A runaway planet hurtles toward the earth. As it draws near, massive tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions wrack our planet, devastating continents, drowning cities, and wiping out millions. In central North America, a team of scientists race to build a spacecraft powerful enough to escape the doomed earth. Their greatest threat, they soon discover, comes not from the skies but from other humans.
A crackling plot and sizzling, cataclysmic vision have made When Worlds Collide one of the most popular and influential end-of-the-world novels of all time. This Bison Frontiers of Imagination edition features the original story and its sequel, After Worlds Collide.
About the Author
Philip Wylie (1902–71) wrote several classic works of speculative fiction, including Gladiator and The Disappearance, as well as a popular work of nonfiction, A Generation of Vipers.
Edwin Balmer (1883–1959), an engineer, was also a writer of detective stories and speculative fiction. Introducer John Varley is an acclaimed science fiction writer and a winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. His books include Wizard, Demon, and Steel Beach.
Read an Excerpt
When Worlds Collide
By Philip Wylie, Edwin Balmer
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1933 Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie
All rights reserved.
The Amazing Errand
THE secret itself was still safe. It was clear that the public not yet could have learned it. No; the nature of the tremendous and terrific Discovery remained locked in the breasts of the men who had made it. No one had broken so badly under the burden of it that he had let slip any actual details of what had been learned.
But the fact that there was a secret, of incomparable importance, was out.
David Ransdell received plenty of proof of it, as he stood at the liner's rail, and the radiograms from shore were brought to him. He had had seven, all of the same sort, within the hour; and here was another.
He held it without opening it while he gazed across the sparkling water at the nearing shores of Long Island beyond which lay New York. Strange that, in a city which he could not yet see, men could be so excited about his errand, while the fellow-passengers, at his elbow, glanced at him with only mild curiosity at the sudden frequency of radiograms for him.
They would be far less indifferent, if they had read them.
The first, arriving less than an hour ago, offered him one thousand dollars for first and exclusive information — to be withheld from all others for twelve hours — of what he carried in his black box. It was signed by the most famous newspaper in New York.
Hardly had the messenger started back to the radio station when a second boy appeared with a message from another newspaper: "Two thousand dollars for first information of your business in New York."
Within ten minutes the offer had jumped to five thousand dollars, made by another paper. Plainly, the knowledge that there was a secret of utmost importance had spread swiftly!
The offer remained at five thousand for twenty minutes; indeed, it dipped once to twenty-five hundred dollars as some timid soul, on a more economical newspaper, ventured to put in his bid; but quickly it jumped again and doubled. It was ten thousand dollars, in the last radiogram which Dave had opened. Ten thousand dollars cash for first information, which now needed to be withheld from others only for six hours, regarding what he was bringing to New York.
The thrilling and all-absorbing fact of it was that David Ransdell himself did not know what he carried which could become of such amazing concern. He was merely the courier who transported and guarded the secret.
He could look in his box, of course; he possessed the key. But he had the key, as also he had custody of the heavy black box, because those who had entrusted it to him knew that he would never violate his word. Least of all, would he sell out to others. Moreover (if curiosity tried him beyond his strength) he had Professor Bronson's word for it that the contents of the box would be utterly meaningless to him. Only a few men, with very special training, could make out the meaning.
Cole Hendron in New York — Dr. Cole Hendron, the physicist — could make it out. Indeed, he could determine it more completely than any other man alive. That was why Dave Ransdell, from South Africa, was bound for New York; he was bringing the box to Cole Hendron, who, after he had satisfied himself of the significance of its contents, would take the courier into his confidence.
Dave gripped the rail with his aggravated impatience for arrival in the city. He wondered, but with secondary interest only, under the circumstances, what it would be like in America. It was the native land of his mother; but David had never so much as seen its shores before. For he was a South African — his father an Englishman who had once ranched in Montana, had married a Montana girl and had taken her to the Transvaal. Dave had been born at Pretoria, schooled there, and had run away from school to go to war.
