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Title: After Worlds Collide
Series: Bronson Beta #2
Authors: Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Bronson Alpha, the larger of two rogue planets, collided with and destroyed the Earth, before leaving the solar system. However, its companion, the roughly Earth-sized Bronson Beta remained behind and settled into a stable, but eccentric, orbit around the sun.
In a desperate attempt to save a portion of humanity, the United States and several other countries feverishly constructed space arks to transport a select few to Bronson Beta. The Americans, under the leadership of Cole Hendron, managed to launch two space Arks, carrying hundreds of people, as well as the animals, plants and knowledge they will need to hopefully survive on the alien planet. Both American ships reach this new world, as do at least two others, though all four become separated and each is unaware of the fates of the others. There is a reference in When Worlds Collide to a French ship exploding in Earth’s upper atmosphere shortly after launch.
The survivors of Hendron’s own smaller Ark set out to establish a colony, aware (from a road they find) that an alien civilization once existed on Bronson Beta. Tony Drake and another associate scout out for suitable farmland, but during their return journey following the alien road, the two men come across a vehicle. After a mysterious disease strikes the camp, killing three colonists, Hendron forbids exploration, but some of the colonists defy him and strike out, bringing back wood from a distant forest. That night, an aircraft passes near the camp, beating a hasty retreat when the campfire is spotted.
Kyto, Tony’s Japanese former manservant, finds a piece of blank paper blowing in the wind: watermarked in English, it provides a first clue that another group of Earth survivors have landed on Bronson Beta. It is revealed later in the story that a group made up of Germans, Russians and Japanese intend to establish a “soviet” called “The Dominion of Asian Realists.”
At Hendron’s order, an exploratory aircraft is built from remnants of the Ark and its rockets, and Tony Drake sets off with writer Eliot James. They follow the road and discover a domed city. Finding a native poster portraying a Bronson Beta female, Drake and James learn that the Bronson Beta natives were essentially humanoid and had considerably higher technology than humanity. This species built five such cities to survive their world’s departure into interstellar space, but ultimately decided to simply become extinct after they were completed. Later in the story, once a linguist within the group deciphers the Bronson Beta language, it is learned that the five domed cities were named Gorfulu, Khorlu, Strahl, Danot and Wend by their builders.
The Americans explore the city (revealed to have been the one named Wend). Then they fly south and discover a searchlight in the dark. It comes from the second American Ark, which had a disastrous landing. There is a joyous reunion with its commander, Dave Ransdell. Ransdell’s camp also encountered a mysterious aircraft.
Tony and Ransdell fly back to Hendron’s camp, finding that Hendron is visibly deteriorating in health and mind. Tony is jealous that Ransdell apparently will become their new leader and will also have Eve, Hendron’s daughter, as his wife. Eve, acting as Hendron’s regent, sends Tony to deliver a radio to the Ransdell camp. The first message reports that Hendron’s camp has come under some sort of attack. Tony and one of Ransdell’s men investigate; they find everyone lying on the ground.
They discover everyone is alive, but drugged; they give the doctor antidotes and then hear an aircraft approaching, occupied by men with Slavic features. After the aircraft leaves, Tony prepares weapons (rocket tubes from the Ark) to defend the camp. An armada arrives soon afterward, but is totally obliterated.
The people gradually wake up. Hendron hands command over to Tony, to Ransdell’s relief. Tony decides to occupy one of the alien cities, not the one they found, but another one nearby (Khorlu — later renamed Hendron-Khorlu); they follow the road there.
During the trip, they encounter an alien automobile driven by a British woman; she explains that a British ship also made it from Earth, but landed in a lake; they were found the next day by the “Dominion of Asian Realists” group, which Hendron nicknames “Midianites”, and enslaved. The Midianites’ society is structured like an ant farm, the colony being all important and the people nothing, but the top rulers live luxuriously.
Tony’s group settle into the alien city, and tractors are sent to bring Ransdell’s contingent. Tony names their new home Hendron (later renamed as Hendron-Khorlu after the language of Bronson Beta’s original inhabitants is deciphered). Hendron himself died just as the convoy came into view of the city. The scientists manage, with the Briton’s help, to figure out how to charge the batteries and operate the machinery. They also find hangars housing alien aircraft; some are armed and used for air defense.
Meanwhile, the planet is approaching aphelion, and nobody is entirely certain that it is in a stable orbit around the sun. The weather gets colder, and one night, the Midianites, who have settled in the largest domed city (Gorfulu, which also controlled power to the other four cities), disconnect Hendron-Khorlu’s power supply. One woman defects to the Midianites, while four others attempt to reach Gorfulu using a high-speed car in an underground service tunnel. They are unsuccessful, but the female “defector” kills the Midianite leader, defeats his key people, and allows the British to take control.
The Dominion is defeated, and the victorious American/British coalition settles into the domed cities, along with the former Midianites. While challenges remain, their immediate needs for shelter, energy, and food are taken care of. The story ends on an optimistic note with a reference to the first pregnancy among the colonists, Eve and Tony’s, and the confirmation that they have passed aphelion and are definitely locked into orbit around the sun.
The last two times I recorded that I read I gave it 4stars. This time around it wasn’t so lucky. I suspect almost all of that change is completely on my part though.
This was a good sequel and it fit well with the first book. My main issue was how some of the characters reacted to the alien cities and the leftovers from their civilization. The biggest example of this was Tony Drake. In the first book he was Cole Hendron’s chosen successor and without Drake, it is doubtful the group would have made it over to Bronsen Beta. In this book, his role of leader hasn’t been confirmed yet but he’s out exploring one of the cities and he’s as nervous as a school girl about the aliens. He keeps expecting them to pop up and introduce themselves OR he’s obsessing about where all the bodies are. And Beta has supposedly been sailing through space for millions of years. For a hard headed, powerful man, Tony was acting out of character. I wish the authors had used someone else to display this fear instead of Tony.
The Axis and Allies thing going on between the groups was ok and was far enough removed in time to not bother me. Really, the authors didn’t spend much time on much sort of action in this book. The focus was on exploring the city and learning about the Beta’s. And that did get a good hard eye roll from me. In mere weeks or months at most, both groups had decoded an alien language and civilization well enough to not only work their cities but to understand them. And the aliens looked almost like humans, just “advanced”, ie, they didn’t wage war and had mastery of technology. It was a very 1930’s attitude for sure.
The other big thing for me was that the day and night on Beta were twice as long as what had been for Earth. And the humans just kind of roll with it. They go to bed late, get up early and ho-dee-hum, it’s business as usual. There’s also a throwaway line about how the Beta’s were used to such a long day and night. I’ve worked the night shift and trust me, it doesn’t take much to throw your whole life out of whack if your sleeping patterns are shifted. We were made for a 24hr cycle and to just shrug off the change is unbelievable to me. The part about the Beta’s is even more unbelievable because a day/night cycle is based on the rotation of a planet around its sun and we’re supposed to believe that Beta spin here in our solar system is the same as it was when it circled its original sun? Epic Eye Roll.
The overall story was good, but the tension of the world ending wasn’t there, the heroism caused by such tension wasn’t there and there were no cool “cataclysmic” scenes like in When Worlds Collide. If I re-read this series again, I’ll definitely be reading this sequel. When & After are a matched pair, just not equal.