Perry Rhodan

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Cover of issue #1 (1961)
Cover of issue #2250 (2004)

Perry Rhodan is the name of a science fiction series published since 1961 in Germany, as well as the name of the main character. It is a space opera, dealing with several themes of science fiction. Having sold over one billion copies (in pulp booklet format) worldwide, it is the most successful science fiction book series ever written.[1] The series and its spin-offs have captured a substantial fraction of the original German science fiction output and exert influence on many German writers in the field.[citation needed] The series is told in an arc storyline structure. An arc—called a "cycle"[2]—would have anywhere from 25 to 100 issues devoted to it, similar subsequent cycles are referred to as a "grand-cycle".[3]

History[edit]

Written by an ever-changing team of authors, Perry Rhodan is issued in weekly novella-size installments in the traditional German Heftroman (pulp booklet) format. The series was created in 1961 by K. H. Scheer and Clark Darlton. Initially conceived for thirty volumes,[4] it endured and passed 2700 installments in May 2013.[5] There have been several reissues (five printings and a sixth ebook version), and a revised, edited version in hardcover format. Significant spin-offs include the Atlan series and the Planetenromane ("Planet Novels") paperbacks that provide additional playgrounds for stories set in the Perry Rhodan universe, often used to fill in the gaps between the "cycles" of stories.

Over the decades there have also been comic strips, numerous collectibles, several encyclopedias, audio plays, inspired music, etc. The series has seen partial translations into several languages. It also spawned the 1967 movie Mission Stardust (aka …4 …3 …2 …1 …morte),[6] which is widely considered so terrible that many fans of the series pretend it never existed.[7][8][9]

Coinciding with the 50th-anniversary World Con, on 30 September 2011, a new series named Perry Rhodan Neo began publication, attracting new readers with a reboot of the story starting in the year 2036.[10]

Plot[edit]

The story line starts in 1971 with the first manned moon landing by U.S. Space Force Major Perry Rhodan and his crew, who discover a marooned extraterrestrial space ship from the (fictional) planet Arkon in the (real) M13 cluster. Appropriating the Arkonide technology, they proceed to unify Terra and carve out a place for humanity in the galaxy and the cosmos. (The concepts for two of the technical accomplishments that enable them to do so—positronic brains and starship drives for near-instantaneous hyperspatial translation—are direct adoptions from Isaac Asimov's science fiction universe.)

As the series progresses major characters, including the title character, are granted relative immortality. It is relative in the sense that they are immune to age and disease, but could suffer a violent death. The story continues over the course of millennia, including flashbacks thousands and even millions of years into the past, and the scope widens to encompass other galaxies, extremely remote parts of space, parallel universes and weirder cosmic structures, time travel, paranormal powers, weird/cute/aggressive aliens and bodyless entities (some with sheer god-like powers).

Universe and multiverse[edit]

The universe in which the plot regularly takes place is called the Einstein Universe (and occasionally "Meekorah"). Its laws are mostly identical to those of our real universe. Newer theories about dark matter and dark energy are currently not used in the series, and sometimes the laws of nature follow old theories that have been disproven—to protect the plot.

This Einstein Universe is only one in a large ensemble of universes, which are different to various degrees (for example a universe in which time runs slower, an anti-matter universe, a shrinking universe). Additionally, each universe possesses a large ensemble of parallel timelines, which are usually unreachable from each other.

The Einstein Universe is embedded in a high-dimensional manifold, called hyperspace. This hyperspace consists of several subspaces, that are used by different technologies for faster-than-light travel. The exact traits of those higher dimensions are not thoroughly explained. The border of the universe is a dimension called the deep (once used for construction of the gigantic discworld "Deepland").

Psionic Web and Moralic Code[edit]

The Psionic Web crosses invisibly through the whole universe, constantly emitting "vital energy" and "psionic energy", guaranteeing normal (organic among others) life and the well-being of higher entities.

The Moralic Code crosses through all universes, and is linked to the Psionic Web. It is subdivided into the Cosmogenes, which are again subdivided into the Cosmonucleotids. (These names and associations to DNA were given by the cosmocrats, and should not be misunderstood as having an absolute ethical meaning.) The Cosmonucleotids determine reality and fate themselves for their respective parts of a given universe, via messengers.

Higher beings are trying to gain control of this possibility to rule reality itself. The Moralic Code itself was not installed by the higher beings, the higher powers by themselves have no clue why or by whom the Code was made.

