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Attack of the Rootless Cosmicpolitans!

The Fleet of the Springers  (Perry Rhodan, volume 22)

By Kurt Mahr (Translated by Wendayne Ackerman)

12 Apr, 2015



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I’ve missed a couple of weeks worth of translated works; I need to catch up. On the other hand, people seem to enjoy my Tears reviews. Here is one intersection of the two types of review.

Perry Rhodan: Peacelord of All the Planets! Unifier of Earth! Guardian of the Galaxy Milky Way! A character who makes me wonder if the German language lacks a word for the concept of subtext! 

The first weekly Perry Rhodan novella appeared in 1961; the ongoing series passed the 2700-episode mark in 2013. Obviously, Perry Rhodan is the Coronation Street of large-scale space opera. 

What it isn’t is … much good, 

at least if one can go by this 1973 translation of The Fleet of Springers.

In 1969 Ace began publishing translated episodes of the Perry Rhodan series. Despite some commercial success, the Ace series ended in the late 1970s. This episode is fairly early in the sequence, 22nd out of some 118 episodes. 

The series was effectively a magazine bound and sold as a book. The books feature the titular Perry Rhodan episode and then a buncha other stuff. I cannot seem to find the portmanteau term that editor Forry Ackerman coined for such a publication, but it was as euphonious as any of his other portmanteau terms, terms such as sci-fi and teatempestpot, to pick two that appear in this volume Perhaps the best way to handle this is to review each section in turn, just as I review other collections and magazines. 

Stardust editorial: Teatempestpot (Forest J. Ackerman):

Ackerman fulminates at some length over the ear-flicking he got for using Hugo Award” as a generic and not specific term. 

This rant seems longer than it is and makes me glad that acrimonious disputes over the Hugo are a thing of the past. 

Episode 22: The Fleet of the Springers

Rhodan stumbled over relics of Arkonide Empire on his first trip to the Moon. Even though the Empire is now stagnant and decadent, their technology is still potent enough that Rhodan can use it to bring the Earth under one government. He then proceeds to establish a respectable presence in the Milky Way. 

Oh yes, and an encounter with the Wanderer, a hidden planet of advanced beings in command of near-godlike technology, has given Rhodan effective immortality. But, aside from the immortality, the advanced alien technology, nigh-infallibility, and total control of the Solar System, he is basically just an ordinary guy.

All in all he would be sitting very pretty except … not only are the Arkonides still around (albeit much reduced), but so are many other galactic polities and factions, many of whom are as advanced as the Arkonides.

One of these groups, the Springers, is an offshoot of the Arkonides. The Empire believes that trade is beneath them and was happy to grant the Springers guild a monopoly on the whole unpleasant business. The Springers pose a difficulty for Rhodan because they believe that they have a monopoly on all trade, not just imperial trade. While they cheerfully scuffle with other Springers over valuable trade routes, they take a much dimmer view of outsiders trying to horn in on their action.

Outsiders like Earth!

When the episode opens, Earth’s K7 starship has just been captured by the Springer vessel Orla XI. Unbeknownst to plucky cadet Julian Tiffler, he has been implanted with a tracking device that would allow Rhodan to follow him in the event Tiffler is captured. The Springers take the K7 much farther from the sun than had been anticipated, so it takes some time for Rhodan and his fleet to show up.

The Springers will use torture and lethal force if they have to achieve their ends, but they’d rather not begin that way. It’s inefficient. This means that plucky young cadet Tiffler and his companions, imprisoned on the K7, are sufficiently undamaged to plot an escape: the winsome girl cadets are to distract the guards while the men start the K7’s launch sequence. The appearance of Rhodan’s fleet gives them time to put their plan into action. 

The escape is a mixed success; the Springer fleet is driven off for the moment, but now has a much better idea of Earth’s abilities. The K7 is damaged during its flight away from the Orla XI. Even though Tiffler and his closest companions manage to escape the wreck of the K7, it is only to end up marooned on an ice world filled with unknown dangers.

Stay tuned for episode 23: James Isn’t Going to Go Find a Copy Unless Someone Pays Him to Do So!

I remembered Rhodan as not very good but this was worse than I expected.

I felt sorry for the girl cadets in this episode: they get to flirt with menacing Springers and they get to scream a lot. That’s all. 

Part of my dissatisfaction is due to the episodic nature of the serial. To get a complete story one needs to buy a whole arc’s worth of books, which I never managed to do. This episode doesn’t make sense on its own, but, then again, it was never intended to do so … so I am probably being unfair to the book on this particular point. 

I feel much more confident in saying that the prose is bland and workmanlike at its best and at its worst (which is quite often) it is utterly wretched. I am going to lay the blame for this travesty on Wendayne Ackerman, who translated this episode. I have read other books she translated, books like Hard to Be a God. The best I can say about her work is that it was uninspired. 

