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[Perry Rhodan] Perry Rhodan #1 Operation Stardust

PR #1 cover

Perry Rhodan is THE mainstay of German science fiction. Now in it’s fourth or fifth generation of authors and having broken the mark of 2600 issues in it’s main series (continually published since 1961) one can say that this pulp series has a bit of a history.
The series was often derided for it’s politically inappropriate tone (especially in the beginning it was a bit too militaristic) but has grown out of that over time.
What I am trying to do (and what I have been planning for some time already) is reviewing the series from it’s beginnings in 1961 as far as I come. I don’t think I will ever manage to get anywhere close to today, but the classic first 50-100 issues are  interesting anyway. Back in the 60s this series was a bit of a experiment for the publishers, and they never thought that the series would be as successful as it was in the end. The first issue was sold out in no time and they even had to reprint it, before the series settled into something of a cultural miracle. One can see that in the series itself: they obviously did not plan more than 15 issues in the beginning, then not more than 30, and then they slowly had to get used to the idea that they were in it for longer. Starting with issue 100 the authors earnestly followed the concept of thematic cycles of 50 to 100 (later even up to 200) issues. In the beginning these things were not as planned, the plots sometimes were a bit crude, and the writing varied wildly even in novels from the same authors.
[Note regarding publishing history: in the wake of the success of Perry Rhodan in Germany a few novels were published in English as well (up to the 150s or so, there also are translations into Dutch, Portuguese (in Brazil), Japanese, and a few other places]
[Note 2: This is a roleplaying blog, so I will comb the issue for some ideas that can be used in roleplaying games. Perry Rhodan actually had multiple RPGs created for itself, some by fans, but one even officially. The problem with that official game is that it is based on Midgard (the first German RPG) and that one is, while I have a certain nostalgic fondness for it, pretty bad for that. As I am very fond of Mongoose Traveller most stats I will cook up will be for that system]

Perry Rhodan #1 Unternehmen “Stardust” (Operation Stardust)

“They came from the depths of the galaxy. Nobody ever expected them.”
Plot: It is 1971 and the USA is just about to win the space race. The newly created atomic rocket Stardust under command of experienced astronaut Cmdr. Perry Rhodan starts it’s trip from the spacport Nevada Fields to the moon. Everything goes well until they are close to their goal. All of a sudden the navigational transmissions from home are cut off, and only due to Perry’s quick reflexes they are able to crashland on the lunar surface more or less intact. Trying to contact homebase fails though as their radio equipment is destroyed by an unknown force.
Exploring the origin of this problem Perry and his friend Reginald “Bully” Bull encounter a stranded starship of impressive size (a sphere of 500m diameter) on the south pole of the moon and meet it’s crew, or at least part of it. The captain of the ship, Thora, and her relative, the scientist Crest are by far the most active of the crew members. The rest of the Arkonides on the ship are lethargic and distant and, as it turns out, completely addicted to virtual reality games. The ship itself is on a mission to find a cure for Crest’s sickness (soon to be identified by Stardust’s doctor Eric Manoli as leukemia, for which a cure exists on Earth) but was stranded with a busted jump drive when investigating the solar systems for clues. Perry takes the Stardust home with Crest on board to get him treatment, but instead of in Nevada Fields he lands in the Gobi desert because he realizes that the technology of the Arkonides should not fall into the hands of any of the big power blocs.

Critique: The plot is tightly packed, the writing is a bit shallow but not too bad, and the whole story does hinge on completely reasonable behaviour by both the American astronauts and Arkonides. It’s no wonder that the series became a success with this. There is action here but no fights, the Arkonides are not made up to be evil invaders, but rather normal people who are stranded, far away from home, and the astronauts are thoughtful and nice folks who offer to help as freely as possible,
The novel also manages to get to some central mysteries of the series pretty soon (why are the Arkonides so similar to humans? And what exactly were they searching for when they became stranded?) and manages to give an insight into both alien culture as well as a strange alternative universe. The novel appeared in 1961 and was set in 1971. For us who we are living 50 years afterwards this glimpse into near future history appears a weird. On the one hand it’s close enough for us to recognize the world as what we know it, on the other hand even in this novel thereare some strange details. The main spaceport of the USA is Nevada Fields, both Perry and Bully were involved in slingshot missions around the moon before the moon landing was supposed to take place. And the politics of the world… are somehow not what we know.
When I first read the novel as a kid in the 90s I realized that something was off, only on further readings I realized how different the world described here really was: the world is basically divided into three power blocs: the Western world, the Eastern Bloc, and the Asian Federation (which includes both China and Japan). There is a cure for leukemia, there are electronic brains (computers) even on Earth, which manage to correctly determine things they should not be able to. Later novels will show a large subterranean base for the West under Greenland and Poles as integral members of the airforce of the Eastern bloc. In other words: something is kind of odd here. Still, as a near future view from the 60s on the 70s it’s not too far out. Just a bit zeerusty.

Traveller Stats

Terra (in 1971) X867979-7
1970s Terra in the Perry Rhodan universe is balkanised into three big power blocs, and multiple smaller nations. These blocs seem to be much more integrative than they ever were in real life. Law level is rather high in any case, even in the West the press is not as free as it could be and obviously dependant on the goodwill of the government. Still, it varies wildly in different areas. Starport quality technically could be D because there are multiple facilities that could be used (at least one spaceport in every power bloc) but so far no officially assigned starport.

Luna X300000-0
An airless rockball that orbits Terra. It is comparatively large in comparison to other moons in the solar system.

Arkonides, Homeworld- (1970s)
Physical description: large, slender humanoids with white hair and red eyes, in most cases with a deep tan. Their cranium is slightly larger than those of Terrans and instead of ribs they have bone plates, but otherwise they are physiologically and genetically identical to humans.
Stats: Str -2, Dex -2, Int +1, Edu +2, Soc +2 (min. 6)
Career Options: Arkonides can choose Agent, Citizen, Scholar, Navy(Line/Flight), Entertainer, and Noble careers

Arkonides, Colonial-
Physical description: as Homeworld, but can vary wildly in details according to their home planet and colonial history
Stats: Str -1, Soc +1
Career Options: all except Merchant



2 responses to “[Perry Rhodan] Perry Rhodan #1 Operation Stardust

  1. Picture-Bandit September 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    That’s what I have been reading for the last 1.5 years… reading & re-reading… so much fun. So old yet so ahead of its times. Not the journals but the silver-hard-cover books.


    • Geoffrey September 8, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      The silver edition is actually quite a bit better than the real novels. They cut out a lot of repetition and rewrote some of the hokey parts. Sometimes it’s a bit obvious, like when in one book they briefly mention some problems with the Russians on Venus, and then never mention it again. There was a whole (hokey) issue of the series that dealt with that. I started reading the series with the silver edition as well, so I was a bit surprised about a few of the older issues that had stories in them which I didn’t exactly remember.


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