Perry Rhodan – The World’s Longest-Running Science Fiction Series

To many people, their fandom is something very close to their heart. They stay with their favourite intellectual property for years and somehow grew up with it. But what is it like to get into a fandom that has been around for ages. Let’s find out!

I grew up with Doctor Who. Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy are what the fandom generally describes as my Doctor as there have been over a dozen actors portraying the titular hero in the show that in 2013 celebrated its 50th anniversary. Of course I know the ins and outs of the story. I know what a TARDIS is and that Gallifrey is inaccessible for a variety of reasons. I also know that Doctor Who is not the longest running science-fiction series to date. It might be the longest running science fiction series on television but not the longest running science fiction series. That honour goes to Perry Rhodan.

Perry Rhodan – Our Man in Space

Perry Rhodan is the titular hero of a pulp fiction series of weekly novellas that have hit German speaking newsstands since 1961. So it would be pretty hard to break into the fandom, right? So where do we start?

Perry Rhodan #2705: The title translates to «The Clan of the Dignityless»

Perry Rhodan #2705: The title translates to «The Clan of the Dignityless»

Having seen the weekly issues on newsstands all my life and never having bought one, it seemed easy. Go to newsstand, buy whatever issue they have and read that. The problem is, that, much like Doctor Who, Perry Rhodan is told in serials, lasting pretty much 100 issues each. Fans call this a Zyklus. Between four and six Zyklen are collected into a Grosszyklus. So just picking up a random issue won’t do, I think.

Luckily, Wikipedia exists. The series’ entry tells me all I need to know about the main character.

Perry Rhodan is a man from the year 1971 which was the future in 1961 Germany. Back then, the Cold War was raging and Germany was divided into The West and the Ostblock. So in the series’ 1971, Perry Rhodan is an astronaut in a world divided into West, Asian Federation and an insignificant East. World War III is imminent and the Space Race to the moon is in full swing.

Major Perry Rhodan is an American astronaut and flies to the moon, winning the race. Once on the moon, he meets the first aliens humanity has ever encountered. They meet The Arkonides. With the help of the Arkonides, Rhodan averts World War III and founds his own state, hoping to better humanity while using Arkonide ships to explore the Milky Way where he eventually gains relative immortality allowing him to plan ahead into the future. He has served in many battles and has had many adventures when in 3588 AD, the Neue Galaktische Zeitrechnung the New Galactic Time was established. Currently, as of issue 2800, 1517 additional years have passed, putting us in the year 5105 AD, making Perry Rhodan around 3100 years old.

Armed with this knowledge, I decide to go for issue 2800, which is the beginning of a new Zyklus titled die Jenzeitigen Lande. The title is a clever pun, actually.

  • Jenseits – Beyond
  • Zeit – Time

Granted, I have not researched the exact issue I need to pick up. The editors of the series were nice enough to put a big label on the cover that informs curious readers that this is a perfect jumping-on point.

So that’s where Perry Rhodan and his crew are off to. And I’m on board with them!

What Are All These Words I’m Reading?

The first few pages are confusing. Very confusing. There is so much technobabble from a universe I have absolutely no concept of. It quickly becomes apparent that all the science fiction lingo that I have acquired over the course of my life will not work here. There’s no mention of beaming as we know from Star Trek or of lasers known from a plethora of seminal works. The reason for this is simple: Perry Rhodan had to come up with these things way before everyone else did. So I’m stuck with Strahler (translation: beamers) for ray guns and überwechseln (translation: overchanging) for teleporting… I think. I’m not so sure about the last one, but it does make sense in context.

An interior page from Perry Rhodan #2705 - All text is in two columns

An interior page from Perry Rhodan #2705 – All text is in two columns

The language of Perry Rhodan is its own kind of mystery. So much strange stuff. So many weird words, characters and unfamiliar concepts that are kind of sort of familiar because I have read about them in newer works. Therefore, the first quarter of the book is a bit of a chore.

Here’s an example of this, from way in the beginning of the book:

Gucky war lautlos auf einer Schwebeplattform neben Rhodan geflogen. Obwohl er einen SERUN mit Gravo-Pak trug benutzte er das Fortbewegungsmittel der ATLANC

Translation:

Without making a sound, Gucky had flown next to Rhodan on a Hoverplatform. Even though he wore a SERUN with a Gravo-Pak, he used the means of transportation of the ATLANC

What has to be said here is that writer Michelle Stern is doing a very good job at explaining complex backstory spanning decades in a few sentences. She also manages to craft a very engaging story that manages to just about dodge being derivative of every other story that deals with time travel, mostly due to the illustrious characters of the book, one of which is an immortal humanoid beaver mouse called Gucky (translation: Looky).

