Science Fiction Studies

# 18 = Volume 6, Part 2 = July 1979

Sylvia Pukallus, Ronald M. Hahn and Horst Pukallus

"Perry Rhodan" as a Social and Ideological Phenomenon

Translated by Peter Roberts; edited by D.S.

In the following article, an attempt will be made to examine the phenomenon of the Perry Rhodan series. It is impossible to understand it as a purely "aesthetic" fact, or to analyze it as "literature" in the usual sense of literary history and criticism concerned with masterpieces of assumedly profound humanist significance. Nonetheless, Perry Rhodan is very important for SF and modern paraliterature: it is the best-selling SF series in West Germany and possibly in the whole world (ca. 120 volumes have so far been published by Ace Books in the US too). It is probably impossible to understand some crucial aspects of contemporary SF without understanding such a commercial success. We shall begin with a brief sounding into five selected novels from the first 100 books,* continue with an examination of the sociological milieu commercially created in order to further the sale of the series, and end with a consideration of the series as ideology — the binding link between the novels' writers and promoters on the one hand and the fans and the readers on the other.

1. Mighty Peacelord Perry: Soundings from the Novels. The following survey, dealing with five characteristic Perry Rhodan novels taken from the German editions, should give the reader a basic understanding of the specific features of the original German series (from which come all the page numbers) and at the same time facilitate an analytical approach to the novels that have appeared in the United States. The tendencies shown provide a key to the analysis of the Perry Rhodan series as a whole, as well as to individual novels.

a) Perry Rhodan No. 2 (US No. 1)The Third Power: The Terrorist.

Rhodan and the other occupants of the US spaceship Stardust land on their return to Earth, provided with the "achievements of Arkonide supertechnology," in the Gobi Desert (China) — among the "yellow men." (p.5) There Rhodan appropriates a territory, which he designates the "power-base of a neutral force," since "the yellow men . . . don't need the desert." (p.ll) From there he pursues the goal of "bringing peace to the world —peace by force." (p.30) Because of his interference, the cold war becomes an atomic war. Thanks to the "Arkonide super-technology," however, the atomic warheads are all prevented from exploding. The world unites around Rhodan's "Third Force."

Tendencies: a) dishonesty ("bringing peace by force"); b) justifying the violation of boundaries and the sovereignty of states, the theft of land, the use of force, and blackmail; c) excusing the political adventurism; d) racism (the "yellow men").

b) Perry Rhodan No. 20 (US No. 14)Venus in Danger: The Founder of Order.

Rhodan returns to our Solar System after four years in interstellar space; the "Lord of the Third Force" (p.4) must put things right. "Four and a half years has apparently sufficed to wean at least a part of mankind from the right way." (p.14)The "Eastern bloc" has in fact established itself on the planet Venus, and Rhodan cannot tolerate that: "There was nothing . . .he needed more than the stronghold on Venus with its powerful weapons and gigantic positronic brain." (p.7) Therefore he shouts about the "impudence" (!) of the "East-bloc regime" and calls them "fools" who always put mankind "on the wrong track" (p.41); he declares: "We must make a clean sweep of the troublemakers" (! ) . . . "to begin with! " (p.65) Rhodan smashes the Eastern bloc troops that have landed on Venus, using his "Arkonide super-technology."

Tendencies: a) fanatical high-handedness, culminating in the fixed idea of having to dictate "the right way" to all mankind; b) treating the use of force in, and the occupation of, international territory as normal and harmless.

c) Perry Rhodan No. 57The Assassination Attempt: The Administrator.

Two groups of political puppets, called "revolutionaries" on transparent grounds, try to murder Rhodan, "the Administrator of the Solar Empire." The attempt on his life fails; the "revolutionaries" are arrested. Eight thousand of "those responsible" are condemned as a result of the "law on the punishment of rebels, members of secret societies, and anti-social persons" (p.25), and must serve the "Solar Empire" as space colonists.