Once the cosmocrats ordered Perry Rhodan to find the answers to the three ultimate questions; apparently they have known the answer to the first and second question but not to the third, which reads "Who initiated the LAW and what does it cause?". Perry Rhodan had the chance to receive the answer at the mountain of creation, but he refused, knowing that the answer would destroy his mind. It is known that the negative Superintelligence Koltoroc had received the answer to the last ultimate question, 69 million years BC at Negane Mountain, but it is not known if it made any use of that knowledge.

Onion-shell model[edit]

To all life, an evolutionary theory called the "onion-shell model" is employed. It states, that there is a continuous evolution from lower life-forms (bacteria) to higher life-forms like intelligent life and finally bodyless entities. Upon invention, the onion-shell-model was used by the authors as if there are definite and discrete stages in cosmological evolution. However, later in the series further life-forms, representing stages between the known shells, were introduced.

The main shells are:

  1. life-less matter
  2. bacteria
  3. higher animals
  4. intelligent species
  5. intelligent species, that have contacted other species
  6. superintelligences (SI)
  7. matter-fountains/matter-sinks
  8. cosmocrats/chaotarchs (high powers)

The superintelligences are the next step above normal minds. They are born, for example, when a species collectively gives up its bodies and unites their spirits. Those superintelligences claim a domain as theirs, consisting of up to several galaxies ( the entity known as "IT" has the Local Group as personal domain). The superintelligence nourishes mentally on the species in its domain, sometimes symbiotically (positive SI), sometimes parasitically (negative SI). Again, these attributes should not be treated as ethical description, although negative superintelligences are in general described as being more sinister.

The matter-fountains/matter-sinks are born, when a superintelligence fuses with all life and matter in its domain while shrinking. Little more is known, except that the process is gradual and that the resulting object doesn't have the intense gravitational pull it would have if the contraction produced a black hole.

The "high powers" are the highest known life-forms. They live in an unimaginable, distant dimension and have great powers in ruling over lower beings. However they are not omniscient and they are unable to directly interact with lower beings. To enter a regular universe, they have to put on a mortal shape, reducing their powers and sometimes their knowledge/memory. This is known as the transform-syndrome. Due to this, they interact with lower beings rarely and instead enlist individuals, organisations or entire species.

Conflict between the high powers[edit]

Among the high powers are two factions known as the cosmocrats and the chaotarchs. The cosmocrats want to transform all universes into a state of absolute order, while the chaotarchs want to transform all universes into a state of absolute chaos. Accordingly, they are engulfed in a cataclysmic neverending war, stretching among almost all known universes. They are ruthlessly using, manipulating and dooming whole species for their actions. However, open warfare is just one tool among many in their epic conflict. In the previous cycle (2300–2499) the Milky Way galaxy was victim of a full-fledged military assault by the forces of chaos trying to establish a bastion of chaos, a negasphere, in the nearby galaxy Hangay.

Recently it was revealed to the protagonists that life itself has become a rival to the higher powers. It has spread uncontrollably among the universe and can be found in virtually every niche. The cosmocrats and chaotarchs both use life for its tendencies to create order and chaos alike. Its unplanned and unregulated cosmological actions and manipulations are a constant disturbance for the plans of the cosmocrats and the chaotarchs alike. The pangalactic statisticians (a neutral organization of observers) have stated that 21% of all cosmological manipulations are executed by cosmocrat-servants, 16% are executed by chaos-servants and 63% are executed by the vast uncontrollable life itself.

To reduce the influence of life, the cosmocrats have stopped their programs that encourage the development of life and intelligence. Additionally, they have increased the hyper-impedance, drastically reducing the effectivity and durability of most forms of hyper-technology.

Critical reaction[edit]

In the introduction to the first English-language edition of Perry Rhodan in 1969, Forrest J Ackerman said that "In Germany, all serious SF buffs claim to hate Perry Rhodan, but somebody (in unprecedented numbers) is certainly reading him."[11] Many American SF fans agreed with the first part of that statement, feeling the series was an embarrassment and too "juvenile". Tom Doherty, new head of Ace Books in the mid-to-late '70s, concurred and ended the series in the U.S., even though it was profitable.[12] This decision meant that by 1980, when the original German versions of Perry Rhodan were becoming "more sophisticated and less aimed at younger readers", the series was no longer available in English.[13]

Critic Robert Reginald described the series as the "ultimate soap opera of science fiction"[14] and standard "pulp science fiction, action stories with minimal characterization, awful dialog, but relatively complex plot development. The emphasis is always on man's expanding horizons, the wonder of science and space, the great destiny of the human race."[15]

But while many critics dismiss the series, many others praise it. John O'Neill has called Perry Rhodan "one of the richest—if not the richest—Space Operas ever written."[16]

Publication[edit]

English translation[edit]

In the 1960s, Forrest J Ackerman organized the publication in the U.S. of an English translation of the series, with his wife Wendayne ("Wendy") doing most of the translation. Other translators on the series included Sig Wahrmann, Stuart J. Byrne, and Dwight Decker. Number 1, containing German issues 1 and 2, was published by Ace Books starting in 1969. The series was a commercial success, eventually being published three times per month.[citation needed] Forrest also incorporated elements from the SF pulp magazines, such as short stories, serialized novels and a film review section.

