After Worlds Collide: A near-perfect sequel that’s in need of a sequel itself

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After Worlds Collide Mass Market Paperback – 1981 by Philip Wylie (Author), Edwin Balmer (Author)After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer science fiction book reviewsAfter 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…

After Worlds Collide (1934) was a sequel to the 1933 science fiction novel, When Worlds Collide, both of which were co-written by Philip Gordon Wylie and Edwin Balmer. After Worlds Collide first appeared as a six-part monthly serial (November 1933–April 1934) in Blue Book magazine. Much shorter and less florid than the original novel, this one tells the story of the survivors’ progress on their new world, Bronson Beta, after the destruction of the Earth, as two ships carrying American colonists, as well as two colonizing ships made up of German, Russian, and Japanese survivors, all explore a new and dangerous landscape.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. These sound like really exciting novels!

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