The war had made him a flyer. He had stayed in the air afterward, and he was flying the mails when, suddenly, at the request of Capetown, — and he did not yet know from how high an official source, — he had been granted a special leave to fly a certain shipment of scientific material to America. That is, he was instructed to fly it not only the length of his ordinary route, but to continue with it the length of Africa and across to France, where he was to make connection with the first and fastest ship for New York.
Of course, the commission intrigued him. He had been summoned at night to the great mansion of Lord Rhondin, near Capetown.
Lord Rhondin himself, a big, calm, practical-minded man, received him; and with Lord Rhondin was a tall, wiry man of forty -odd, with a quick and nervous manner.
"Professor Bronson," Lord Rhondin said, introducing Ransdell.
"The astronomer?" Dave asked as they shook hands.
"Exactly," said Lord Rhondin. Bronson did not speak at all then, or for several minutes. He merely grasped Dave's hand with nervous tightness and stared at him while he was thinking, patently, of something else — something, Dave guessed, which recently had allowed him too little sleep.
"Sit down," Lord Rhondin bade; and the three of them seated themselves; but no one spoke.
They were in a big, secluded room given to trophies of the hunt. Animal skins covered the floor; and lion and buffalo and elephant heads looked down from the walls, their glass eyes glinting in the light which was reflected, also, by festoons of shining knives and spears.
"We sent for you, Ransdell," said Lord Rhondin, "because a very strange discovery has been made — a discovery which, if confirmed in all details, is of incomparable consequence. Nothing conceivable can be of greater importance. I tell you that at the outset, Ransdell, because I must refrain for the present from telling you anything else about it."
Dave felt his skin prickling with a strange, excited awe. There was no doubt that this man — Lord Rhondin, industrialist, financier and conspicuous patron of science — thoroughly believed what he said; behind the eyes which looked at David Ransdell was awe at knowledge which he dared not reveal. But Dave asked boldly:
"Why can't I tell you?" Lord Rhondin repeated, and looked at Bronson.
Professor Bronson nervously jumped up. He stared at Lord Rhondin and then at Ransdell, and looked up from him at a lion's head.
"Strange to think of no more lions!" Bronson finally muttered. The words seemed to escape him involuntarily.
Lord Rhondin made no remark at this apparent irrelevance. Ransdell, inwardly more excited by this queerly oppressive silence, at last demanded:
"Why will there be no more lions?"
"Why not tell him?" Bronson asked.
But Rhondin went abruptly to business: "We asked leave for you, Ransdell, because I have heard that you are a particularly reliable man. It is essential that material connected with the discovery be delivered in New York City at the earliest practicable moment. You are both an expert pilot who can make the best speed, and you are dependable. If you will take it, I will put the material in your care; and — can you start to-night?"
"Yes sir. But — what sort of material, I must ask, if I am to fly with it?"
"Glass?" Dave repeated.
"Yes — photographic plates."
"Oh. How many of them?"
Lord Rhondin threw back a leopard-skin which had covered a large black traveling-case.
"They are packed, carefully, in this. I will tell you this much more, which you may guess, from Professor Bronson's presence. They are photographic plates taken by the greatest telescopes in South Africa, of regions of the southern sky which are never visible in the Northern Hemisphere. You are to take them to Dr. Cole Hendron in New York City, and deliver them personally to him and to no one else. I would tell you more about this unusual errand, Ransdell, if the — the implications of these plates were absolutely certain."
At this, Professor Bronson started, but again checked himself before speaking; and Lord Rhondin went on:
"The implications, I may say, are probably true; but so very much is involved that it would be most disastrous if even a rumor of what we believe we have discovered, were given out. For that reason, among others, we cannot confide it even to you; but we must charge you personally to convey this box to Dr. Hendron, who is the scientific consultant of the Universal Electric and Power Corporation in New York City. He is now in Pasadena, but will be in New York upon your arrival. Time is vital — the greatest speed, that is, consistent with reasonable safety. We are asking you, therefore, to fly the length of Africa along the established routes, with which you are familiar, and to fly, then, across the Mediterranean to France, where you will board a fast liner. You should reach Dr. Hendron not later than a week from Monday. You may return, then, if you wish. On the other hand" — he paused as crowded considerations heaped in his mind, — "you may be indifferent as to where you are."
"On the earth," added Professor Bronson.