Tendencies: a) the defamation and criminalization of every intent to change society; b) the propagation of martial and emergency laws to suppress social movements; c) the callous use of prisoners as interstellar guinea-pigs.

d) Perry Rhodan No. 88The Columbus Affair: The Avenger.

Alien "monsters" attack the Earth — no one is sure why, yet they are presumed to be "evil"; the "Solar Empire" is finally saved through the intervention of a robot fleet of the "Arkonide Empire." The plot concentrates on the description of the battle against the "monsters" and the "totally alien descendants of insects." (p.20) The novel ends with the threat: "You'll learn about us now, you there outside! " (p.64)

Tendencies: a) boundless glorification of militarism, cult of weapons and uniforms; b) shameless justification of a high level of armament and of emergency laws; c) insulting and demonization of extraterrestrials; d) revanchism.

e) Perry Rhodan No. 96The Mystery of the Anti: The Policeman.

Rhodan's friend and ally, Atlan, called "His million-eyed, all-seeing, all-knowing Sublimity. Lord of Arkon and the worlds of the Barren Isles His Imperial Glorificence, Gonozal the Eighth, Deity from the Seed of the Most Ancient" (p.5), faces the loss of immortality because his life-giving "cell-activators" have been stolen by an envious priest of a sect. Rhodan in person and his elite guard, the Mutant Corps, hurry to help, so that the Imperial Glorificence and Deity should not be toppled from his throne. Naturally, this is also in the interest of the "Solar Empire," since the Sublimity does not intend "to permit the further decay" of "the Empire, worn out by countless colonial wars and the widespread flare-up of revolts." (p.5) The operation is a success; Atlan remains immortal.

Tendencies: a) justifying co-operation with imperialist dictators; b) glorification of war and militarism; c) the excusing of a status quo in which an upper class receives amazing privileges (e.g. immortality).

Just a brief note: in all the PR novels the worst bungling of the German language occurs. Its features include adjective-rich, overblown diction, hostility to syntax, and indolent thinking. For socio-linguists, a thorough study of this paralanguage should prove interesting.

2. Perry Rhodan. and the Fans. The formation of West German SF clubs did not arise from the readers' collective need; as in other branches of entertainment, they were launched by those who had an interest in institutionalizing unpaid publicity workers: the publishers.

As happened in American SF magazines, the German SF author Walter Ernsting (pseudonym: Clark Dalton) tried in the early 1950s, with the strong moral and financial support of his publisher, Erich Pabel, to advertise the idea of a national SF club through the Utopia pulp-novel series that he was editing. With the help of such big names in the SF field as Theodore Sturgeon, Forrest J. Ackerman, A.E. Van Vogt, and Brigitte Helm (the actress from Lang's Metropolis), the undertaking succeeded. The fan club, which called itself "Science Fiction Club Deutschland Ltd.," had a membership of 1,500 within one year of its formation (1955). The aim of the club was to spread the often cited, but never in practice defined, "idea of science fiction." In addition it considered itself an institution for supervising the production of "real SF literature," and publishers were allowed to print the club's seal, labeling the novels as "real SF" or — somewhat less worthwhile — as "real Space Opera," on most of their publications.

In 1967 the authors who had originally been regarded as the leaders in German pulp SF novels (K.H. Scheer, Walter Ernsting, W.W. Shols and others) were kicked out of their own club in the wake of an "aesthetic" wave which took the form of measuring SF quality by the books' appearance rather than content (so that clothbound SF equaled good SF). The older authors were then, at the time of a long SF boom, called by the Munich Moewig Publ. to form the first Perry Rhodan clubs (Ernsting and Scheer had in the meantime become Moewig's chief authors). These clubs were designed to guarantee not only a permanent and rising sale of the Perry Rhodan series, but also the American derived business practice of follow-up promotions: thus, for example, there were "stamps of the Solar Empire," blueprints of "heavy battleships,"a teddy bear-like figure of the character Gucky, plastic models of "Terran Space Soldiers," records with Perry Rhodan radio-plays, comics, super-hero posters, club die-stamps, stick-on badges, coats of arms, maps of fictional star systems, transfers, and a Perry Rhodan dictionary. Along with all of this came a free supply of carefully printed club membership cards and prefabricated club rules, whereby every member of a Perry Rhodan club had to be someone who "stands by the principles of free democracy" and had not been deprived of his "civic honor and rights."

To what extent does the circle of SF consumers answer the expectations of the publishers, and to what extent are the expectations confirmed by the results and enquiries made so far?

The regular reader of SF considers himself a fan. There have been and there are variants of "fandom" in all spheres of the entertainment industry (pop, rock, film, and comics clubs). However, the aims of societies that are interested in and give all their spare time to SF are considerably greater. Questions about the readers' involvement in these clubs (details of their activities will be given later) produce symptomatic answers: there was the feeling that "there's often a reason for escaping into a microcosm," that "the fetters of our social system can be stripped off" in the clubs, and also the belief that one could "find a severance from everyday life" there, that one could "escape the everyday," or look for "a counterbalance to one's day-to-day work".' According to these enquiries and to our analysis of readers' letters, widespread compensation for inferiority complexes in the outside world can be considered a major factor of this need (especially strong amongst regular SF readers) to get together with like-minded people. Laughed at by family, colleagues, and others for his interest in this literature, the SF reader flies into the bosom of the regional groups, where within a cosy circle he can cling to the idea of being "progressive," because the literature he reads is not ostensibly set in long gone epochs (as it is, e.g., in the Westerns), but in the future. "As financial chief of a large concern I have to deal with so much dry material every day," says a reader quoted in the Moewig Publ. pamphlet, Alles über Perry Rhodan, "that I like to seize on Perry Rhodan in my spare time, so that through him I can swiftly and surely imagine myself in another world."2 And Perry Rhodan reader Horst Kupsch from Siegburg writes in volume 1093: "Reading these SF novels is an excellent counterbalance to the hectic bustle of our time....One has no desire for pretentious, heavy reading after a day's work on the job."

The activities of SF readers in these clubs are manifold: they send each other fanzines with self-written material, mostly short stories in the style of their favorite authors, or popular science articles on radio stars, astronomy, and eventual living conditions on Venus, as well as crosswords and word-games exclusively concerning SF. (Questions: Firefighting Officer on the first spaceship of the line? Secret Service chief of the ex-leader of Plophos? Last bastion of the leader? Assistant to the immortals on the planet Wanderer? Murderer of the mutant Anne Sloane? Alien race in the Vega system? Ruling race in the globular cluster M-13 Hercules? A work tool based in five dimensions?)4

One SF reader (a 17-year old secondary school pupil) says: "For a time I was in contact with two SF clubs. From this and from readers' letters I learned that they occupied themselves with designing blueprints for battleships. There are discussions - mostly on the theme: What was good? How will or should it continue? Additionally, to stress the 'scientific' character of the club, books are read on UFOs, parapsychology, or astronomy in order to understand better the Perry Rhodan stories. There is also much spurious Rhodan-style politicking: thus many clubs have their own Grand Administrator or Lord High Admiral! Perry Rhodan quizzes are also much in favor: club members ask each other questions on the technical data of fictional spaceships or the eating habits of alien races, in addition to details of the stories in the series. In fact, the highest accolade goes to whoever knows everything about Perry Rhodan. To be absolutely in, you have to write a letter to the publishers, pointing out a mistake or a contradiction."5

A Perry Rhodan reader survey by Moewig Publ. gave the following results: 85% of the readers were male. 43% were in the 13-22 age group, 18% in the 23-28 age group, 12% in the 29-35 age group, 11% in the 36-45 age group, and 1% in the 46-65 age group. The readers gave the following as their occupations: 31% were secondary school pupils, schoolchildren, or apprentices; 2% were students; 21% workers; 22% wage-earners; and 7% (that is, 50% of the female readership) housewives.6

In one of the enquiries organized by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Spekulative Thematik, 51.3% of SF readers answered the question "In your opinion, are SF fans more intelligent than the average person?" in the affirmative, 25.6% denied it, but in the same breath stressed other alleged virtues which SF fans possessed in comparison to their fellow-men, 20% unequivocally said no to the question, and 2% had no opinion. Those who partly denied the question of higher intelligence were nonetheless of the opinion that SF fans were "more tolerant," "more receptive," "more open," "less prejudiced," "more farsighted," "more imaginative," or even "more interested in things." One reader said: "Whoever reads SF is automatically confronted with worlds that are built in a completely abstract way, which are hardly ever, or only in the slightest way, connected with our own real world. This consideration of other systems leads, in my opinion, to the critical observation of our own world. I believe nothing can easily surprise a fan."7 However, the ostensible consideration of such different systems is certainly not reflected in the critical faculties of SF readers in the real world. They exhaust themselves much more — as has been shown — in counting the technical defects in the fictional worlds of their reading.

In a Perry Rhodan slogan competition in which 5,800 readers took part, 31% of the contributions were according to publisher's information, concerned with "the space experience" and "adventures in the cosmos," 21% with the "future expectations of mankind" and "technical progress," 10% stressed the "ethical and humanitarian value of the series, e.g. peace, justice, equality, and the union of mankind," 7% the character of the title hero as "a model and idol," 7% the "communication and spread of science," 7% stressed "Perry Rhodan as good SF literature," 5% praised the series as "good relaxing and exciting literature," and another 7% compared Perry Rhodan with Karl May, considered "material security" or the "conquest of new areas for expansion (Lebensraum)" important, or concerned themselves with the "Threat From Outer Space".8

3. Perry Rhodan and Ideology.

Ideology: "System of social (political, economic, judicial, educational, artistic, moralistic, philosophical, etc.) ideas which gives expression to given class interests and includes appropriate norms of behavior, attitudes, and values." Georg Klaus and Manfred Buhr, Philosophisches Wörterbuch, Vol. I (East Germany, 1969), p.504.

SF novels in which government "destablizations" are incessantly planned, monarchs are called up once again, and one martial-law situation chases another, clearly propagate ideology. The authors of the Perry Rhodan series answered the question, "Which ideology do you deal with in your novels?" as follows:

"I try to tell people in the pulp-novels that they are all only men, whether black, yellow, or white; that we are all in the same boat (on the same planet); that wars are idiotic and no way to achieve ends; that in politics only a readiness to compromise presences peace, even when we are obliged to make sacrifices; that the further development of spaceflight is as necessary as that of sea-travel centuries ago. Those are the points of my ideology and, in my opinion, they are as old as mankind itself, for if these views did not exist, we'd still be sitting in trees or caves today. Is that fascism?" (Walter Ernsting)

"Personally, in all my novels I only pursue a single ideology (if it can be called that): I try to show that man will take all his personal problems, advantages, and disadvantages with him into the future. I want neither to destroy social systems, nor to build new ones. Normality — people as normal as possible in a fantastic and distant environment, which naturally has its similarities to the present and does not deny it — that is my ideology. Such an ideology has reasonable, normal, and not awfully serious goals, and never aims at being left, right, national, or nationalistic." (Hans Kneifel)9

We shall now proceed to check these statements. Our standpoint is the concept of ideology quoted in the above epigraph, and the conviction that no remark can be free of ideology. Even when the author is not aware of his attitude, objective reality is still subjectively reflected in his writings, and they thus come within the framework of a definite ideology. This often quoted "ideology of no-ideology" is — and must be — that of the ruling class, since the way to interpret reality is taught in all its institutions, from the school to the army. The ruling opinion is always that of the rulers.

Our procedure was to investigate a series of themes in a representative selection of Perry Rhodan and Atlan pulps in order first to establish the underlying ideology in the text. We then compiled statistics on the ads printed in these pulp novels in order to find out which target-groups these are believed to reach. We then examined the results of these two investigations, together with the reaction of the readers as seen in their writings to the publishers and in their contributions to fanzines.

The first theme investigated was the frequency and the situational premises for the use of force. It turned out that the whole narrative consisted of continuous battles, only relieved here and there by the spasmodic comedy of the rodent Gucky. It is almost unbelievable how the heroes keep themselves unscathed for more than 650 volumes (total production by 1973: 100,000,000 copies). They don't use kid-gloves when dealing with their opponent; after all he undoubtedly intends to harm the Good Cause. After "a few humanoid forms" have been shot through oversight (!), the character Atlan remarks matter-of-factly: "A panic reaction.... I shan't mourn these people. Intelligent beings who pose as gods over other intelligent beings are criminals." (vol. 451, p. 62) Thus a reason for murder is casually found after the act and the whole thing is declared to be capital punishment (which is itself thus implicitly condoned). Examples of this kind are uncounted. Basically, since Perry Rhodan and his men are a priori supposed to be in the right, the force and aggression used by them is also a priori justified. Their own behavior is never in question. They have weapons and they make good use of them. That's that.

Next we analyzed the image of the enemy on which the series depends. The "villain" is basically recognizable as such from his outward looks. Compared to the radiantly handsome heroes Perry Rhodan and Atlan, he is ugly and disheveled, with a brutal appearance. Clearly this echoes the ideology of "scientists" with fascist and racist sympathies, like Lombroso, who affirmed that "in born criminals, the ears are jug handled, and the head hair abundant, the beard scanty, the frontal cavities domed, the chin bones enormous, the chin square or prominent, and the cheekbones broad — in short a mongoloid or occasionally negroid type." 10

Hardly any progressive ideas came to light in our enquiry into the role of women, the relationship between men and women, and the significance of sexuality. Women scarcely put in an appearance, and if they do it is as modest, deferential little wives whose range of tasks is confined to the household and the nursery. The Perry Rhodan author Hans Kneifel justifies this in the following way: "How can anyone who has never in his life known a clever, emancipated independent woman think of describing one?''11 Thus the man supports the woman, plays the Great Protector, and holds her in ignorance, the better to serve him as a domestic. Sexuality is only an attribute of the villains, as for instance when an opponent of the heroes tries to unbutton the tunic of the maiden Farnathia (Atlan No. 92). The heroes and their ladies exchange at the most a shy kiss, leaning on each other's shoulder. What takes place before the birth of the heroes' sons is chastely kept silent — all is "pure love." The role of women displayed in these SF novels is, to put it mildly, anti-emancipatory and reactionary.

How is the future depicted? The Earth is united under the leadership of the immortal Grand Administrator Perry Rhodan, who with his space fleet hurries from star to star, battling to retain his power: a leader on the march with his elite. The "Druuf," the "Third-Conditioners," and the "Terrorworms" want to snatch away some of his power, and stir up half the galaxy against the overlordship of Earth. Over the thousands of years that Rhodan has ruled his empire, not a single new leader has been found (his opponents were always lunatics, criminals, muck-rakers, drug addicts, or people wanting to bomb him off his throne); thus, responsibility lies heavy on the shoulders of the ruler. Politics are all left to the elderly, exactly as set out in Hans Kneifel's quotation at the beginning of this section. Progress is only interpreted as technical progress. Racial conflicts and warlike quarrels no longer exist on Earth (and there is complete silence about class struggles). On the other hand they do exist in space, all on a much greater scale. Instead of discrimination against and suppression of colored peoples, there's the suppression of other intelligent beings. Hurrah for progress! Socially, nothing happens: the Earth has its leader and is well satisfied. What is the common denominator of this ideology which Hans Kneifel has clearly stated? It is and remains fascist, a fact which all the apparently pacifist talk of Walter Ernsting does not alter. The authors — and also the fans — are part of a force which perhaps wants good, but creates evil.

