After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer
At the conclusion of Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s classic sci-fi novel When Worlds Collide (1933), the Earth is spectacularly destroyed in a collision with the rogue planet that had been dubbed Bronson Alpha. Only 103 people, it would seem, managed to get off our world safely, aboard American scientist Cole Hendron’s rocket ship, and land on the rogue planet’s sister world, Bronson Beta. It is a marvelous cliffhanger of an ending, leaving the reader wondering just what might have happened to Hendron’s other, larger rocket ship, carrying around 400 more prospective colonists; whether any other ships from other countries managed to get away safely; how the 103 are possibly going to survive on this long-frozen, now-thawing world; and, most intriguingly, whether the million-year-old relics scattered about could possibly indicate an ancient civilization … and perhaps alien survivors. Fortunately, for all readers, those answers were forthcoming, in the authors’ follow-up sequel, After Worlds Collide.
The first novel had originally appeared as a six-part serial in the 9/32 – 2/33 issues of the hugely popular, 15-cent Blue Book Magazine, and nine months later, the sequel also made its debut there as a six-part serial, in the 11/33 – 4/34 issues, with its first appearance in book form the following year. Unlike the first novel, After Worlds Collide was fortunate enough to cop the cover illustration for one of its segments, in the December ’33 issue. (The covers of those other five depicted now entirely forgotten tales of Foreign Legion, mid-ocean, Yukon, Arabian and Coast Guard adventure.)
After Worlds Collide picks up immediately following the events of the first book. All the characters we’d encountered earlier — Hendron; his scientist daughter, Eve; Eve’s hopeful fiancé, Tony Drake; blustering French physicist Duquesne; British poet and ship’s diarist Eliot James — are back, and wondering just what to do first to get themselves settled on this barren new world. It is difficult to encapsulate the plot of this sequel without giving away any of the book’s numerous surprises, so let’s just say that before long, Hendron & Company discover that Bronson Beta contains the perfectly preserved remains of five ancient cities, protected inside their hemispherical bubble domes against the absolute-zero cold of the planet’s aeons-long journey across interstellar space. But the 103 survivors are soon alarmed by the appearance of one of the cities’ lark-shaped flying vehicles winging over their encampment. Someone else, it would seem, is currently residing on Bronson Beta! Is it possible that Hendron’s other ship, or some other craft from another nation, had also made the transit successfully? Or — an even more incredible thought — could some of the original inhabitants of the long-dead world possibly still be alive, after a million or so years?
If there were one word that would describe the totality of When Worlds Collide in a nutshell, that word would be “spectacle.” The original novel dishes out one spectacular set piece after another, be it earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, the destruction of the moon or, ultimately, the pulverization of Earth itself. After Worlds Collide could not possibly hope to equal such spectacles, but does amply contain one quality that was much esteemed in all Golden Age sci-fi; namely, a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is surely never greater than when Tony and Eliot manage to enter one of the five domed cities and explore the manifold marvels therein. The original book’s central suspense was of course tied in with whether or not Hendron’s people would make it off the Earth in time, and survive their journey through space. In the sequel, the suspense quotient is equally high, as our survivors contend with all the unknown elements of their new home world.
After Worlds Collide is indeed an almost perfect and seamless sequel, one that feels more like a Part 2 of a single, longish work. (Perhaps some enterprising publisher will see fit to release both parts in one volume in the near future.) As was the case in the first book, the sequel is pleasingly written, with a range of literary references (the Bible, the Pyramid Texts, Omar Khayyam, Shakespearean sonnets) that might surprise some readers. Regarding some of those Biblical references, it is amusing to discover that Hendron soon comes to think of himself as a latter-day Moses, leading his flock to the Promised Land; thus, the foes that the survivors eventually battle (I’m trying to be coy here) are given the nickname “Midianites”! Again, I really don’t want to ruin any surprises for prospective readers, and After Worlds Collide does surely contain any number of such. (I love the one concerning Tony’s obsequious Japanese manservant, Kyto.) Describing many of the book’s outstanding set pieces would entail leaking spoilers, but I can say that one such exciting sequence comes early on, and features the fragments of our old Moon descending on Bronson Beta in one monstrous meteor storm, making for a very tough first day on their new world for Hendron and Company!