"Of course — on the earth," Lord Rhondin accepted.
"I would go myself, Ransdell, you understand," Bronson then proceeded. "But my place, for the present, certainly is here. I mean, of course, at the observatory. ... It is possible, Ransdell, in spite of precautions which have been taken, that some word of the Bronson discovery may get out. Your errand may be suspected. If it is, you know nothing — nothing you understand? You must answer no inquiry from any source. None — none whatever!"
At the landings during the fast flight north along the length of Africa, and in France, and during the first four days aboard the transatlantic vessel, nothing had happened to recall these emphatic cautions; but now, something was out. A boy was approaching with another radiogram; and so Ransdell swiftly tore open the one he had been holding:
"Twenty thousand dollars in cash paid to you if you grant first and exclusive interview regarding the Bronson discovery to this paper."
It was signed by the man, who, an hour ago, had opened the bidding with one thousand dollars.
Dave crumpled it and tossed it overboard. If the man who had sent it had been in that trophy-room with Bronson and Lord Rhondin, he would have realized that the matter on their minds completely transcended any monetary consideration.
* * *
The evening in New York was warm. It pressed back the confused uproar of the street; and the sound which ascended to the high terrace of the Hendron apartment seemed to contain heat as well as noise. Eve found that her search for a breath of fresh air was fruitless. For a moment she gazed into the mist and monotone that was Manhattan, and then stared over the city toward the channels to the sea.
"Suppose those lights are the ship's?" she asked Tony.
"It left quarantine before seven; it's somewhere there," Tony said patiently. "Let's not go back in."
His cigarette-case clicked open. The light of his match made a brief Rubens: buff satin of her bare shoulders, green of her evening dress, stark white of his shirt-bosom, and heads bent together. Some one inside the apartment danced past the French windows, touched the door-handle, perceived that the terrace was occupied, and danced away to the accompaniment of music that came from the radio.
"Guests take possession these days," Eve continued. "If you suggest bridge, they tear up the rugs and dance. If I'd asked them to dance, — and had an orchestra, — they'd have played bridge — or made fudge —"
"Or played District Attorney. Why have guests at all, Eve? Especially to-night?"
"Are you, really? Then why did you have them, when for the first night in weeks the three thousand miles of this dreary continent aren't between us?"
"I didn't have them, Tony. They just heard we were home; and they came."
"You could have had a headache — for them."
"I almost did, with the reporters this afternoon. This is really a rest; let's enjoy it, Tony."
She leaned against the balustrade and looked down at the lights; and he, desirous of much more, bent jealously beside her. Inside the apartment, the dancing continued, making itself sensible as a procession of silhouettes that passed the window. Tony laid his hand possessively on Eve's. She turned her hand, lessening subtly the possessiveness of his, and said:
"You can kiss me. I like to be kissed. But don't propose."
"Why not? ... See here, Eve, I'm through with Christmas kisses with you."
"You know what I mean. I've been kissing you, Christmases, for three years; and what's it got me?"
He put his hand on her shoulder, and turned her away from the panorama of the city.
"Is there some real trouble, Eve?" he inquired gently.
"I mean that's on your mind, and that stops making tonight what it might be for us."
"No; there's no trouble, Tony."
"Then there's somebody else ahead of me — is there? Somebody perhaps in Pasadena?"
"Nobody in Pasadena — or anywhere else, Tony."
"Then what is it, to-night? What's changed you?"
"How am I changed?"
"You drive me mad, Eve; you know it. You're lovely in face, and beautiful in body; and besides, with a brain that your father's trained so that you're beyond any other girl — and most men too. You're way beyond me, but I love you; and you don't listen to me."
"You're not listening to me even now. You're thinking instead."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Oh, I can do that, too."
"I know; then why don't you — and stop thinking?"
"Wait! Not now, Tony. ... Do you suppose that's the ship?"
"Why do you care? See here, Eve, is there anything in that newspaper story your father and you have been denying all afternoon?"
"That something unusual is up between all the big scientific leaders."
"There's always something up in science," Eve evaded....
