Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > After Worlds Collide

After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie
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Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's 1933 After Worlds Collide is a tolerable 2.5- to 3-star sequel to the equally 1930s-ish When Worlds Collide. On the one hand, the grand, foreboding doom of the first novel is lost, for...well, Earth already got ka-blooied by the direct impact of Bronson Alpha, the wandering gas giant that had been torn loose from its own sun millions of years previously by the close approach of another star. On the other hand, now that the hundred-odd survivors aboard the Space Ark under the command of the impossibly skilled and iron-willed physicist Cole Hendron and handsome young Harvard grad, businessman, and general man-about-town Tony Drake have reached Bronson Beta, the habitable terrestrial companion of Bronson Alpha, it is time for more traditional pulp-fiction adventures.

There are plenty of technical problems to take care of, along with sense-of-wonder matters of planetary exploration. The air is fine, of course--sure would have been a short book if it hadn't been--and the renewed growth of once-frozen native plants gives the botanist samples to catalog, and to analyze for edibility and nutritional value as well. The colonists find an ancient road of the long-dead former inhabitants, smooth untarnished metal and with curves banked for very high-speed travel, with a signpost of elegant but unreadable characters, plus a single wrecked vehicle from which the savants of course can learn much. After using some of the smaller atomic tubes of the Space Ark as propulsion for a newly constructed rocket-plane, the explorers find huge domed cities left by the long-extinct Other People...who, it turns out, looked almost exactly like humans of Earth, although, despite several mentions of evolution, no one discusses how this might happen. The cities are mysterious and automated, strange and beautiful to the human eye, yet with rooms that can be identified as restaurants and department stores and-- Well, such are the 1930s.

At least some of the unquestionables of the previous book now are questioned, however. Tony finds himself bemused now, for example, at the surety with which Hendron in putting together his select group of survivors decided Who Would Die And Who Would Live. And Tony's former servant, the Japanese Kyto, who on Earth had been appropriately inscrutable and possessed of mildly comic fractured English, turns out to be a learned professor who spoke unaccented English from boyhood--the latter due to missionaries, of course.

One thing we never really explore, though, is the question of leadership. Why, until Hendron's death, is every decision left to him? Yes, he came up with the idea to emigrate, and he spearheaded the effort to build the Space Ark--oh, and to harness atomic energy, by the way--and of course he also is surrounded by experts in other areas of science. Yet there is no hint that he has a special council to help him, and every decision is his, as if he were not only Eve's father but everyone's. And, as befits Wylie and Balmer's very broad-brush and dated narrative style, the rest simply cheer. Most likely this is not uncommon for the period of writing, however.

In addition, underlying the whole endeavor--mentioned repeatedly, but unable to be discussed and explored in the 1930s in the way that, say, Robert A. Heinlein can from the 1960s through the '80s--is the question of sex. Since very early on in the first book we have seen that although Tony is in love with Hendron's daughter, Eve, marriage at first is forbidden, because continuing the human species on the new planet will require some non-monogamous breeding of, ahem, the most forthright and yet noble and scientifically ordained variety. Now, this is quite a thing, and we are told that since numbers of male and female through accident ended up being unequal, there could be polyandry or polygamy. Yet Wylie and Balmer will not settle on exactly the great minds must decide; the closest we get is when Tony and Eve at last marry near the end of the book, and there is the notion that he still might have to be loaned to Shirley Cotton, a particularly languorous and voluptuous crew member, for breeding purposes. Tough break, old chap, but survival of the human species requires great sacrifice, eh? We never hear, however, of whether any other couples even hold hands and pine for marriage--such things appear to be controlled by the Will Of Hendron rather by any individual impulses.

Finally, in addition to the occasional accident and disease and the climate made alternately frigid or scorching by the planet's now-eccentric orbit, there also exists the deadly danger of another band of survivor-types that escaped Earth: a weird group of Germans, Russians, and Japanese who are...well, basically, some sorta Commies, and particularly virulent ones. (Maybe, though, this actually is little less improbable than the alliance of white-supremacist Germany with Japan just half a dozen years later on our own real-world timeline, hmm?) In any event, these oppressors are particularly keen on capturing the women of the Space Ark for breeding or closely allied purposes, and they begin with the technological upper hand of months' work at deciphering the science of the Other People, so things look dire, but-- Well, suffice it to say that right will prevail.

After Worlds Collide may not be a book that a reader not already interested in the history of science fiction would pick up, let alone continue reading after a few pages, but anyone who has made it through the more famous When Worlds Collide indeed will find the sequel of interest.

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December 29, 2017 – Shelved
December 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

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