Michelle Stern also manages to rather well bring out the differences between alien physiologies and cultures. For everything, there appears to be a word. In Perry’s crew, there is an alien whose physiology isn’t humanoid at all. There is repeated mention of adjusting surroundings built for humanoids being adapted and more than once, Gucky remarks upon the size of the things around him, he himself being quite a bit smaller than humans.

Perrypedianauts – The Big Help

A day after starting Perry Rhodan 2800 – Zeitriss (translation: Timerip) I was informed of a cardinal mistake I’ve made in my fledgling fandom. Something a die-hard fan would cringe at. I mispronounced the lead character’s name. For the record it’s pronounced as follows: Perry Rho-Dahn, not Perry Rhoden.

Generally, pronunciation seems to be something quite peculiar in the so-called Perryverse. There are so many characters with rather peculiar names. Luckily, there are a plethora of radio plays where the characters are named in sound. Even YouTube can help here as some of the audio plays or excerpts thereof have been uploaded by fans.

To investigate backgrounds of characters, I’ve discovered a huge resource that trumps even Wikipedia. It runs on the same software and it’s known as the Perrypedia. It’s in German, but it should get a broad overview when run through Google Translate. All in all, it appears that the fans of Perry Rhodan are trying to make it as easy and comprehensive as possible for newbies to share their enthusiasm. Perrypedia, it is greatly appreciated. Thanks for the great work, Perrypedianauts.

Although the Perrypedia is independent from the publisher of the pulps, the Pabel-Moewig-Verlag not only endorses the efforts of the fans and has honoured them with their own group in the books, they seem to rely on it as well. It would have been easy for Michelle Stern to explain what a SERUN is, but it appears she relies on crafty people wanting to get into the fandom to find the Perrypedia. By the way, a SERUN is a kind of special suit that has a number of life-preserving functions.

Gets Right What Others Get Wrong

After my frankly quite embarrassing Rhoden/Rho-dahn mistake, I’ve taken up the habit of every now and then checking Perrypedia for things I didn’t quite get. I go by the policy that if I can remember not understanding it, it’s worth looking it up. It’s not like I have a list or anything that I write down every little thing I don’t understand.

Perry Rhodan #2702: The title translates to «The Positronic Phantom»

Perry Rhodan #2702: The title translates to «The Positronic Phantom»

The writers of the Perry Rhodan pulps do right what so many others get wrong. There’s a very high diversity in alien cultures and I think that the authors use the fact that they have the space to explore themes, cultures and little quirks very effectively. In the latest Zyklus, Perry Rhodan and his crew face off against the Tiuphores a very martial society that culturally honours brutality and cruelty. Death in combat is one of their highest honours and they have a cult of the dead. As such, death is not something they inflict on people lightly. In fact, giving someone death is a very sophisticated art, something difficult to achieve to do death the honour it deserves. With the Tiuphores, known as the Empire of Appallers to others, death is not a bad thing. It’s something to achieve. It’s a life’s goal, something to strive towards. And this is also one of the honours that they want to bestow upon other cultures, completely missing the idea that maybe these other cultures don’t share their beliefs. Having used this example, other cultures are similarly fleshed out. Some have a completely different way of thinking, as in their brains think in different spheres, cultural values are completely different. All in all, Perry Rhodan makes great effort to avoid having humans or cheap allegories to current Earth culture and politics with green or blue skin but opting for the more difficult part of crafting entirely new cultures, some of which are completely outlandish.

These cultures, including the death worship of the Tiuphores are not portrayed as inherently evil. The ever-snarky Gucky occasionally remarks upon their cruelty and other crew members voice concerns and misunderstanding, but the Tiuphores are not evil for the sake of being evil. That makes them very faceted and interesting antagonists.

The Sound of Science Fiction

Another thing that strikes me as very peculiar but no less wonderful is the high diversity of verbs. In a pulp, which is more or less frowned upon as being less than a book, it’s rather wonderful to see that the writers of Perry Rhodan go all out. They don’t seem happy with using the regular verbs or relying on established terms.

One of my absolute favourite new verbs is the German verb ausschleusen. It’s made up of two parts. schleusen and the prefix aus. The verb einschleusen is well established in German language which is the opposite and stands for infiltrate. So ausschleusen stands for exfiltrate which the crew of the spaceship Ras Tschubai use to deploy space ships such as smaller fighter crafts out of their hatches. Hatch, by the way, translates to Schleuse.