It has to be assumed that firms that sell most of their products through ads give some thought to the sort of readership which provides them with the greatest market. If this is so, then the result of our statistics on advertising is not exactly a compliment to the Perry Rhodan readership. We found these types of advertising in 170 volumes:

Remedies for Physical Difficulties (from blushing to impotence): 26%.

Contacts (penpals/sex/marriage): 11%.

Weapons, Karate, & Hypnotism: 8%.

Magical Items, Practical jokes, & Mystic Amulets: 12.5%.

Assorted rubbish, from "tasteful gemstone candelabras" to ice-cubes shaped like Venus: 27.5%.

Further Education & Technical: 17%.

This means that Perry Rhodan readers are considered to be interested in technical things, but are mostly credulous and tasteless, and in need of remedies and contacts. The column "Weapons, Karate, & Hypnosis" implies that they would like to have power over their surroundings, and "Magical Items & Practical Jokes" that they have to search for peculiarities in order to be noticed. It is left to the readers of this essay to draw the parallels between the ideology previously noted and this analysis. In any case it is psychologically proven that people in need of remedies and contacts identify with the infallible heroes of romance, and that the bleakness of daily work in capitalism leads many people (mainly because of strong propaganda steering) to a flight into the adventures of so-called paraliterature rather than to political action.

How does the reading public react to this ideology? Can our thesis be verified by letters and other comments from the readership? In the Perry Rhodan Clubmagazin, a monthly publication of the "Central Secretariat of the PR Club," a certain Hans W. Gruber wrote on "Thoughts for an SF Series" over a period of no less than four months. In Vol. 3, 1972, there's an attempt to base the acts of violence in the Perry Rhodan series in public taste: "Action, excitement, and entertainment are expected.... In the actual case of the Perry Rhodan series that means detailed descriptions of space-battles, with loss of men and material, battles of annihilation on planets, and grandiose victories of Terran superheroes over alien intelligences."

This means: a) there is a readiness for any opportunism on commercial grounds; and b) public taste is considered as a static quality, and there is a complete denial of taste and opinion as things which evolve dialectically between the subject and the outside world and in which education (i.e. the outside world) is the primary factor. The reader certainly has a specific taste, yet it is changeable; if, from the first volume on, action had not squalled aggression, then the reader would simply not have had these expectations of the series. How far this education in force and aggression is propagated by the Perry Rhodan series may be seen in the following readers' letters: Heinz-Jürgen Schmidt from Villigst writes in vol. 488: "Perry Rhodan is described as a peaceful man who only defends himself when his life is threatened. That has been underlined in many volumes so clearly that it now seems boring to me. This pacifism is praiseworthy; however, the position of leader of the Solar Empire should be harsher, if not, in fact, dictatorial."

Reader Johannes Wenzel from Perlesheim: "Rhodan's humanity comes close to pacifism. Other readers share the same opinion. Perry wasn't so squeamish earlier on, when it was a matter of the good of mankind. Please, don't allow yourselves to be infected by the weak wave." And Josef Kapfhammer in vol. 109 asks: "Why hasn't there been anything more about the Halute Icho Tolot since volume 30? I'd like to see the living fighting machine from Halut in action again!"

Pacifism — defined quite falsely here, of course — is degraded to squeamishness, and the desire for acts of violence legitimized as the "good of mankind." The false opinions about the quality of these pulps are also documented by the following letter from physics student Peter Feistel from Grenoble, in vol. 353: "Since there is no sex or crime in the novels, Perry Rhodan can be recommended to children."

How far Perry Rhodan is free of crime has already been sufficiently shown by previous extracts from the texts. As an alternative to the cliché of the vamp the picture of the little wife in the kitchen offered here can only recommend itself to narrow-minded philistines: moral depravity exists whenever anyone makes another person servile and dependent; whether this condition of dependency manifests itself in the bed or in the kitchen is in the end irrelevant. Whoever believes that Rhodan's "pure love" makes this suitable reading for children, should first consider whether women are portrayed in it as socially active beings or whether the clichés presented cater only to patriarchal fantasies.

