Friday, January 27, 2023

Perry Rhodan 39: The Silence of Gom

There’s something awe-inspiring about the German Perry Rhodan science fiction series. It was created by German writers K. H. Scheer and Walter Ernsting in 1961. The series is still being published. Each issue is novella-length and to date there have been over 3,000 issues. Yes, 3,000. They have sold in total over two billion copies. Yes, two billion. Not two million.

Ace Books in the US published English translations of the first 126 novellas between 1969 and 1978. The first 39 were also published in Britain, by Futura.

The Perry Rhodan series comprises very long story arcs, some extending to as many as 100 issues.

I recently picked up Perry Rhodan 39: The Silence of Gom by Kurt Mahr. The English translation dates from 1974 but I assume the original German edition dates from the early 60s.

Since this one comes in the middle of a story arc I wasn’t sure how much sense it would make reading it on its own. But it does work, to some extent, as a standalone novella. It helps if you do a bit of reading on the background to the series. That background is a bit bewildering but it’s certainly interesting. Apparently it starts with the first moon mission, commanded by Major Perry Rhodan. They discover an extra-terrestrial spaceship and advanced alien technology. It’s the beginning of a human galactic empire. And apparently the series covers a timespan of thousands of years and several different universes!

The Silence of Gom begins with Bell and his crew of mutants landing on the surface of the planet Gom. Their commander Perry Rhodan is in orbit around the planet, in the mother ship.

Gom is not a very inviting place. It’s an immense planet with twice the gravity of Earth. It’s home to plant life which may or may not be sentient.

Our spacefarers soon discover that Gom is home to much stranger things than semi-sentient plants. There are living things there which really stretch the definition of living things. Really weird things that also may be sentient, but which really really stretch the definition of sentient. They may be hostile, or friendly, or totally neutral. It’s very hard to tell. They eat spaceships, but they may not mean any harm. Or they may mean a great deal of harm.

Bell and his crew have other things to worry about. Other creatures that are definitely hostile, although again whether they possess intelligence is an open question.

Taking refuge in a tunnel seems like a good idea at the time. It turns out to be a vast network of tunnels. Bell and his crew are inside something but they have no idea what it is that they’re inside. They also have no idea how to escape.

The mutants possess paranormal powers. Some are telepaths. Some have telekinetic powers. Others have much stranger abilities. These abilities make them extremely useful and their powers are going to be put to good use.

It is obvious when reading this novella that you’re jumping into the middle of an ongoing story arc but it’s not as much a problem as I feared. Enough background information is provided to make sense of what is going on. Earth is threatened with war and the mission to Gom is part of Earth’s defensive strategy.

I get the impression that even though this series comprised lengthy story arcs each novella can function as an independent episode in a longer story. I had no problems figuring out what was going on.

The author certainly manages to create some interesting aliens. I like my aliens to be truly alien-like and these creatures certainly qualify on that count. There’s obviously a fascination with concepts like hive minds.

There’s no shortage of action, with some epic battles and some narrow escapes.

The tone is pulpy, but not as pulpy as I had expected. Kurt Mahr (one of the countless writers who contributed to the series over the years) appears to have been a perfectly competent science science fiction writer. The characters don’t have a huge amount of depth but the interactions between them have at least some degree of complexity. There’s a bit of tension between Bell the commander and Marshall, one of the telepaths. There’s no conflict between them, such enough of a hint of mild tension to keep things interesting.

There’s one female member of the crew, Betty Doufry. She’s a telepath and while she’s not quite a clichéd kickass action heroine she can handle herself in a crisis.

The Silence of Gom is pretty decent science fiction. If I can manage to get hold of a few consecutive novellas in the series so I can at least read a few in sequence then I’d be willing to read more Perry Rhodan. Recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment