Saturday, January 15, 2005

Perry Rhodan Co-Creator Dies

Word tonight via the Space Opera Yahoo group that Walter Ernsting, co-creator of the long-running German science fiction series Perry Rhodan, passed away earlier today. Ernsting wrote many of the early novels, under his own name and the pseudonym Clark Darlton. The Perry Rhodan series started in Germany in 1961 and is still being published. According to the official website for the series, over 3000 Rhodan novels have been published, and evidently the series is still going strong.

Probably, though, most of the people reading this blog know Perry Rhodan, if at all, from the American reprints published in the Sixties and Seventies by Ace Books. The covers, at least starting out, were by Gray Morrow and were certainly eye-catching. I bought the first three volumes in the reprint series when they came out and read through them quickly. Each book reprinted two of the German novels, which were about 25,000 to 30,000 words each. The editor of the series was Forrest J Ackerman, and I believe the translations were done by his wife Wendayne. Though the stories were set in the United States and the hero was an American astronaut, no real attempt was made to American-ize the prose, so the result was an odd, sometimes awkward style. That didn't really matter to me then. The stories, which concerned the discovery by American astronauts of the remnants of an alien civilization on the moon, quickly turned into the sort of vast, sweeping, world-destroying space opera that I ate up with a spoon.

But after reading the first few volumes, I sort of drifted away from the series. After all, there were a lot of other things being published around that time that I wanted to read: Doc Savage, Conan, the Saint, hordes of comic books . . . and that only scratched the surface. Perry Rhodan got left behind.

Some years later, I decided on a whim to collect the rest of the Ace series. It wasn't too hard, and soon I had hunted down all the English-language Perry Rhodan books, over a hundred in all. I even had the subscription-only chapbook editions published after Ace dropped the series. I skimmed through the ones I had read before and then started reading the others in order. I made it about a fourth of the way through the series before I stopped. It wasn't a conscious decision; I just didn't get around to reading any more of them. But I still have all the books, and sometimes when I see them on the shelves, I think that I'm going to read some more of them . . . one of these days.

So rest in peace, Walter Ernsting. I enjoyed your work, and so did a lot of other people.


Cap'n Bob said...

I never read a Rhodan but one of them had an interior illustration by Bob Juanillo, so they've always had a soft spot in my heart. Bob was my partner in my first fanzine. He was a very talented artist (talented person, period) and a couple of years after our zine he made friends with Forry Ackerman, who saw to it that the illo was published. The illo itself showed a mouse in space with a fishbowl helmet, and looked like one of the mice from some gag strips we did for the zine.
Sadly, Bob died young and his vast talents were never exposed to the world as they should have been.

Frederick Paul Kiesche III said...

Now here's a bit of strangeness. I got a e-mail from one of my Perry Rhodan groups mentioning this posting...and I go to the posting and find that you learned the news on the Space Opera group that I founded and run!

"It's a small world, after all..."