The German language also struggles, if you ask purists and lovers of the language, with the declension of the genitive case. It is too easy to replace it with the dative case. So the phrase Perry’s spaceship that is a genitive gets replaced with spaceship of Perry in both spoken and written language. Not so in Perry Rhodan where the authors seem to revel in linguistic quirks and almost outdated sounding phrasing that they’re updating to current times on the fly. It’s quite frankly a joy to read. It’s fun reading something that is written so different from translations and other German literature that is not gimmicky or relying on ergodic methods such as using different fonts or kerning.

Perry Rhodan #2800: The title translates to «Timerip»

Perry Rhodan #2800: The title translates to «Timerip»

Much like the story itself, the writing is fairly straight forward but manages to be a great adventure.

What also stands out is that due to the somewhat harder sounds and inflection of the German language, action scenes work way better and carry more weight. There’s just that little bit of extra oomph behind them. An example, more or less picked at random is the sentence «Die Ras Tschubai legt Sperrfeuer vor den Bug des gegnerischen Schiffs» which translates, and I’m using the exact translations of the words here, to «The Ras Tschubai lays supressing fire in front of the enemy ship’s bow». You see what I mean?

Forward Into the Past

At the end of Perry Rhodan’s 2800th pulp novel, our spacefaring adventurer has encountered the Tiuphores 20 million years in the past where an old acquaintance of his who betrayed our titular hero seeks to save his old race, altering time forever and potentially eradicating all human life in the process. Luckily, the crew of the Ras Tschubai is fully autonomous and can survive in the past for an unlimited time. They are the top scientists, spies and infantry men the future has to offer but they’re faced with not only an enemy from their own ranks but also the ever present danger of the merciless Tiuphores.

That, quite frankly, is enough to keep me interested and I’ve purchased the following issue. And the one after that. Buying Perry Rhodan is a bit of an obstacle in Switzerland. The pulps used to be available at every train station and I am sure some stations still have them. But in and around Zürich, there’s only one shop that has hundreds of vintage issues: The Antiquariat für Trivialliteratur called Sammelpunkt on Kalkbreitestrasse. They were also the ones who provided me with the issues that I’ve used as illustrations in this text.

Failing that, there’s always the official website or Amazon’s Kindle store. The issues are cheap and they’re a quick read, so checking out an issue or two won’t hurt you much and if you’re a science fiction fan, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

Time to sum up my experiences of trying to get into the new fandom of Perry Rhodan. Am I a fan? I honestly don’t know. I am impressed by the pulps, by the language, characters and their world, the sheer amount of issues and everything. The fans and the publisher themselves try to make it as easy as possible for new readers to get into the series and they’re doing a great job. I’ve decided I’ll stick with the series for the time being but I have no idea how long that will last. For now, though, I’m enjoying the adventure.

About Dom

Possessing nigh-encyclopaedic knowledge when it comes to comic books and movies, Dom is one of the co-founders of the Uncanny Book-Club. He also enjoys movies, and going to the cinema.

3 Comments

  1. Allways fun to see a new reader coming to grips with the Perry Rhodan series. I’ve now been reading the series for close to 40 years (since I was 8) and it has shaped most of my science fictional mindset, more than any other SF-serie or -book has done. FTL-Flight, mutants, hyper-space, robbots, matter-transporters, time travel, etc., etc.. Before I read or saw anything about it in books, tv-shows or comics I had allready read about it in the PR-series. I’m currently reading the original version and the dutch translation (we’re only 500 issues behind 🙂 ) and, frankly, you would have been better of starting at issue 2700 (since the 2800 cyclus is, most likely, the second in a great-cyclus). I wish you fun in your explorations, do not miss the different old cycli from issue 200 to 600 (which I feel are among the best of the series). And also, if you’d like to see another take on the Perry Rhodan origin story ; try Perry Rhodan Neo (setting starting in 2030 and somewhat updated) now currently on issue 110 or somethinglike that :).

    • Hi Gerlof

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve thought about trying the Neo series, but being a big fan of Doctor Who for all my life, I figured I’d try something from the same period of time. I don’t regret a thing. I’m still not sure I’m a die hard fan of Perry, but I’m now at PR 2803, having abandoned my plan of reading just one. 🙂

      I’ll get to your recommendations eventually, and I might even write about it at some point in time. We have one more piece on Perry scheduled, I can tell you that much. 🙂

  2. PERRY RHODAN enters the English-speaking world

    From October 2015, the six »Lemuria« novels will be published as e-books

    http://www.perry-rhodan.net/newsreader-international/items/perry-rhodan-enters-the-english-speaking-world.html

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