The doors were flung wide open. Music blared from the radio. In the drawing-room a half-dozen people continued to dance. Another group surrounded the punch-bowl. The butler was passing a tray of sandwiches. Some one stepped out and asked Eve to dance, and she went in with him.
Tony wandered in from the terrace.
The butler stopped before him. "Sandwich, Mr. Drake?"
"Keep three of the tongue for me, Leighton," Tony said solemnly. "I want to take them home to eat in bed."
The butler nodded indulgently. "Certainly, Mr. Drake. Anything else?"
"Possibly an anchovy."
"Very good, Mr. Drake."
An arm encircled Tony's broad shoulders. "Hello, Tony. Say — give me the low-down on what shot the market to hell's basement to-day."
Tony frowned; his eyes were following Eve. "Why do you compliment me with thinking I may know?"
"It's something happened in Africa, I hear. Anyway, the African cables were carrying it. But what could happen down there to shoot hell out of us this way? Another discovery of gold? A mountain of gold that would make gold so cheap it would unsettle everything?"
"Cheap gold would make stocks dear — not send them down," Tony objected.
"Sure; it can't be that. But what could happen in South Africa that —"
Tony returned alone to the terrace. His senses were swept by intimate thoughts of Eve: A perfume called Nuit Douce. Gold lights in her red-brown hair. Dark eyes. The sweep of a forehead behind which, in rare company, a woman's instincts and tenderness dwelt with a mind ordinarily as honest and unevasive as a man's. All the tremendous insignificances that have meaning to a man possessed by the woman he loves.
He stood spellbound, staring through the night. ... Anthony Drake was an athlete — that would have been the second observation another man would have made of him. The first, that he owned that uncounterfeitable trait which goes with what we call good birth and breeding, and generations of the like before him.
With this he had the physical sureness and the gestures of suppressed power which are the result of training in sports. He had the slender waist of a boxer, with the shoulders of a discus thrower. His clothes always seemed frail in comparison with his physique.
He also had intelligence. His university companions considered it a trivial side-issue when he was graduated from Harvard with a magna cum laude; but the conservative investment-house with which he afterward became affiliated appreciated the adjunct of brains to a personality so compelling. His head was large and square, and it required his big physique to give that head proportion. He was blue-eyed, sandy-haired. He possessed a remarkably deep voice.
He was entirely normal. His attainments beyond the average were not unusual. He belonged more or less to that type of young American business man upon whom the older generation places its hope and trust. Eve was really a much more remarkable human being — not on account of her beauty, but because of her intellectual brilliance, and her unique training from her father.
Yet Eve was not the sort who preferred "intellectual" men; intellectualism, as such, immensely bored her. She liked the outright and vigorous and "normal." She liked Tony Drake; and Tony, knowing this, was more than baffled by her attitude to-night. An emotional net seemed to have been stretched between them, through which he could not quite reach her; what the substance of the net was, he could not determine; but it balked him when, as never before, he wanted nearness to her. He believed her when she told him that her tantalizing abstraction was not because of another man. Then, what was its cause?
Excerpted from When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie, Edwin Balmer. Copyright © 1933 Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE,
Chapter 1: The Amazing Errand,
Chapter 2: The League of the Last Days,
Chapter 3: The Strangers from Space,
Chapter 4: Dawn After Doomsday?,
Chapter 5: A World Can End,
Chapter 6: First Effects,
Chapter 7: Some Demands of Destiny,
Chapter 8: Marching Orders for the Human Race,
Chapter 9: How the World Took It,
Chapter 10: Migration,
Chapter 11: The Last Night in New York,
Chapter 12: Hendron's Encampment,
Chapter 13: The Approach of the Planets,
Chapter 14: The First Passing,
Chapter 15: Reconnaissance,
Chapter 16: The Saga,
Chapter 17: The Attack,
Chapter 18: The Final Defense,
Chapter 19: Escape,
Chapter 20: Day,
Chapter 21: Diary,
Chapter 22: Ave Atque Vale,
Chapter 23: The Last Night on Earth,
Chapter 24: Starward Ho!,
Chapter 25: The Journey Through Space,
Chapter 26: The Crash of Two Worlds,
Chapter 27: The Cosmic Conquerors,
About the Authors,