Good as it is, After Worlds Collide does come freighted with some minor problems. As was the case in the first book, some moments will surely strike the modern reader as dated; for example, the inclusion of the lyrics of the 1905 (!) hit song “So Long, Mary,” and the one-time compliment “[he] is one of the whitest men I know.” (Ouch!) The authors are also guilty of some unfortunate word choices, such as when they describe the colonists’ personal belongings as a “melee of dunnage.” (I believe they were probably going for a “mélange of dunnage,” but who knows?) Dinitrophenol is spoken of as a kind of stimulating restorative after Hendron’s people are knocked unconscious in a gas attack, but as far as I can determine, that chemical compound is used primarily as a pesticide! Wylie & Balmer also get some of their Bronson Beta geography mixed up here, first saying that the domed city of Danot is south of Hendron’s people, and later implying that it is north. (It always bugs me when an author can’t keep his/her details straight.)
But perhaps the most egregious fault of this sequel is that it draws to its conclusion way too abruptly. How wonderful it would have been had the authors continued on with their fascinating premise in a third, maybe even fourth or fifth book! As the sequel ends, Bronson Beta is about to approach Mars in its new elliptical orbit around the sun, before swinging back toward Venus. It would have been interesting to see how the colonists managed to cope with their new subfreezing and, later, roasting environments, when they occasionally emerged from their conveniently provided protective metropolises. Too, the entire question of the new morality that Book 1 suggested might have to be established on Bronson Beta (along with the abolition of the traditional institution of marriage) is left hanging in the air. (I am very curious now to read Wylie’s 1951 fantasy The Disappearance, in which all the women on Earth suddenly vanish, to discover his thoughts regarding the separation of the sexes and the dissolution of marriage completely!)
I suppose, though, that a novel can be guilty of worse things than leaving its readers wanting still more. The bottom line is that After Worlds Collide is a near perfect sequel, but one that is in need of two or three sequels itself. Still, you will be breathlessly flipping those pages; of that I’m pretty sure…
These sound like really exciting novels!
You could do a lot worse, Jana….
They weren’t going to have to cope with the extremes, remember? Can’t say more without spoiling. I assume the “You’ve rated: 5” goes to the book itself. Not that the review deserves less, I enjoyed it. Where do comments go after you SIGN IN with Google??
Glad you enjoyed reading this review, Carly…as well as the book itself, of course!
I really enjoy both novels –I try to re-read them every couple of years. I also felt that AWC ended way too soon. A follow-on book is needed. I would love to know how mankind progressed.
Great review! Thanks.
My pleasure, Mark, and thanks for the kind words!
Hi recently found this website and really enjoy the book reviews. When world’s collide has been one of my favorite. Books/ movies I have always wondered what happened to the survivors, I read this book in the 1970’s and just now (December 2018 realized there was a sequel!😊 I would love to read it and am willing to buy rent it. Can someone contact me if you have a spare book and any other old science fiction books for sale. These would be for my own personal enjoyment and I would be willing to return them if so desired here is my email address and phone number. firstname.lastname@example.org or text me 4074842709 Wayne Dennis.
One of the finds on Bronson Beta was some sort of electric vehicle. Keep in mind when this was written.
They didn’t know exactly what the power source was, some sort of condenser? Fast forward to the 21st century and we now have full EV’s powered by lithium batteries.
When I first read both books many years ago, I never dreamed that I would someday have one of those futuristic vehicles parked in my own garage. Now I do!
Do you live in Daly City? Joe’s of Westlake?
No, if you are talking about the city in CA. One state over in just a middle class neighborhood. My wife and I both have Tesla’s and they are everything dreamed up in those novels and more.
I was probably in high school 50 some years ago when I read those novels and it’s amazing how much of the technology now exists and is accellarating faster by the month.
Wish I could be around for the 22nd century to see what that brings.
I agree with you that the books do a great job of anticipating the development of technology. Think about books written in 1933 and 1934 anticipating nuclear power, nuclear-powered rockets, space travel, electric cars, and geothermal heating. It is quite remarkable.
Did the authors of these 2 books ever intend to write more about these “explorers?” Probably not, what a shame
I could’ve used a third book, myself….
Same here. AWC provides many possibilities for a sequel. I read that George Pal was going to make an AWC movie, but he lost big dollars on Conquest of Space and could not fund it (see Wikipedia). It would even be a great opportunity for an animated movie.