Ace ended its run of Perry Rhodan—double issue #117/118 was the last of the regular series—by publishing three "lost" episodes.[citation needed] Ace also published five of the Atlan "side series" stories (Atlan is a major character in the Rhodanverse) and one story from the 415-volume Planetenromane spin-off.

The Ackermans created Master Publications and released #119 through #137 before having to cease their subscription-only edition of the series. That was the end of an English version until the 1990s, when John Foyt founded Vector Enterprises and restarted an American version. This version lasted for four printed issues and one electronic issue—#1800 to #1804.

The German publishers, Pabel-Moewig Verlag (VPM), licensed FanPro to publish a translation of its Lemuria miniseries in summer of 2006. Some additional material present in the German version, such as a history of generation spaceships in SF history, were dropped from the American version.

In other countries[edit]

Translations of Perry Rhodan are currently available in Brazil (#1 to #536 and #650 to #847 as of August 2011), Russia, China, Japan(#1 to #800 as of May 2011), France, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands (#1 to #2000 as of September 2009). Apart from the US version, there were also editions in Canada, Great Britain (#1 to #39), Italy and Finland. However, the latter have been discontinued.

Rhodan was so popular in the Spanish-speaking world that the Flash Gordon comic strip was called "Roldán el Temerario" (Rhodan the Fearless) in a somewhat misleading attempt to identify Flash with Perry[citation needed].

The first language into which Perry Rhodan was translated was Hebrew. In 1965, the first four episodes appeared in Tel Aviv in a pirated translation, and which for unknown reasons ceased before publication of the fifth (it was not because it was detected by the German publishers, who only heard about it many years later). The few surviving copies of this 1965 translation are highly valued by Israeli collectors.[17]

Structure[edit]

Cycles[edit]

The original series is divided into the following cycles and grand cycles:

Note: Only the grandcycles The Great Cosmic Mystery and Thoregon have official names. The other grandcycles weren't planned as such. They were named by the readers in hindsight due to their shared themes.
  • Milky Way
    • The Third Power (Issues 1 to 49)
    • Atlan and Arkon (50 to 99)
    • The Posbis (100 to 149)
    • The Second Empire (150 to 199)
  • Distant Galaxies
    • Masters of the Island (200 to 299)
    • M 87 (300 to 399)
  • Crumbling Empire
    • The Cappins (400 to 499)
    • The Swarm (500 to 569)
    • The Old Mutants (570 to 599)
    • Cosmic Chess Game (600 to 649)
    • The Council (650 to 699)
  • Superintelligences
    • Aphilia (700 to 799)
    • BARDIOC (800 to 867)
    • PAN-THAU-RA (868 to 899)
    • The Cosmic Castles (900 to 999)
  • Moral Code
    • The Cosmic Hansa (1000 to 1099)
    • The Endless Armada (1100 to 1199)
    • Chronofossils (1200 to 1299)
    • Netrunners(1300 to 1349)
    • Tarkan (1350 to 1399)
  • Cell Activators
    • The Cantaro (1400 to 1499)
    • The Linguids (1500 to 1599)
  • Grand Cycle The Great Cosmic Mystery
    • The Ennox (1600 to 1649)
    • The Great Void (1650 to 1699)
    • The Ayindi (1700 to 1749)
    • The Hamamesh (1750 to 1799)
  • Grand Cycle Thoregon
    • The Tolkander (1800 to 1875)
    • The Heliotic Bulwarks (1876 to 1899)
    • The Sixth Messenger (1900 to 1949)
    • MATERIA (1950 to 1999)
    • The Solar Residence (2000 to 2099)
    • Empire of Tradom (2100 to 2199)
  • (still unnamed)
    • The Star Ocean (2200 to 2299)
    • TERRANOVA (2300 to 2399)
    • The Negasphere (2400 to 2499)
    • The Stardust (2500-2599)
    • The Neuroverse (2600-2699)
    • The Atopic Tribunal (2700-2799); since 17 May 2013

American publication history[edit]

