Expedition Vega

This past week, I finished reading the second story arc in J-Novel Club’s translation of the Perry Rhodan NEO series. This arc of eight novellas was presented under the collective title, Expedition Vega. When the first arc, Vision Terrania, ended, astronaut Perry Rhodan, who had been to the moon and made first contact with aliens, had established his city Terrania in the Gobi Desert, and had won over the Chinese General Bai Jun who had laid siege to the city. What’s more they had rescued alien Crest de Zoltral from the hands of the Americans. However, the Americans still held technology from Crest’s race, the Arkonides. Expedition Vega opens as Perry Rhodan leads an expedition to recover that technology, so it doesn’t stay in the hands of just one government.

Perry Rhodan NEO: Expedition Vega

Once this recovery mission comes to a conclusion, Perry Rhodan’s people detect a distress signal from the star Vega. Even though Terrania still faces many challenges, Rhodan decides he can’t ignore the signal and puts together a team, which includes Crest’s adopted daughter, the Arkonide Commander Thora, to investigate. Rhodan and his team arrive at Vega and discover a race of reptillian creatures called the Topsidans have taken it upon themselves to conquer the system. The natives of Vega are blue-skinned human-like creatures known as the Ferron. Perry Rhodan and his team are attacked and soon find themselves separated and fighting desperately just to stay alive.

Soon after Perry Rhodan and his team leave the Earth, another alien species turns up. These are the Fantan, who collect anything and everything that happens to grab their interest. It can be something as mundane as a porta-potty to something as crucial as a major bridge or a rescue vehicle. It can even be people. Reginald Bull and Eric Manoli, two of the astronauts who went to the moon with Rhodan and met the Arkonides, are soon collected along with two young mutants. This group eventually teams up with the alien mutant mouse-beaver known as Gucky and begin to plot a way to escape the Fantan

As all of this is going on, humans have learned that Arkonides visited Earth in the distant past and there’s an ancient Arkonide base and ship under the ocean. The humans on Earth hope to use this ancient technology to find a way to get rid of the Fantan who are proving far more than a mere nuisance.

Through the course of these eight novellas, these very disparate plot lines play out and eventually find their way to a common solution. There were many great moments in the series. I enjoyed how Perry kept trying to find a way not only to survive being stranded in the Vega system, but kept looking for ways to bring peace to the system again. One of my favorite moments in this arc was when Reginald, Eric, and Gucky put on the musical The Pirates of Penzance as a way to distract the Fantan and try to escape. Another fun moment came in the novella “A Step Into the Future” by Bernd Perplies, when he introduces a reporter named Dayton Ward, a name strongly associated with Simon and Schuster’s Star Trek novels in the United States.

As it turns out Bernd Perplies has translated several English-language Star Trek novels into German and was a co-author of the Star Trek: Prometheus novels. I wrote to Dayton Ward and asked if he and Perplies knew each other and Ward confirmed they had, in fact, corresponded. I know Dayton because we were co-editors on our own book of exciting space tales called Maximum Velocity. If you’re a fan of exciting space adventure like Germany’s Perry Rhodan series, I suspect you’d enjoy our short story collection. You’ll find stories by people like Mike Resnick, Irene Radford, and C.J. Henderson. There are even stories by Dayton and me. You can pick up a copy at https://www.amazon.com/Maximum-Velocity-Full-Throttle-Space-Tales/dp/1614755299/

I’m sorry to say, I don’t see any forthcoming volumes of Perry Rhodan NEO listed on J-Novel Club’s website. I’m hoping they’re just taking a brief hiatus, otherwise, I’ll have to dust off my German skills to continue into the next 26 story arcs!

Black Leviathan

Black Leviathan

On the surface, Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies is a retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, where dragons are hunted by airship crews. The dragon slayers use kite-like craft to get close to the dragons so they can kill them with spears. I was interested in this story because it reminded me of my short story, “The Slayers,” which appeared in the August 2001 issue of Realms of Fantasy Magazine. That story also retold Moby-Dick with an airship crew hunting dragons and using kite-like craft to get close to the dragons so they can be killed with harpoons.

Perplies’ version opens when a young, cocky captain named Adaron decides to test his skills against the biggest, baddest dragon he’s ever seen. The dragon, known as Gargantuan, is not to be taken down easily. He attacks Adaron’s ship and kills the woman Adaron loves. It will likely come as no surprise that Adaron is an analog for Melville’s Ahab and he becomes obsessed with killing the black dragon, Gargantuan.

Skip ahead a few years and we meet a young man named Lian. He stands in for Melville’s Ishmael. In Black Leviathan, he’s the son of a retired, drunken dragon slayer. Lian’s dad gets himself in trouble with one of the crime lords. Lian follows, hoping to help and ends up killing the crime lord’s son, but not before his dad is killed. Needless to say, Lian must get out of town fast. Fortunately, Adaron’s ship, the Caryola is looking for new crewmembers.

As the story continues, Perplies diverges even further from Melville. I’ll try to proceed without too many spoilers, but essentially there’s an arc where Lian falls from the ship, manages to survive and is ultimately rescued by Captain Adaron in a city of the bird people. Elements of this arc challenged my suspension of disbelief, but I persevered until a generally satisfying ending that wasn’t quite as grim as Melville’s.

In the vein of many fantasy novels, Perplies creates a world full of assorted races. We have bird-like people, dog-like people, and even dragon-like people. One of Caryola’s slayers rides a small dragon, which strikes me as being like a whaler riding a porpoise or an orca. The airships achieve lift by the use of magic crystals rather than gas bags. Apparently dragon hunters in this world are good about using as much of the dragon as possible. Unlike the whalers of Melville’s time, they don’t take the ten percent or so they need and throw the rest away.

Overall, Black Leviathan is enough different from “The Slayers” that I see it as standing on its own. If “The Slayers” were fleshed out into a novel, I would have gone in some very different directions. That said, there are just enough similarities, I can’t help wondering whether or not Perplies encountered my story at some point.

The Slayers

Two events happened in rapid succession to inspire my story. The first is that I’d recently heard Ray Bradbury speak at the University of Arizona where he told about his time working on the screenplay for John Huston’s version of Moby-Dick. Soon after, I was reading stories for my small magazine Hadrosaur Tales and read about three stories in a row that involved a knight hiking to a cave to kill a dragon. I wondered how I could tell that story differently and I was inspired to imagine airship crews hunting dragons. When the story was published, I sent it to Ray Bradbury and he responded by saying “The story is very fine.” Even though the August 2001 issue of Realms of Fantasy is long out of print, you can still read “The Slayers” for yourself. It’s available at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A9H1BSO/ and https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58303