In what measure the Perry Rhodan series (and also its companion series, Atlan) sanctions the bourgeois role of women is proved by the following letter from Helga Friedel from Wolfenbüttel, in vol. 282: "Although I'm only a woman, I must say: what could Perry, Atlan, and the others do with a woman when they are away from home all the time?" To be able to do something with a woman, therefore, you have to be at home. A woman can consider herself fortunate if a man has cast his eye on her, and she is missing the experience of her life if he does not do that. It is no accident that exactly this type of woman is praised in the marriage ads placed in these pulp series by the dating agencies: "Who will take a homeless refugee girl from the home? Michaela, 23, has no one in the world . . . and waits every day for you . . . for a quite simple man, preferably from the country . . . and if you say to me: Dear Michaela, come to me straightaway ... then a girl will snuggle softly up to you.... Please ... please ... write to your bride, Michaela." And even worse: "Where is my home? . . . where is a heart that beats for me? . . . who will take me, a poor orphan, away from strange people? . . . who will take me to himself? When one is so homeless, so poor, so forsaken . . . then one yearns doubly for love . . . for dear parents-inlaw . . . for a quite simple man . . . Who would leave Uschi, 22, in the lurch?"' 12

The position of such a submissive woman is no better than that of a prostitute; the only difference is in the skillful concealment of the fact that she too must sell herself under the mantle of a reactionary sexual morality in the bourgeois institution of marriage.

What importance does the Perry Rhodan reader attribute to his reading? Matthias Hommel from Mannheim confesses in vol. 353: "I was agreeably surprised and had not thought that the series would bring such precise, exciting pictures of the future." And Günter Depta from Wetzlar says in vol. 109: "The Perry Rhodan novels offer completely new dimensions and you can learn to think in terms of the possibilities of human life in the future. You feel interested in the interesting ideals of Perry Rhodan...."

Thus there is no criticism of the contents in the letters of Perry Rhodan fans. This is not simply the result of the readers' critical incapacity, but mainly of the fact that a consistent criticism of the contents would almost certainly destroy the whole fannish existence: any frank critic would simply turn away in horror as soon as he had seen through the mechanism. Thus, only technical criticisms are found in readers' letters, though these are certainly both violent and frequent: reader Karl Stöber from Bochum, in vol. 475: "I'd like to inform you that in novel No. 463 a mathematical error occurs. You gave the Siganian Harl Dephin (16.43 cm high, but similar to normal Terran in bodily proportions), a weight of 810 grammes. There's a mathematical law which states that the volume of a body is decreased by the factor k-3 when the linear mass is decreased by the factor k-l . . . the Siganian should thus have a weight of about 65 grammes."

There's no shortage of plot suggestions in the readers' circles either. Manfred Scholling from Hamburg writes: "Why doesn't Bully [a Perry Rhodan character] see as much action as Perry Rhodan? Perry Rhodan flew to the Cappins, where he had many adventures. He was also driven off course to M 87. Bully on the other hand must stay with the home fleet. Here's my proposal: Bully could be kidnapped again, with Gucky, Atlan, and Fellmer Lloyd, then Perry Rhodan would have to search for them. One more thing: why aren't the birthdays of Perry Rhodan and Bully celebrated'?" The missing birthday celebrations certainly seem to provoke some displeasure: reader Edilbert Kirk from Lübeck notes in vol. 282: "Have you thought about Perry Rhodan's forthcoming 500th birthday? Atlan discovered in volume 50 that Perry Rhodan was born on 1 7th June, 1936. The action has now reached the year 2436."

The names and spheres of interest of the Perry Rhodan clubs also underline the implicit ideology of the series. These are some of the local clubs: The Mutant Corps; The Yellow Conquerors; Thunderbolts [in English in the original]; The Energy Commandos; Solar Defence: Terra Masters; Guardians of the Light; Solar Empire; Conqueror of Space [in English in the original]; The Immortals; Mutantos Gigantos; and so on. As for the spheres of interest of individual clubs, they include, in condensed form (almost every single interest crops up two or three dozen times): UFOs, astrophysics, cosmonautics, von Däniken, rocketry, atomic physics, astronomy, building model spaceships, photographing scenes from the Perry Rhodan novels, building spaceships (!), building rockets, physics, the future of spaceflight, parapsychology, space technology, "space information," modern and futuristic handguns and portable weapons, chemistry, hobbies, futuristic defensive and offensive weapons, planning, development, and building of flight worthy rockets and UFOs, military technology, and the design of fictional spaceships.

It is also interesting that far more Perry Rhodan clubs exist in the country than in the big cities. This may well be traced to the lack of cultural opportunities in small communities (which only offer social interaction in, to exaggerate, skittle clubs and church choirs) so that the pressure to get together results in fan clubs of all kinds. This supports our thesis that the Perry Rhodan reader is, as our statistics suggested, poor in social contacts.

The intention of this article is not to insult the authors of the readers' letters. What we wanted to show were the ideas that this sort of SF spreads, and to do that we did not want to use the texts only. This work is not intended as a full dissection of so-called paraliterature scornfully undertaken from the vantage point of the literary critic (to do that, not only the contents, but the formal elements and the language would have to be examined). Rather, it was our intention to show how dangerously this kind of literature can affect the thinking of the readers, in that, behind a screen of verbal progressiveness it imposes concentrated reactionary ideas.


* The SFS editors were writing and phoning Ace Books at least half a dozen times during most of 1978 in order to get copies of the US edition of the novels discussed in this essay, but without success. Since the earlier Perry Rhodans were not available in bookstores either, we have had to abandon our normal procedure of identifying English-language editions and quoting from them wherever possible; the identification of the US editions of the first two books has been effected by consulting the N.S.F.A. Index to Perry RhodanUS Edition: 1-25 and . . . 26 50 (Cambridge MA: 1973 and 1975). The damage is small however, because the stylistic values of verbal expression are in this series near to zero anyway. We would like to gratefully acknowledge the help of Mr. Bruce Robbins and Mr. Hans-Joachim Alpers. (DS)

1. All quotations from Reinhard Merker, Warum Fans?, published by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Spekulative Thematik (Bremerhaven, 1972).

2. Alles über Perry Rhodan (Munich, 1973).

3. All "volume" numbers refer to Perry Rhodan novels.

4. Solar System 7, journal of the Perry Rhodan club, Frankfurt am Main, 1969.

5. From a letter from former Perry Rhodan fan Wolfgang Moldon.

6. Alles über Perry Rhodan, p.6.

7. Merker, see note 1.

8. Alles über Perry Rhodan, p.4.

9. Statements in possession of Wolfgang Moldon, intended for publication in his fanzine, Phoebe.

10. Cesare Lombroso, L'Uomo delinquents (Turin, 1876), p.248.

11. Quoted in Wolfgang Röhl, "Brüder des 3. Jahrtausends," Konkret, No. 11 (1969): 18-21.

12. Taken from amongst many such ads in Perry Rhodan, vols. 549 (p.67) and 524 (p.67).



In this article, an attempt will be made to examine the phenomenon of the Perry Rhodan series. It is impossible to understand it as a purely "aesthetic" fact, or to analyze it as "literature" in the usual sense of literary history and criticism concerned with masterpieces of assumedly profound humanist significance. Nonetheless, Perry Rhodan is very important for SF and modern paraliterature: it is the bestselling SF series in West Germany and possibly in the whole world (ca. 120 volumes have so far been published by Ace Books in the US too). It is probably impossible to understand some crucial aspects of contemporary SF without understanding such a commercial success. We shall begin with a brief sounding into five selected novels from the first 100 books, continue with an examination of the sociological milieu commercially created in order to further the sale of the series, and end with a consideration of the series as ideology--the binding link between the novels' writers and promoters on the one hand and the fans and the readers on the other.

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