Apocalypse 1954: Flying Saucers, Vulcanids, and Thorium Bombs

World in Eclipse, William Dexter (1954)

World in Eclipse is a mildly entertaining but second-rate cosy catastrophe story that leaves you with an itch to go read some Day of the Triffids or No Blade of Grass. It’s one of those ‘aliens save a small human remnant from armageddon and return them later to the devastated earth’ stories. (The worst book in this field has got to be A.J. Merak’s abysmal, 1959 The Dark Millennium.) Dexter’s plot could be mistaken for a parody of 50s sci-fi clichés, as you can see from the following brief plot summary (mild spoilers ahead):

The perennially dismissed reports of flying saucers turn out to be accurate accounts of visitors from planet Vulcan, which is undiscovered by humans because it is hidden in the asteroid belt. It turns out that the Vulcan natives are in dire need of a new planet, and since Earth seems like a great candidate, they’ve been kidnapping humans for centuries in order to bone up on the inhabitants of the future Vulcanid home. The Vulcanids have had their eye on other planets in the past, but unfortunately those planets were rendered uninhabitable after the native intelligent species annihilated itself other with weapons of mass destruction. The wary Vulcanids are keeping their eye on Earth’s geopolitical developments, determined to intervene if humans threaten to wipe each other out and leave the Earth a radioactive wasteland.

But the Vulcanids fail to appreciate human ingenuity when it comes to weapons of self-destruction. Humans manage to develop and accidentally deploy a thorium bomb (in the 50’s it was easy to invent a new fictional weapon of mass destruction by picking any actinide element and appending the word ‘bomb’), a bomb which somehow reduces nearly all living things to ashes while conveniently leaving inanimate structures intact. With the Earth now cleared of its inhabitants, the Vulcanids send their human ‘guests’ back to home to start eking out a living in the empty world.

At this point we’re about half way through the book, and since all of this is basically related in the blurb on the back cover, the story proper begins once the small band of humans have settled around the ruins of London. From there, the action picks up and we have Human-Vulcanid combat, flamethrowers, electric fences, the Last Cows on Earth, and finally, peace and harmony and interbreeding between Human and non-Vulcanid, humanoid aliens.

I found World in Eclipse entertaining, because just about any empty world story entertains me, especially one that capture the immediate post-WWII British sense of doom, but Dexter’s novel is a pale shadow of John Wyndham’s great disaster stories. One reason is that Wyndham’s fluid prose is much better, but another is that Dexter lacks Wyndham’s interest in the psychology of humans who are committed to rationality but living in catastrophic circumstances when their previous beliefs in the world are called into question. World in Eclipse is an entertaining but mediocre pulp adventure.

Stay tuned for more reviews in my survey of 60+ years of post-apocalyptic fiction.

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