Some readers may find the backstory eerily familiar. That’s because David Weber used a similar idea in his Mutineer’s Moon and the Dahak series that followed (although in his version, the alien lunar facility was somewhat larger than the one Rhodan found). I don’t know if this is a case of independent invention (I can point to many examples of that in SF) or if Weber was aware of Rhodan and decided he could do the basic idea better (also something not unknown in SF). Given that Weber has used my most famous quotation in his books, I don’t find it all that hard to believe that he would find other people’s work inspirational. I generally find Weber’s books bloated and turgid, his prose wretched, but even so … his book was better than this one because this one was very, very bad. 

Scientifilm World

A brief review of the classic film Donovan’s Brain, which as it turns out I have never seen.

Shock Short: Pallas Rebellion” by W. Malcolm White

A reprint of an old short story first published in 1950.

Driven mad by the radiation of the plutonium mines in which they labour, robots rise up against their human masters! Only one man’s subtle insight allows him to work out how to deal with the human shield the robots are using and so force the robots back into involuntary servitude.

I am going to spoil this one. Sorry to any fans of sixty-five-year-old pulp. The hero realizes that the hostage the robots are using is a robot because he suddenly spots a minor detail the robots got wrong. Since robots don’t need life support, it didn’t occur to them to put the life-like robot hostage in a space suit before exposing it to the vacuum of space.

I am not so much impressed by the fact the hero spotted this as the fact that none of his companions did.

W. Malcolm White is one of Donald Wollheim’s pen names. A former editor at Ace, Wollheim had left to found what was arguably the first mass market specialist science fiction and fantasy fiction publishing house by the time this story was reprinted.

Pursuit to Mars (Part Seven of Edison’s Conquest of Mars) by Garret P. Serviss

Having broken the great dams of Mars, Edison completes the job of showing the sodden survivors what’s what!

A reprint of an 1898 novel that really got its money’s worth out of the term unauthorized.” Not only was it an unauthorized sequel to Wells’ War of the Worlds and not only was Thomas Edison not asked if he wanted to be the protagonist of a super-science planet smasher, but according to Wiikipedia Serviss also included characters based on the real-life Edward Emerson Barnard, Lord Kelvin, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Silvanus P. Thompson. We also meet heads of state such as Queen Victoria, U.S. President William McKinley, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Emperor Mutsuhito as characters. The coup de grace is that Serviss is also woefully inept at making his novel compatible with the events of the Wells novel; check for yourself here.

I have three favourite bits in this monstrosity:

Having destroyed most of the homes and factories of the Martians and having killed 90% of the Martian population, the protagonists refrain from killing everyone on Mars because we must be guilty of no wanton destruction.” 

Outraged that the Martian emperor hit a Martian woman, a human disintegrates the cad using a deathray cannon. The description of the cannon’s effects makes it clear that it also had to have disintegrated anyone standing nearby (such as the woman the emperor had slapped). 

My very favourite bit is this passage:

I was somewhat startled, then, in looking at the head and center of the great military system of Mars, to find in his appearance a striking confirmation of the speculations of our terrestrial phrenologists. His broad, misshapen head bulged in those parts where they had located the so-called organs of combativeness, destructiveness, etc.

Why are there so few tales of interplanetary phrenology?

Shock Short: Big, Wide, Wonderful World” by Charles E. Fritch

In this reprint of a 1959 story, the inhabitants of Earth are confronted by a terrible vision! 

Twist ending story, of the sort that might have appeared in Quiet, Please, Twilight Zone, or maybe Mindwebs. Best piece in the book, although that’s not saying much.

Future Shock Shorts

This is a list of coming attractions: more pulp era short stories.

Secret of the Sun” by Ray Cummings

Letters from the Stars” by A.E. van Vogt

Come into My Parlour” by Charles E. Fritch

Better Look a Gift Hearse in the Mouth” by George W. Proctor.

Space Clue” by Gregor Drummond

Web of Moons” by Hannes Bok

I am unfamiliar with all of these.

The Perryscope

A letter column, mainly filled with accolades from various readers. The exception is very interesting: reader Allan Steele of Nashville, TN asks why it is that various episodes of Perry Rhodan include details that are remarkably similar to details in older stories by authors other than those of Perry Rhodan. I suspect that Steele found the answer he got

Only the great brain of Khrest could wrestle with such problems and he’s resting right now.

as unsatisfactory as I do. 

Is that Allen Steele the same Allen Steele who wrote such works as Orbital Decay and A King of Infinite Space? I cannot say for sure but since the author comes from Nashville, I think it very well might be him. I wonder if that letter was the first time Steele was published by Ace, his long time publisher.

All in all, this book was mostly horrid but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is useful to be reminded of just how terrible published SF can be. This book makes the worst of the modern stuff I see much look better by comparison. (Though I am wondering if the German editions of the Rhodan series are better than the English translations. I mean, there has to be a reason there have been 2700+ installments. Or perhaps the Germans just aren’t that picky when it comes to space opera?) 

A final note: the fellow in Gray Morrow’s cover illustration isn’t giving Nasty Mr. Mustache’s famous salute. Not quite. He’s pointing at something. I think he’s supposed to be a Springer, anyway, he’s not Peacelord of All the Planets Rhodan or any of his loyal subordinates.