plausible. As they approach the red planet, they manage to learn some aspects of their single prisoner's language, establishing some rapport. Its glee as they arrive at Mars and the realization of the odds that they face are sobering. They begin their high-altitude reconnaissance of the planet ….

The last “Shock Short” is introduced with a short editorial blurb: “Careful: if you have a heart, this story by the widow of E. Everett Evans might break it.” She wrote “When the Marsboy's Time Came” under the name, T. D. Hamm. It tells of how a ten-year-old boy raised on Mars feels like an outsider on Earth and eventually comes to a bad end through a misunderstanding exacerbated by his heightened sense of hearing in Earth's far denser atmosphere.

Finally, the “Perryscope” prints several pages of fan letters and 4SJ's (half-)witty responses.
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A few random thoughts that came to me as I read or wrote this blog entry....

According to Perrypedia here, “Ted McMurray” was in the original German “Freddy McMurray.” Those of us old enough to remember My Three Sons – or the actor's long career prior to that, including the honor of being the visual inspiration for artist C. C. Beck's rendition of the original Captain Marvel – can easily see why the Ackermans changed this character's name

I didn't know there was a technological means of analyzing a teleporter's jump through hyperspace.

I'm not sure we've had such an explicit description of a teleporter in action as on p. 83: “A few seconds later … the outlines of his figure began to grow blurred and shortly afterwards he vanished completely.” The teleporter in action here is Monterny's agent, McMurray, and I'm assuming the manifestation is the same for all teleporters. My impression hitherto was that teleporters basically popped out of and into existence rather than fading in and out.

It's rather quaint that this is obviously a world without general usage of mobile or cell-phones – p. 85: “Nyssen arranged with Michikai [an Osakan whom Nyssen has enlisted] that from now on they would communicate with each other only by phone. This meant that Michikai would be at a certain restaurant at certain set hours where and when Nyssen would be able to reach him.” Of course, in our world just about anyone would have such a device. On the other hand, according to the internal chronology of the series, these events are happening in 1981 according to Perrypedia. It stands to reason that the boost from the acquisition of Arkonide technology would not have spread so far as a low life in Osaka by that time, only a decade or so into the overall story.

The fate of Monterny's men is rather sobering – pp. 107-108: “Rhodan was informed of Khrest's and Nyssen's rescue. At once he ordered the attack to be stopped. One of his men, armed with a microphone and a loudspeaker, penetrated into the interior courtyard of the villa and broadcast an announcement which could be clearly heard by everybody, even the guards down in the cellars: 'Clear these premises immediately! You have five minutes to get out! Then a bomb will be detonated which will annihilate all life within a radius of 100 yards.'

“Naturally the effect of this warning was practically nil. Everyone in the farmhouse believed it to be a trick. The men tried to ask Monterny for advice but he was unavailable.

“The men decided then to wait and after the five minutes had passed without anything untoward happening, all began to triumph.

“However neutron rays can be neither seen nor heard nor smelled. Not even neutron flows of 1017 neutrons per 0.155 square inch per second.

“That the bomb actually had exploded was not noticed by Monterny's men until their skin suddenly turned red and started to hurt. Within a few seconds they lost their eyesight. In sheer panic the blind men started racing through the corridors, trying to get out of the house. But by then it was too late.

“Only two guards who had obeyed the evacuation order escaped the catastrophe. They surrendered to Rhodan's men.”

This is not exactly the effects of a neutron bomb as described here, which would seem to be from a much larger-yield weapon, although the idea is the same – killing personnel while preserving infrastructure. The specificity of the “neutron flows” given above makes me believe the effect was derived from some kind of scientific report. The technology had been conceived a few years earlier according to Wikipedia here.

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And now, as promised above, I end with an unauthorized reproduction of Ray Bradbury's essay that served as the foreword to this volume. If the copyright holders – presumably his estate – contact me and insist, I will remove it, but until such a time it stays. While I do not agree with all its details, it deserves to be read, and widely.

The Sun Goes Out
By Ray Bradbury

One billion years from this night, men and women sitting around on some far world, many light years away, will cast their minds and talk back to a special year, a special decade, a special century.

What was the finest century, the finest decade, the finest year of man?, they will ask.

And the answers will come: The 20th Century. The seventh decade therein. And the date July 20th, 1969.

The special day when, after three billion years of genetic waiting, genetic dreaming, Man reached up to Touch Space, Touch Moon, Touch Eternity.

I wonder, those people in the far future will muse, did all the billions of people alive on the night of Apollo 11 know how special their time was? How privileged they were to be alive and witness the fulfillment of a dream? Or were their eyes in the dust and their minds with the worms and their dreams only under their fingernails and behind their ears?

If so, they let the most important date in the entire history of man pass unnoticed. How sad for them. How silly to be alive in a special fine time and not know it.

How even more silly and sad, in the middle of the time of Apollo, to dismantle the rockets, refuse Eternity, and discard the dream.

And yet, right now, that is what we are doing.

The talk is of priorities.

Why are we spending all that money on the moon?!, is the cry.

As if there were a huge crater on the moon into which, by the bushel, we were heaving tons of cash.

The facts are otherwise.

We have spent not one dollar, not one dime, not one penny on the moon.

It has all been spent right here. To buy houses, put food in mouths, purchase cars, educate people who are black, white, brown, or name your color.

Priorities? What grander priority is there than the Life force, realizing its position in a strange and cold universe, struggling to survive not just here but on other worlds, forever and forever?

Priorities? Is it better to spend $60 billion destroying the country and the peoples of Vietnam or $2 billion insuring the immortality of God's flesh on far worlds that we cannot now even imagine? $60 billion or $100 billion wasted on annihilation? Or $1, $2, $3 billion invested in some new strange green Garden into which we will invite ourselves on a morning of rebirth when our rockets touch down 6 light-years off in the Abyss?

We are so busy fighting, drawing blood, rending flesh that our eyes are on our spilled guts and not on the stars that promise us that very Life Everlasting told of in our Bibles. The fictional heavens of our half-blind ancestors have withered. The real heavens of Apollo and beyond Apollo beckon with real territory and real survival for our very real flesh.

Go out and look at the stars tonight.

Let the darkness between the stars warn you.

There is more dark than light in the Universe.

We must be part of those small touches of fire that fill an otherwise empty Space.

We must choose Light and not delay. Otherwise, Darkness chooses us.


The money we invest in Space is money that will pay dividends beyond Alpha Centauri three billion years from this afternoon.

It is money invested in a revival of faith and an idealism so great and beautiful as will grow boys tall to men and make them truly proud. We go to save Mankind from itself.

Unless, of course, our priority is Vietnam and murder and death. Then, of course, let us invest all our money there and go mad.

As for me, I know where all the money is.

It lies in the hands of the military.

I would seize it away from their claws.

If you are really interested in big money, don't take away the penny I would bank for the Apollo rockets.

Grab the tens of thousands of millions of dollars that are basted each day devastating the Orient.

I will help you shout for it and grab it to invest in cities, clean air, good water, rapid transit, but save out a penny or a dime for tomorrow's rockets.

When the Sun dies, they will be our salvation.

The unborn speak to us from a million years ahead.

They are in the Garden, waiting to be secured.

Would you murder them?

Then, by all means, please, shoot down Apollo.
(pp. 8-10)
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Thanks for reading.  Ad Astra!

Next (but I can't tell you when): Mutants vs. Mutants, by Clark Darlton.