Book Report: After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer (1934, 1973)

Book coverWhen I bought this book seventeen years ago, I mentioned that I’d read When Worlds Collide, the book that precedes it, in middle school or high school. Now, I think I read the earlier book in sixth grade: I think it was on the metal spinning racks of paperbacks that my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Pickering, had in her room so that students could borrow them and read them (I also think I read Profiles in Courage from that rack as well, and I’ve got my own copy somewhere here in the stacks). It’s weird to think you remember something more clearly after almost 20 years have passed (between the Good Book Hunting post and this, gentle reader, not sixth grade and now, which is about twenty and a half years, give or take). I doubt my own memory on many things, and wonder if I’m retconning my initial reading of When Worlds Collide. Regardless, it has been a long time since I read the first book.

Fortunately, though, the first chapter is a brief recap: Astronomers discover a pair of runaway extrasolar planets that are hurtling into our solar system. The larger of the two will likely smash into the Earth; the smaller of the two looks like it might be habitable, and it looks as though Sol will capture this planet into an elliptical orbit ranging from just outside Venus’s orbit to just inside Mars’s orbit. So a group of scientists decide to build a couple of space ships to try to reach the second planet and save some bit of humanity. But they encountered challenges, including those not selected to escape storming their compound in Michigan, before they were able to lift off successfully in two ships. The recap kind of fleshed out what I’d remembered. Which was planets colliding and some scientists getting their rockets off.

So this book handles what happens next. The smaller of the two ships lands successfully and scouts for a place to build their homes that will weather the long and harsh winter (and the long and harsh summer). They discover the roads of a civilization on the planet from the time before it went extra solar; that the tailies have also crashed onto the island (sorry, that’s Lost which came later) the other ship from their group crashed elsewhere, and that the Nazis landed on the moon first (sorry, that’s Rocket Ship Galileo which came out later) a Russian/Asian communist rocket reached the planet first, and they’re months ahead in learning how to use the perfectly preserved machines in the domed cities of the missing aliens, and they’re using the technology to conquer the new world.

So most of the book kind of sets this up in an kinda talky way. It has a lot of action, but it has long sets where people tell other people what they’ve done and a lot of musing on the enormity of what happened–and not in a particularly individual or character-building way. And as we came closer to the end, I wondered if it was setting things up for a third book, where the protagonists would tackle the commies over a longer timeline and maybe unravel further mysteries of the human-like aliens who populated the planet so long ago, but, no. The commies cut the power to the city that the protagonists hold, so a small group hides their plan to infiltrate a third city to use its service conduits to infiltrate the enemy city. But they don’t report in. And, finally, and awfully quickly in the narrative, a pretty woman steals a car from the protagonists’ city, runs to the antagonists’ city, ingratiates herself to the bad guy leader, kills him in his bath, disables his minions, and allows the English survivors of another rocket’s crash to rise up and liberate the city/planet. And finis! But that resolution comes out of nowhere in the course of a couple of pages–I have to wonder if the authors were running out of runway in the magazine space they had left–this book was originally serialized, apparently–so they just wrapped it up in a hurry. And rather unsatisfyingly. No wonder it takes me several decades years between them. It is not a series, though–just the two books. So I don’t have another one to look forward to in 2064.

A couple things, though: One, notice the copyright dates above. This book first came out as a book in 1934, and it was still in print forty years later. That’s not a bad run, ainna? I cannot imagine much written now that will be in print in 2064.

Second, the book proved that I’m reading my library in the proper order. Page 107:

Eve disappeared into the darkness which was all but complete. In the north, toward Bronson Beta’s pole, hung a faint aurora, and above it shone some stars; but most of the sky was obscured. There was no moon, of course. Strange, still, to expect the moon–a moon now gone with “yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.”

That’s from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám which I just read, and I was pleased to recognize it. Of course, the book’s characters casually alluded to and quoted Shakespeare and Kipling. A testament probably to the benefits of a turn-of-the-20th-century British education, and it’s rare to find that sort of thing and references to God in anything past the middle of the 20th century.

Oh, and a note about the 1973 paperback. The print is tiny, and the pages’ luminosity has faded. It was reading tiny black marks on a beige or darker background. I contemplated cheaters, gentle reader, but they didn’t help a whole lot. Perhaps this will get me out of my habit of reading paperbacks and into hardbacks. Maybe large print books at that.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

1 thought on “Book Report: After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer (1934, 1973)

Comments are closed.