Wylie, Philip (1902–1971)

Philip Wylie is best known outside the science fiction community as an essayist and novelist who
wrote contemporary novels as well as occasional
thrillers. He first turned to speculative themes with
Gladiator (1930), the story of a superman who
must go through the painful process of learning
that physical prowess does not in itself make one a
superior or even happy person; eventually the hero
comes to understand that love is more important
than strength. The novel was turned into a motion
picture in 1938 and has been credited with being
the inspiration for the
Superman comic book series.
Wylie’s second genre novel was
The Murderer Invisible (1931), quite obviously inspired by The INVISIBLE MAN (1897) by H. G. WELLS. As in the Wells
classic, a man with the power of invisibility decides
that this condition makes him untouchable, and
he commits a series of murders before being apprehended. Both of these early novels are somewhat
awkward by contemporary standards, but are still
Wylie’s most famous novel is
COLLIDE (1932), which he wrote in collaboration
with Edwin Balmer. Two rogue planets enter the
solar system, dooming the Earth, but a handful of
people escape on an experimental spaceship and
eventually colonize a new world in Earth’s place. A
After Worlds Collide, was published the following year. The first volume subsequently became
a film classic in 1951. Wylie then largely abandoned science fiction until 1950, although
Smuggled Atom Bomb (1948) might be marginally
The Disappearance (1950) is a lengthy allegory in which all the men in the world disappear
into another version of Earth, and each gender
must develop a new society in the absence of the
other. This rather artificial situation allows the author to contrast the results, which are not as different as one might expect, as well as to deliver a few
satiric jabs.
Increasingly concerned about the dangers of
nuclear war and other environmental issues,
Wylie’s subsequent fiction became more didactic.
Tomorrow! (1953) is an extremely graphic account
of a nuclear war, based on studies of the Hiroshima
attack and its aftermath. Wylie clearly meant to
shock his readers into opposition to nuclear
weapons. He would later return to this theme in
Triumph (1962), in which virtually everyone on
Earth has died and the handful of survivors, torn
by considerable interpersonal turmoil, shelter
within a small bunker.
Los Angeles: A.D. 2017
(1971) was written from Wylie’s own screenplay, in
which a man awakens from suspended animation
to find that Earth has become a hostile ecosystem
inimical to humanity, thanks to pollution and
other environmental crimes. His pessimism about
the future was even more obvious in
The End of the
(1972), in which the planet’s ecology begins
to disintegrate in so many different areas that it is
impossible to concoct a plan that will offset all
problems. Presumably, humanity is doomed.
Spy Who Spoke Porpoise
(1969) also contains some
marginal science fiction elements. Wylie’s later fiction mixed effective narrative passages with
pointed but often distracting sermons. His earlier
novels conveyed serious concerns in a more subtle
and effective manner, and they were also much
more successful as entertainments.