Science Fiction Studies

# 12 = Volume 4, Part 2 = July 1977

Bernt Kling

Perry Rhodan

Translated by Nancy King; edited by D. Suvin

Perry Rhodan is a series of novels in magazine format published originally by Moewig Publ., now by Pabel Publ. of the Heinrich Bauer group. The Rhodan SF series, with well over 700 volumes and over 100 paperbacks so far, is the most successful series of this sort in West Germany and since its publication in the USA, probably in the world. In 1966 a film, Perry Rhodan—SOS From the Cosmos (directed by Primo Zeglio), was made using its themes. The circulation of the first edition, which appears weekly, is given by the publisher as approximately 150,000, and of the second edition, also appearing weekly, as 70,000. In addition there are over 50,000 paperback book copies appearing monthly. The entire circulation of the Rhodan series probably amounts to several million copies, especially if foreign language editions (France, USA, Brazil, The Netherlands, Japan) are counted.            

The novels are written by several authors following the outline by a single author, in which the exact plot for each volume is prescribed. Action moves in cycles of ca. 50 volumes; the connection between the volumes is that Perry Rhodan has to fight against a cosmic arch-enemy in each cycle.            

In volume 1 the hero Perry Rhodan, a space pilot for the US Space Force, encountered in 1971 on the Moon aliens who put at his disposal superior technological powers. This enabled him to rule the Earth by establishing a "third power," which "compels all the Earth powers to be peaceful and work together." The unification succeeds only because of an ever acute threat from outside: one aggressive extra-terrestrial race after another must be beaten back by a united Earth under Rhodan's leadership. In this situation of permanent emergency Rhodan becomes the charismatic leader of a fighting humanity.

Because of this concentration on the leader figure and the militance accompanying it, this series has been justly reproached for Nazi-like notions. The then director of Moewig Publishing, Mr. Willi Hauck, explained in an interview (quoted in Munich Round Up Fan Magazine, publ. by W. Kumming, Munich 1970) that "if you pursue the political direction of the entire story, then one absolutely cannot speak of fascism in the conventional sense, but rather at the most one can speak of the use of force—but for the good of mankind."            

Perry Rhodan leads the united mankind to ever new campaigns of cosmic conquest, and becomes the "Grand Administrator" of a "Solar Empire" based on military expansion, and bears the title "Heir of the Universe "—subtitle of the whole series. The other intelligent beings are described as "sick, degenerate," and even if "mentally highly developed," they are at the same time "sneaky as scorpions and well armed." They can only be harmless if they are at a primitive level of development. If they are hostile, then they are also from non-human remote regions and know "only one goal: to kill!" Nothing diverts them "from their project of destroying the Solar Empire of the Earthlings"; nothing, that is to say, except Rhodan with his ever more powerfully destructive super-weapons.

The brutal language of the authors corresponds well to such contents:

Not only do the contents of the series reveal authoritarianism, aggressive imperialism and technocratic rationality, but the language does so as well. Where Earthlings encounter one another, they exchange almost exclusively formulas of authority and obedience; speech is reduced to explanations for orders and their execution. If Earthlings encounter other beings, in cases when there is conversation and not just instant shooting, the language is limited to the exchange of awe-inspiring sayings, threats and demands for submission. Discussions among experts consist of the recitation of technical data. The authorial narration contains the same elements. It is clipped, purely indicative (there is an almost complete ban on causal clauses), compact, charged, strenuously breathless. The militantly aggressive vocabulary and staccato rhythm are like reports reproducing the feel of the battlefield.1

            How the reader reacts to the fiction of a cosmic strategist, immortalized by technical means, who leads mankind through millennia of future space battles (by now the action has advanced from 1971 to the 5th millennium) is shown in letters sent in response to an advertising slogan competition of the publishers. "Think like Perry Rhodan, and rule the universe" proposed one reader; the first three prizes were won by the contributions: "Reach for the stars—reach for Perry Rhodan"; "Whether Russians, Germans, Americans, with Perry Rhodan we are all Terrans"; "Perry Rhodan—Our Man in the Universe." Almost all responses concentrated on the fictive man who can form history, make the future, and finally direct the universe. With "Our Man in the Universe" the German reader compensates for his powerless situation in society: the overwhelming majority of readers are male adolescents, and the largest group (31%) are high-school students and apprentices.            

The obvious connections between the social reality of the reader and the fictions of the Rhodan series are explained by C. Schuhler:

The virtues propagated in the booklets: authoritarian behaviour of the commander and the commanded, militantly aggressive competitive behaviour and "natural selection" through the struggle of each against each, as well as subjection to reified rationality and one-dimensionality—these are also the organizational and ideological supports of capitalist training and production in the institutions where almost all Perry Rhodan readers have to learn and work. Mass SF helps to take away from the real, redeemable future.2


1. Conrad Schuhler, "Perry Rhodan—Auf Raketen zurück in die Zukunft," Kürbiskern No. 4 (1970): 594; the whole essay on pp. 588-97 should be read. For other discussions of this most popular and most reactionary German SF see—beside the publishers' chapbook Alles über Perry Rhodan (Munich: Moewig, 1970)—Friedrich Leiner, "Perry Rhodan," Blätter für den Deutschlehrer No. 3 (1968): 65-80; Manfred Nagl, "Unser Mann im All," Zeitnahe Schularbeit 22, No. 415 (April-May 1969): 189-208; Michael Pehlke and Norbert Lingfeld, Roboter und Gartenlaube, Reihe Hanser 56 (Munich: Hanser, 1970); "Perry Rhodan," focus No. 22 (1971); and Beate Ellenbrode, Jürgen Ellerbrock and Frank Thiesse, Perry Rhodan (Giessen: Anabis, 1976).

2. Schuhler, op. cit., p. 597.

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