Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Detour From Startling

As 2007 creaks to a close we will be taking a detour from our coverage of Startling Stories for a short time. We have now come to the four issues my collection is missing, (four stinking, lousy issues!!!) so we shall digress for a little while.

When Worlds Collide, by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, tells of scientists discovering two rogue planets entering the solar system. Calculations reveal that the larger of the two bodies, Bronson Alpha, named in honor of Sven Bronson, the astronomer who discovered them, will collide with the Earth. Bronson Beta, the smaller body, will take roughly the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Scientists, led by engineer Cole Hendron, rush to build a rocket to take a select group of people to Bronson Beta in an attempt to save mankind from extinction.

The novel was originally serialized in Blue Book from September 1932 to February 1933. A recent rereading shows that the novel is a bit creaky, showing its age, yet the story is still worth reading. It is especially interesting to note the authors' idea of who is worthy of being saved to populate the new earth. This is especially noted in the treatment of a mob who attack the scientist's camp. Still, the PC police shouldn't have too much to complain about. (But, given the opportunity, I'm sure they will.

Wylie and Balmer wrote a sequel, After Worlds Collide (catchy title), serialized in Blue Book November 1933 through April 1934. In many ways this is the better of the two books, but it is best to read them as one saga. The two ships carrying the refugees from the now-destroyed Earth, land on Bronson Beta, many miles apart. After reuniting they discover domed cities left by the planet's original inhabitants, and also find at least two other ships reached the new planet. One is from England and the other contains the obligatory bad guys. In this case they are a mob of dedicated Communists from Russia, Germany and Japan, intent on setting up a Worker's Paradise, with themselves in charge. They manage to gain control of the city that provides all power to the other domed cities on the planet.
The prose is not so florid in this book and the characters come across as more human. The sense of wonder created as the protagonists explore the empty cities alone makes this a worthy read. The authors continue to build up the plot very nicely as more secrets of the new world are revealed. The only flaw is, after a big build-up, the crisis is resolved too fast to believe. (I am reminded of a Mad parody of Gone With The Wind as condensed for Reader's Digest. "It looks like war, Miss Scarlet. Fiddle-dee-dee. Boom! I'm glad that horrible war is over.") Perhaps they ran over their word count. Still, it is good reading.
Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the first book, intending it for Cecil B. De Mille. There is a picture of De Mille next to an artist's rendering of the deluge striking New York. For some reason he never made the movie, which is too bad. This is the kind of story that was made for the De Mille treatment. The film did get made for Paramount by George Pal in 1951, With De Mille as the uncredited Executive Producer. While it has its moments, it isn't one of Pal's best films, but was a worthy follow-up to Destination Moon. Casting is good, and some of the visuals are excellent. However the footage at the end, representing the new planet, was intended to be for preview purposes, but Paramount rushed the movie into release, leaving the unsatisfactory ending in place. Still, it has its moments and the launching of the ship via a long ramp is very impressive. Other effects are also very good for the time, especially the various scenes of destruction.
A remake of When Worlds Collide has been announced, to be directed by Stephen Sommers, but it is still listed as in pre-production.
We shall return, maybe before 2008, but, no promises.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.


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