I like Perry Rhodan a lot.

If you’re not German, and even if you are German, you might not have heard of Perry Rhodan, so here is a quick high level summary. Perry Rhodan is a German pulp magazine sci-fi series. It has, somehow, been in continous publication since 1961. It is still very much published as pulp issues - at time of writing, we’re on issue #3226. This makes it probably the longest continuous story ever written. The series is written collaboratively by many authors taking turns with overarching guidance from a core team.

Today1, it is a modern sci-fi series - as the world, society, readers’ taste and trends have evolved over time, the writing has evolved along with it. If you read a modern issue, you’ll get something very similar to any modern sci-fi short story or episodic story. But, of course, in the 60s, it was very much like a sci-fi story was, well, in the 60s. So, reading the very old issues (or, more likely, the convenient “Silver Edition” collected books that are re-edited to flow together better and to cut out some filler) can be pretty fun not only for the story, but also as a sort of look into the past.

The cover of the first issue, 'Unternehmen Stardust', showing a bunch of very nervous men with guns, on the moon.

The cover art of most issues is absolutely fantastic, though issue #1 is maybe not one of the highlights. © Pabel-Moewig Verlag KG

I’ve been, slowly, making my way through them, and in the process, I’ve realized that I’d like to write a bit more about that, because I really like the series, I think a lot of the old, anachronistic things that pop up are really interesting, and because basically none of it has been translated to english, ever, beyond the first few issues. This is, I hope, the start of a series about what happens in, and things I found particularly interesting in, all the books2. The first few entries might be a bit low on detail, since it’s been a bit since I’ve actually gone through the books - I’m already a fair bit in.

So, lets start, with the first Silver Edition book: “Die Dritte Macht” (“The Third Power”).

The cover of the first Silber-Edition, titled 'Die Dritte Macht', showing Perry Rhodans head in front of a colourful space scene.

Our guy in space! © Pabel-Moewig Verlag KG

This is where it all begins. The story is set in the near future of 1971. The cold war between the West Bloc (the USA and EU) and East Bloc (Russia and most of Asia)3 is, decidedly, on, and so is the space race. In Perry Rhodans version of history, the eponymous main character, Perry Rhodan - the US Space Forces’ best pilot, depicted on the cover above - along with fellow astronauts Reginald Bull (his best friend, and future series mainstay), Clark G. Flipper and Eric Manoli MD - are about to embark on a mission to be the first humans to walk on the moon, using the nuclear-powered rocket ship STARDUST4.

Everything goes sideways pretty much immediately, and the STARDUST loses contact with earth, but they do successfully set down on the moon, where they find a large, very high tech alien space ship which has recently crash landed, with aliens (“Arkonides” - humanoid space elves) still inside. Various things happen, but eventually, they take a smaller (still 60 meters in diameter) tender vessel from the big ships hangar and fly back to earth, together with two of the aliens: The sagely Crest, and the Hot Alien Babe Thora. Having had essentially a spiritual awakening after realizing how big the universe is and how small the earth, Rhodan feels no particular loyalty towards any of the big powers. He decides to land his new, incredibly powerful spaceship in the Gobi desert (which is implied to be a place none of the great powers care much about) and proclaims a new power bloc, the Third Power.

This immediately makes everyone super mad.

The cover of the second issue, titled 'Die Dritte Macht', showing a Buddha statue and the statue of liberty having a face-off, with a bald man contemplating pushing the big red button and some nuclear missiles in the background.

Super mad. © Pabel-Moewig Verlag KG

With Rhodan and the boys largely incommunicado, the east and west bloc both accuse each other of having found alien technology and hoarding it and eventually fire ze missiles, but Perry Rhodan stops the missiles by simply turning their nuclear warheads off, which is a thing he can do with his new super high tech alien spaceship (Now named “STARDUST II”). This makes everyone even more mad, but now they’re mad at Perry Rhodan and also scared shitless and nothing gets humans to agree with each other than a common enemy.

They pool their ressources and all of the commie and capitalist spy agencies send their best men to take out Perry Rhodan. The agents flip almost immediately, having come to the realization that Perry is maybe a good guy and that, more importantly, these enemy agents they’ve grown friends with are really just like them and they shouldn’t be fighting; kind of like in an intelligence community version of a hippie retreat. The governments of the world also send a bunch of tanks, but as it turns out cold war era tanks don’t really shoot through super duper high tech alien spaceship energy shields. Naturally, all of this was Perry Rhodans 5D chess plan all along - make the governments of the world get along with each other by means of presenting himself as a greater threat.

The new east/west bloc alliance do get a small W blowing up what’s left of the spaceship on the moon so that Perry Rhodan can’t get any further alien tech, and Perry and the Third Power get slightly bigger W by fending off a few monster-of-the-week never-mentined-again extraterrestrials who came to check in on (read: loot) the Arkonide ship after receiving their distress signal. The book ends, on an unclear - but hopeful - future5.

Reading these stories today, a few things jump out. There’s of course technological anachronisms and society at the time being different, though these don’t come through too much yet. What does stand out is the consistent messaging from essentially the first book that all men6 are created equally and that skin color is maybe really just a secondary thing, and that telling your government to fuck off and to not cause nuclear anihilation is Good Actually. Mind: This is still very much low-brow, pew pew lasers, military sci-fi. It’s no Solaris (also published in 1961). There’s no interpretation here. The message is spelled out very clearly. The agents sent to kill Rhodan at some point just literally say as much. But maybe that’s what makes it kind of leave an impression. It is very, for lack of a better word, spirited.

What is really neat, as a long time reader of the series and of issues that were written 50+ years after this one: This really does feel like Perry Rhodan. This is exactly the series I know. It almost feels like reading a historical documentary - here is the STARDUST that I have heard much about, here are Crest and Thora, after whom many spaceships are named even (in the Perryverse) today, here’s some characters that are still part of the current plot, thousands of years later (how that works, we’ll get to in a future post). This truly is where it all started. And while the series has - of course! - changed with the times, its soul has remained the same. I don’t know that there’s another series where you can get this, and I think that’s really cool.

What is also interesting is how the Third Power is, in effect, an autocracy, but Perry Rhodan is a Morally Righteous Man so it’s okay. This will be a source of some embarassment much, much later, but not yet. Please do not point it out.

Next up (soon): We get into mutants, with Silver Edition 2: “Das Mutanten-Korps” (“The Mutant Corps”).

  1. I say “today”, but I fell off reading the current issues while spending all my time on finishing a PhD, so the newest I am aware of is really 3 years ago. I don’t think that’s changed, though. I will pick it up again, eventually. 

  2. Lets see how long I keep long-form writing up this time, last time I gave up almost immediately. 

  3. Africa has not been invented yet, but it will be, soon. 

  4. Many things in Perry Rhodan are specifically and explicitly nuclear powered. Nuclear energy was, I think, very much the Cool Thing at the time. 

  5. Some further events occur, like Clark G. Flipper all but betraying Rhodan, and Mutants appearing, but they don’t play a big role yet so we’ll talk about them later. 

  6. uh oh.