  • Ace Books
    • #1 to #5—Double issues. Each volume contains two episodes, but edited to be a single novel.
    • #6 to #108—Single issues. "Maga-book" format, or the format of a magazine in the style of a book. Letter and film review in #6. Would later include short stories—old and new—and reprints of classic serialized novels such as Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss (reprinted as Pursuit to Mars). Of special note is a lost chapter of the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine that was published in this manner.
    • #109 to #118—double issues again, but each one set apart.
    • Perry Rhodan Specials #1 to #5—Double issues. #1 to #3 are lost episodes published with an Atlan episode. #4 are two Atlan episodes and #5 (unnumbered) is a Planetenroman.
  • Master Publications
    • #119 to #136—Magazine size and format.
    • #137—Book format. To fill out remaining subscription orders, the book format also printed Stuart J. Byrne's Star Man series. #137 was published with the first five episodes of Star Man in one volume. The remaining Star Man episodes were published as a separate volume.
  • Vector Enterprises
    • #1800 to #1803—Magazine format. #1800 is published in a manner similar to the German series. 1801 to 1803 are large-sized magazine format.
    • #1804—Electronic format only.
  • FanPro Games (American operation of German company FanPro)
    • Lemuria #1 "The Star Ark"

Copies of the Ace books and the rarer magazine versions can be found in online auction sites such as eBay and fixed-price online stores like Amazon.com. Used bookstores often have some of the Ace books, but rarely the magazine versions[citation needed].

Cultural impact[edit]

In space[edit]

The Perry Rhodan issue that went into space. Credit: ESA/André Kuipers

Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers was inspired to become an astronaut from an early age by the Perry Rhodan albums his grandmother bought for him (and that he eventually started buying himself from his allowance). When he finally launched into space on April 18, 2004, he brought his very first booklet along with him. It was number ten in the red series, Ruimteoorlog in de Wegasector ("Space War in the Vega Sector" or "Raumschlacht im Wega-Sektor").[18]

In music[edit]

Christopher Franke, former member of German electronica group Tangerine Dream and soundtrack composer for U.S. science-fiction TV series Babylon 5, released Perry Rhodan Pax Terra in 1996, composed of music inspired by the Perry Rhodan epic.

The German group The Psychedelic Avengers claim to be inspired by Perry Rhodan on their 2004 release And the Curse of the Universe. The group Sensus released a song "Perry Rhodan ... More Than A Million Lightyears From Home" in 1986 (and presented it at the Worldcon in Saarbrücken).

In science fiction fandom[edit]

Bubonicon, an annual science fiction convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, adopted as its mascot Perry Rhodent, a rat wearing only one shoe (or boot). Perry's image is reinvented each year for the convention's program and t-shirts, often by the convention's Artist Guest of Honor.[citation needed]

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise, mentioned that he read the American translation of Perry Rhodan in the late 1960s and early 1970s and considers the series to be an "inspiration, less strong than Flash Gordon, but it influenced the design of many starships of Star Wars".[19][20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Perry Rhodan 35th anniversary Press Release (July 1996)
  2. ^ Official FAQ of the publisher, section 2 (about the series itself) (in German)
  3. ^ List of Perry Rhodan arcs: cycles and grand-cycles (in German)
  4. ^ http://presse.perry-rhodan.net/intern/pressetexte/muenchen.html Press-release by the publisher for the 45th anniversary (in German)[dead link]
  5. ^ Der Techno-Mond (Issue #2700: The Techno-Moon, published on 17 May 2013).
  6. ^ ...4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ...morte (aka Mission Stardust) at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "Perry Rhodan: Mission Stardust". The Spinning Image. 30 May 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  8. ^ (German)"Perry Rhodan – SOS from Space". BadMovies. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "FAQ Perry Rhodan: 11. Is there a Perry Rhodan movie?". Perry-Rhodan.us. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Perry Rhodan about to reboot". The Trek BBS. 6 August 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Ackerman, Forrest J (1969). "Introducing Perry Rhodan and His Electric Personality". Perry Rhodan #1: Enterprise Stardust. Ace Publications. p. 6. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Mike Ashley; Michael Ashley (14 May 2007). Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980. Liverpool University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-84631-003-4. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Deborah Painter (2010). Forry: The Life of Forrest J Ackerman. McFarland. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-7864-5798-4. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  14. ^ R. Reginald (1 November 1996). Xenograffiti: Essays on Fantastic Literature. Wildside Press LLC. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8095-1900-2. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Neil Barron; Robert Reginald (November 2009). Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review. Wildside Press LLC. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-89370-609-8. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  16. ^ " O'Neill, John (1998). "The Return of Perry Rhodan". SF Site. Retrieved 30 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Eli Eshed on Perry Rhodan in Israel
  18. ^ André Kuipers' diary – Part 2: Medical examination; six crowns. Esa.int, retrieved 28 March 2011
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ [2]

External links[edit]