16 October 2012

Book Review: PERRY RODAN #1 (English) - Enterprise Stardust

What: PERRY RODAN #1 - Enterprise Stardust
Who: K H Scheer & Walter Erstling
When: Published 1961 (German) & 1969 (English) 

Perry Rhodan is the name of a science fiction series published since 1961 in Germany, as well as the name of the main character. It is a space opera, dealing with several themes of science fiction. Having sold over one billion copies (in pulp booklet format) worldwide, it is the most successful science fiction book series ever written. To date there are over 2600 instalments – and it’s still being added to. On September 30th 2011 a new series named Perry Rhodan Neo began publication gaining to attract new readers with a reboot of the story starting in the year 2036.

Enterprise Stardust was first published in English in 1969 and tells the story of the United States Space Force's first manned mission to the moon and what is discovered there.

Major Perry Rhodan and his three companion astronauts launch into space aboard the revolutionary spacecraft Stardust and make a rough landing on the moon after some unexplained technical difficulties during the descent. They land in one piece (but off-course) and proceed to take stock of their situation. Communications with Earth have been lost due to their location on the surface of the moon, so they venture out in a rover to find a spot suitable for radio communication back to base - only to have their equipment blow up while attempting to transmit. It appears that someone is interfering with their systems from afar…

Further exploration yields the discovery of a huge spherical spaceship of alien origin. Its occupants, the Arkonides, originate from the planet Arkon some 3,700 light-years from Earth. The Arkonide civilization is millions of years old but in decline. Their technology is far, far more advanced than humanity's but they appear to be very sick and lethargic. Arkonides have been observing Earth for thousands of years and have classed humans as a lower-grade primitive life-form under classification rules set down by 'the great Imperium'. This means that they cannot have direct contact with humans due to Imperium law. It seems that humanity has existed alongside a huge galactic society of diverse species and been wholly ignorant of the fact.

Rhodan eventually discovers that the Arkonides are suffering from serious illness and were on their way to seek treatment from another alien race when their ship malfunctioned and they crash-landed on the moon. Rhodan eventually persuades the Arkonides that humans are also an intelligent species and this causes the Arkonides to raise their classification level which allows them to accept his offer of assistance. In turn, the Arkonides also convince Rhodan of Earth's terrible slide towards World War Three and global nuclear holocaust that must be prevented. Rhodan can see the need for peace and unity on Earth, and believes that with the Arkonides’ help and technology he can help to bring about the necessary changes to achieve this.

Rhodan and his companions repair their ship with the Arkonides' help and travel back to Earth with one of the Arkonides (who appears to be a person of quite high standing in Arkonide society) as a representative. They land in the middle of the vast Gobi desert which is deep in the territory of the Asiatic Federation - an enemy of the United States and NATO. They prepare for the arrival of armed forces...

This is a fast and fun read written in a 'pulp fiction' magazine style, which is how these stories were originally released. The style fits this type of hero story well. It's the first glimpse into this phenomenally popular series and sets the scene for the myriad paths that this story is destined to take.

I found the plot quite predictable (as I expected), but that’s by no means a complaint. Likewise the characters are a tad shallow, but I suspect that these might be expanded considerably over the following stories. Perry Rhodan is a true hero - much like a sci-fi Biggles if you can imagine such a person.

I liked the short and concise explanations of a scientific and technical nature. Whether or not the explanations are entirely accurate I cannot comment. But they are sufficient for this space opera which is concerned more with what is happening rather than trivial details and minutiae. You are also reminded that it was written in the 1960’s due to references to things such as ‘recording on magnetic tape’. I’m interested to find out what the newer stories in this series are like with more current scientific ideas and theories, etc.

A lot of reviewers seem to have criticized Perry Rhodan books for the very reasons so many love them. To my mind they are intended as relaxing and fun reading with enjoyable storylines. I like this concept. I read plenty of other more ‘serious’ fiction as well, but there’ll always be a place for this kind of story for me.

Only a small number of the thousands of instalments were translated to English and published in novel form. I have the first 120 volumes as ebooks and a box of twenty or so random paperbacks. I look forward to seeing how Perry Rhodan, with his friends (and enemies), handle this new-found knowledge. What is there to learn about the other intelligent beings out there and the universe around us…with all of their technology and abilities? The possibilities are limitless. Great stuff.

A vast galactic society of thousands of worlds and sentient species with their stories and sagas - awesome! Just my sort of thing.

My rating: 8/10


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