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Perry Rhodan for Beginners

August 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

Today’s post had best begin with a disclaimer: This writer’s knowledge of the topic at hand is entirely informed by a Wikipedia article, three fan websites, and a half-dozen Ace reprints published and read well over three decades ago. Sure, you could probably find a more expert description of the Perry Rhodan universe, however those experts all seem to assume everybody is already familiar with the Psionic web and knows  the difference between a Cosmocrat and a Chaotarch.

First published in 1961, Perry Rhodan is the title of a peculiarly German medium called a heftroman. Thematically, the novella-sized  heftroman is similar to early 20th Century American pulps like Doc Savage and The Shadow, however the German booklets are published weekly and  story arcs (called “cycles” by fans)  are extended over the space of several dozens of issues. Some Perry Rhodan cycles have extended to 100 issues. Many of the early adventures were written by  K. H. Scheer and Clark Darlton, but the title has had numerous authors since the early Sixties. There have been over 2600 installments published so far and on its 50th anniversary, the continuing epic is rapidly approaching 200 million words in length. Sales of Perry Rhodan books total nearly one-quarter of a billion!

English-speaking fans are frustrated by the fact that a large portion of the Rhodan opus has never been translated from German. Spurred on by Forrest Ackerman and his German translator wife, Wendayne, Ace Books printed about 120 English translations through the Sixties and Seventies in mass market paperback format until poor sales forced them to give up. Several other publishers have made a go at English translations but none have had as much success with the series as German publishers.

So, alright already! What’s it about?

In the Rhodan universe (as opposed to the Neil Armstrong universe you and I live in) U.S. Space Force Major Perry Rhodan is the first man to walk on the moon. On the moon, he and his crew discover a crashed alien spaceship. Perry returns to Earth and uses the alien technology garnered from the ship to end the Cold War, take over Earth’s financial and political institutions and unify the world behind a massive leap forward in space exploration.

Using the alien ship’s computers (positronic brains) and FTL engine ( hyperspatial translator) the cosmos is Perry’s oyster. If that wasn’t advantage enough, he and other major characters acquire an immunity to aging and decease. With that device established, story arcs often span millennia.

As you would expect, Perry and his friends encounter all variety of extraterrestrial beings. In addition to other starfaring meatbags like themselves, we are introduced to numerous bodiless entities and collective minds. Many of the stories are driven by conflict between these “superintelligences”.  A superintelligence is a stage of evolution where a species collectively gives up its bodies and unites their spirits.  In the Rhodan universe, these “SI” nourish themselves by feeding on the thoughts of the species that live within their territory. There are good SI who give sparks of insight in exchange for their nourishment and bad SI who are merely parasites. When an SI has successfully fused with all matter and life within its territory it becomes a sort of black hole called a “matter-sink”

Another bodiless, collective intelligence are the “high powers” called Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs who basically control everything. They live in an alternate dimension and  take the form of mere mortals when they wish to manipulate the course of cosmic history (which they seem to do all the time.)  Even in their mortal form, they don’t do the dirty work themselves; they enlist others like Perry to do it for them. As you may have guessed, the Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs are working at cross-purposes. The Cosmocrats want to transform everything into a state of absolute order, and  the Chaotarchs want to transform everything into a state of absolute chaos.  Now, don’t go thinking that the Cosmocrats are necessarily the good guys. They have come to the conclusion that most of the chaos in the universe is caused by intelligent life and have taken steps to suppress it. The Chaotarchs, on the other hand, just like to start galactic wars and generally screw things up.

Well, that about does it…Oh, yeah. I kinda promised at the start of this post to explain the  ”Psionic Web” . The Psyonic Web is a sort of invisible force that extends across the whole universe emitting “vital and psionic energy”, insuring the well-being and development of  life and higher entities as well as… You know what? It’s the Force from Star Wars! Easy peasy!



  1. John Gosling says:

    Like you, I read these decades ago. They’re still on my bookshelf and now I want to read them again and try and fill some of the gaps. I spent several years hunting copies in second hand book stores, it was always a thrill to find a missing one. I believe there were several movies made as well.

  2. Kevin P Breen says:

    Also, it is of note that PR’s Mutant Corps predated the X-Men by two years, and the Posbis (positronic-biological) were basically the Borg about a decade before STAR TREK introduced them. Cube ships, fast adaptation to any weapon, and all. Except that the Posbis didn’t assimilate, they just destroyed.

    Good article, but they’ve just announced that the series is going to be rebooted for modern readers, so I dunno how much of the original will still be valid.

  3. para says:

    I have been reading PR since 1978 on and off. Read 1-1000 then break and then on an off since being back in UK.
    Its the best sci-fi i have ever come across and i love it.
    This was the reason i learned German, well being posted to Germany during my soldier years is how i discovered it.
    Hoping to abo the latest from 2600 onwards and from 2575 – 2599 where i had to stop due to circumstances.
    Hope to see a proper PR film soon, there is so much material there for a lifetime of weekly PR episodes.
    The original will always be there, but the Terrans have or are approaching the stage of some of those other vastly superior races they met or became aware of in the earlier periods and much has changed since then, but the goal is still the same, to create a peaceful co-existance between races in the Galaxy, Universe and beyond.
    I would love to see a series( after a few movies introduce PR to the world) starting from number 1. Of course i am biased because it was all so exciting for me then, and any story needs a good beginning, but time moves on and the stories today will probably suit the younger generations better than the “moon landing” of Perry so long ago.

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