Wychwood wanted to know about German sci fi novels, and I have to admit this is a genre department in which I’m seriously underread – I think I picked up one Hans Dominik as a child, but that’s it -, with one big exception. The exception, though, is our most prominent and long-running sci fi series in any media. To which: Perry Rhodan
. Perry Rhodan
started like Doctor Who
in the 1960s, only not on tv but as a pulp fiction weekly, and it’s still getting published in this format (though there are also hardcover collections, paperbacks, ebooks, audio versions etc.). Unlike Doctor Who
, it never got cancelled, so you have a decades long uninterrupted canon. You also have, since a few years, Perry Rhodan Neo
, which is basically what in Marvel the Ultimate ‚verse was to the 616 verse, or what Battlestar Galactica
2003 was to the 1970s BSG – a separate universe and timeline using some of the same characters and basic concepts but with its own spin, characterisation and continuity.
Back when it started in the 60s, the original two writers, who didn’t stay the sole two writers for long, were one K.H. Scheer and one Clark Darlton (Pseudonym for Walter Ernsting, because if you were a German fantasy or sci fi writer in the 1960s, you more often than not got yourself an English language pseudonym). They created the original set up and the first ensemble of characters, and in some ways, you can see their fingerprints to this day, though so many other writers since then have come and gone. Scheer was interested in spy stories (he also wrote those outside of Perry Rhodan), space ships, space battles (whether or not his nickname „Grenade-Herbert“ was fair is still debated). Darlton, otoh, was more into whimsy, humor, aliens and the mystic-fantasy angle now and then. Leading the series‘ central character, friends and enemies themselves aside, Scheer’s most memorable contribution, character wise, was probably Atlan (who shows up in installment No.50 of the series as a millennia old snarky alien who’d gotten stranded on Earth – yes, Atlantis was named after him -, and promply develops rivalry/friendship with our hero; more about him later); Darlton’s was Gucky (mutant who looks like a cross between a walking beaver and a mouse, hence a „Mausbiber“, though his species‘ own name for themselves are „Ilts“, very powerful – he’s got telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation – and very cute. Likes carrots and practical jokes; think Bugs Bunny in space, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong).
The titular hero, Perry Rhodan, starts out as an US astronaut, the first man on the moon – remember, this series started before Neil Armstrong & colleagues actually got there. Unlike Neil Armstrong, he finds a stranded space ship there, with a still alive crew, and immediately realises that if he tells this to his superiors back home, the cold war will end up getting very hot indeed if the rest of the world concludes the Americans have access to alien weaponry. Which is why he and two of his fellow astronauts decide not to do that (the fourth astronaut of the moon landing crew disagrees, which becomes a plot point for some issues) and go independent instead, aided by said alien tech and two of the aliens, whose species is called „Arkoniden“ („Arkonides“ in English, I guess?), and founding a new , „Third“ Power in the Mongolian Desert. No one back on Earth is thrilled and everyone tries to get their hands on Rhodan and the Alien tech, but in the end it actually does work out in ending the Cold War and creating world unity. Which is when the first space invasion storyline arrives, because of course it does, then our hero decides to go exploring into space himself, and so forth.
We’re now several thousand years later; many authors, characters and storylines have come and gone. Perry and some friends from ye early days are still around, courtesy of a macguffin rendering them potentially immortal, meaning they don’t age and heal fast, but they still could be killed by violent means; last time this actually happened to a main character, though, there was a mighty uproar in the fandom (think Torchwood fandom after „Children of Earth“) which still hasn’t entirely settled. There now textual same sex relationships, female writers on the staff, and in terms of female characters, we’re a far cry from when in the original set up, male alien Crest had to explain why female alien Thora is his ship’s Captain to Perry by telling him that it’s just because the males of his people are more affected by the general degeneration than the women (because why else would a WOMAN lead the ship?), though you can sometimes still tell rather blatantly whether a female character was created by a man or a woman.
One of the enduring qualities of the series, though, is that it has this rich variety of genres internalized. There are still spy stories (the late K.H. Scheer would be pleased!), heist stories, thrillers, exploration stories, invasion stories, mystical/mythical tales, entire life stories (when a new important character is introduced, you sooner or later get his backstory in a separate issue), more recently even YA like plot lines (because these days, when our heroes reproduce we don’t time skip to when the kids are adults but actually see them doing the raising), etc. Also, the characters are a mixture between one-offs, recurring and regular, and while this means it’s possible your favourite won’t show up for not just months but years, it’s equally possible they’ll then be given a prominent role in their very own storyline.
Then there are the many, many different species around. The very first one from the very first issue, the Arkonides, are still there, and since they’re basically Albino Romans in space (much like Babylon 5’s Centauri are), I’m pleased with that. But since a written series isn’t budget-limited, the Perryverse has been collecting non-humanoid species galore since then, in all sizes, from miniature to gigantic, and no, not only the cute looking one’s like Gucky’s are written sympathetically. (One species, the Haluter
- >Haluts? – look like gigantic monsters but are among the most intelligent and generally heroic ones in terms of their characters; they also were an early example of our authors stepping outside the binary gender premise with aliens.)
Another advantage is that if you’ve skipped storylines or eras, you can still enjoy others without going „who what why???“ all the time. (It’s like Doctor Who
this way.) Of course, there are superfans who really can detect whether author x has made a continuity mistake when ignoring events from issue 798 when writing issue 2004, but that’s fandom, any fandom for you. (These days, the Perrypedia is helpful in this regard, to authors, too.) One of the things I found fascinating when Perry Rhodan Neo started was what got updated and what remained the same: the idea of Perry as the first man on the moon had to go, for example, and ditto for the Cold War in the 1960s sense, but Perry is still an astronaut discovery a crashed alien ship on the moon, and while the Earth isn’t suffering from an US versus Russia and China nuclear stand-off (Neo started five years or so ago, gulp), the environment is rotten, the rich/poor divide catastrophic, pharmaceutical instrustries rule, and so he still goes rogue in the Mongolian desert. There are some cases where I like the reboot versions of aliens or individual characters better, and some where I think they just couldn’t manage to produce something that can match the original. (Case in point: Atlan and his relationship with our hero. In the original timeline, this includes, early on, an interlude where they are stranded on a desert planet where they’re trying to defeat each other with a mixture of traditional shoot and chase methods and mindmessing. This is sort of the foundation of their later friendship with its periods of tension and what makes them slashy. The reboot has Atlan show up in very different circumstances, there isn’t an early antagonistic period, instead, there is early helpfulness, and while there are later tensions, the push-pull dynamic simply isn’t there.)
(Gucky, otoh, works in both continuities.)
In conclusion: this is my German sci fi book fandom, has been since decades, and probably always will be. The other days