Perry Rhodan: Enterprise Stardust & The Radiant Dome By K.H. Scheel and Walter Ernsting
Just as I was finishing another book and wondering what to read next, a friend on Facebook ended my wondering by telling me about a series of books that I had never heard anything about. That is probably because the books he pointed me to is a German pulp fiction series that began publication in 1961 and is still going today. The Perry Rhodan series is found in novella form and is widely popular in Western Europe. Even though there was an attempt to bring these stories to the United States in the late 1970’s, it never caught on. When I looked the name up on Google, I discovered I could easily spend the rest of my life catching up on these stories, if they were all translated into English. My friend sent me the first 120 novellas in the ePub format that I have to convert into the Mobi format to read on my Kindle (yeah, there’s an app for that).
The first two novellas I have read so far involve a first contact situation. In Enterprise Stardust, American astronaut and physicist, Major Perry Rhodan, leads the first expedition to the moon in a spacecraft called the Stardust. With all of his crew’s training complete and the spacecraft outfitted with enough supplies for the trip, the ship launches for the several-days long trip to the moon. Unfortunately, there are some radio emission from the lunar surface that cause the ship to malfunction forcing Rhodan to crash land on Earth’s only natural satellite. The Stardust ends up near the south polar region of the moon, just out of the line of sight with the Earth and their base in Nevada. Fortunately for the crew, the damage to the ship is minimal and easily repaired, but the radio emissions are preventing the Stardust from a return trip. In an effort to learn and correct whatever is causing the radio interference, Rhodan leads a few of his crew on a ride to the source of the problem
Upon arrival, the Terrans discover a huge spherical ship that belongs to an alien race calling themselves Arkonians. They appear to be an interesting race. The leaders are intelligent, but the rest of the crew only seem interested in playing some sort of video games, and outside of that, would seem to be imbecilic. The main body of work is carried out by artificial intelligences in the form of robots. The commander of the alien ship is a female who is quite militant and has a great deal of disdain for the inhabitants of Earth, considering them to be low class of intelligence, at least by their standards. On the other hand, there is also an Arkonian scientist on board the alien craft that finds humanity quite fascinating, which saves Rhodan and his companions from being killed out of hand.
Perry notices that the Arkonian scientist is not well and Rhodan callus upon a doctor from the Stardust who examines the Arkonian. The doctor discovers that the scientist has leukemia and will die without treatment. After talking with the alien commander, Rhodan is able to convince her to allow him to take the scientist back to Earth to be cured of the blood disease. Perry and his crew travel back to the Earth knowing that if he lands at his base in Nevada, the military will take the Arkonian into custody. This will likely trigger a nuclear war between the superpowers on the planet, which appears to be imminent anyway. WIth the help of the Arkonians, the Stardust returns. Rhodan lands his ship in the middle of the Gobi desert where none of the Earth’s superpowers will have access to the alien scientist before he can devise a defense. Rhodan is very concerned that if the alien should fall into the custody of any one government, they would try to wring secrets out of him to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents. This is where the first story leaves off.
The second installment, The Radiant Dome, picks up where the first ends with Rhodan, his crew, and the Arkonian scientist in the Gobi. The ship is being protected by an invisible dome that is generated by a machine on board. Further, the Arkonian commander is also transmitting a field that renders nuclear weapons inert. The scientist is treated with a miracle medicine and is cured of leukemia, but remains in a coma while his body heals from the stresses that has been placed upon it. In the meantime, the superpowers all gather to try to convince Rhodan that he has to turn over the scientist and tell everything he and his crew has learned. Rhodan remains steadfast in that he is not going to cooperate and announces that he is setting up his own superpower to thwart the plans of the three existing powers, knowing that they will only exploit the Arkonian and his knowledge to further the cause of war among them.
When the commanders of the superpowers learn that they are being stopped by the Arkonians still on the moon, they launch three manned rockets to destroy the spacecraft on the moon. The rockets are armed with a type of weapon that cannot be affected by the Arkonian damping field At the same time, they begin a heavy bombardment on the dome that is protecting Rhodan’s ship in an attempt to overload the generator and take it out. The three ships make it to the moon and deliver their cargo of bombs, but not before the alien commander escapes to Earth, joining Rhodan and her fellow Arkonian. The dome generator is about to overload and burnout when the Arkonian scientist wakes from his coma and explains how to repair the machine.
Despite being stranded on Earth, the commander accepts that she and her scientist compatriot will never be able to return to their home. That is where The Radiant Dome ends, I presume that the story will continue in the third novella.
First off, I will say that I enjoyed these stories a lot, and what I didn’t like was mostly technical in nature. While the translation of the text was very good, there were a few typos here and there that weren’t too distracting, however the formatting of the translation from the ePub format to the MOBI was not at all good and, for the most part, caused me some confusion as I read the story. The paragraphs, in many places, ran together and the dialog was hard to follow. Often times I had trouble knowing which character was saying what and had to reread a lot to make sense of it. After a while though, I was able to adapt to the problems and with a little careful reading, I was able to enjoy the story. That is the only complaint I have about these stories. I corrected this by downloading an ePub app on my iPad. The formatting is far better and will make the text easier to follow.
I liked pretty much everything else about the stories. They are short and easily read in one or two sittings, and they are focused. There is also a lot of story packed into the text including details that are well described and offer a vivid backdrop. In Enterprise Stardust, the writers go into some detail on the structure of the ship and how it gets to the moon. It was pretty astounding to me how close the writers came to describing a mission to the moon that wouldn’t take place for over eight and a half years before the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. Rhodan was in command of a three-staged vehicle that used chemical propellant for the first two stages, then used nuclear power to make the trip to the moon. So while not being totally accurate, the authors pretty well understood how things might be done.
I also enjoyed getting to know Perry Rhodan, hard-nosed commander but also a man with principles. He is smart and can make snap decisions. All around the perfect man for the job, whatever it may be. He makes me think of other characters such as Buck Rogers, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, and others that filled the same role as a flawless hero that never lets his friends down. Not only is Rhodan able to think his way out of situations, he is also a charmer to boot, as one might expect from a character from the early 60’s. He was able to get the captain of the alien vessel to go along with his ideas despite her better judgement. It would be interesting to read a more modern version of one of these stories to see if the women are made to be stronger as we move into this era.
Rhodan is accompanied by a few companions in these two novellas and they all look to his leadership and knowledge for guidance in nearly every situation. It is quite amusing how Rhodan remains in complete control of himself while everyone around him continually goes to pieces until the leader intervenes and brings everyone back to their senses.
The technology is quite far fetched all the way through, but that is one of the things that make the stories interesting. In the days of past sci-fi, the fantastic was what people wanted. The more over the top it was, the better. In today’s sci-fi, it seems that people want what is at least plausible. I suppose that is because what seemed out of reach fifty years ago has now become reality.
In any case, I had fun reading these stories and have several more that I can call upon between books to read for podcasts run out. The Facebook friend that suggested I read some of these books said that if I start I will get hooked and what to continue reading. I will continue reading the Perry Rhodan stories, but I think I will be interspersing them with other, more modern stories.
Well, there it is…