Perhaps because this novel originally appeared as a magazine serial, it is more of a page-turner than its predecessor. Then, too, cliffhangers were harder to come by in a book that assured us of the end of the world practically from page one. Here, the story is all about the survivors of Earth trying to make a new planet their home.
That planet is Bronson Beta, once the Earth-sized moon of Bronson Alpha. Bronson Alpha, if you recall, was a planet about the size of Neptune that smashed into Earth, utterly destroying it. The collision nudged Bronson Beta out of its orbit, but it was captured by the Sun in an elliptical orbit that, according to the best calculations, would take it nearly as far out in space as Mars and nearly as close to the sun as Venus. That means very cold winters and scorching summers. When the little band from Earth lands, Beta is on its way out.
But the coming cold isn’t their only worry. For one thing, their leader, Dr. Hendron, is showing the strain of his frenzied work to save at least a small portion of humanity. For another, Bronson Beta was previously inhabited, and its domed cities — still powered by some unknown energy — hint at the possibility of surviving natives, who might not take to human interlopers. Most worrisome of all, though, is that theirs was not the only ship from Earth to make it to Bronson Beta. At least one other made it, filled with “Asiatics” mostly (Russians and Japanese), with a few Germans thrown in for good measure, whose intent is to make Bronson Beta their own.
It’s hard to top Armageddon. But the really interesting thing about this sequel is that Wylie and Balmer don’t have to. When Worlds Collide focused so closely on the destructiveness of nature that they were left with an ideal “out” for this book: the destructiveness of mankind. As ludicrous as is the idea of a few hundred people on the surface of a planet the size of Earth making war on each other, it is, sadly, quite believable and, given the circumstances, all but inevitable. The circumstances being, that never will a better opportunity arise for world domination.
Like the first book, the authors mix their themes very well. Rebuilding, exploration and discovery, conflict, and romance — there’s always something going on. I could quibble. I could say the Bronson Betans aren’t as “alien” as they should have been; that the exploration of their cities isn’t nearly as intriguing as, for example, the exploration of the alien ship in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. But that’s what it would be — quibbling. Clarke, after all, had an entire book to talk about one thing; for Wylie and Balmer, it’s but one piece of a much larger puzzle.
It’s a fun adventure and an exciting story and, if it has a flaw, it is that it isn’t, in the end, also a little scary. Without spoiling anything (I hope), let me just say that if you aren’t afraid to wipe Earth out of the cosmos in one book, you shouldn’t be afraid to make your characters work a little harder to make a home of their new planet.
This is a great companion for When Worlds Collide, with all the characters from the first book and even some of the jealousies: Tony, for instance, still wrestles with Eve’s feelings for the rugged and handsome David Ransdall. It also features a few new additions to the cast, far and away the best of whom is Marian Jackson, about whom it is said, “The girl might be mentally a moron; but morons…had their points.” Indeed they do. Hers is a small role, but one of critical importance, and the story always livens up when she’s present.