The red flash disappeared as quickly as it had come and became as that on the right, a mushroom of coloured cloud. Dick Adams's first thought was that a fire had broken out simultaneously in New York, perhaps, and somewhere near the Baltic. Even as the thought occurred to him, however, there were several similar happenings in Britain, France, Spain, in the Atlantic itself, and between Norway and Sweden. Then Derek came in to report.
__'Bombing in progress,' he said in an agitated, frightened voice.
__Dick Adams's heart sank. His first impulse was to descend at once, to get down there and find out what the hell it was all about.
__Here is science fiction at its most amazing!
__Nine men and five women go up in an experimental Space Ship. Whilst they are away from Earth, a war breaks out, H-bombs being used, and the Earth goes up in flames.
__The members of the party are isolated in space... the only survivors of a global holocaust.
__The rivalries and conflicts that result between them, largely due to the uneven numbers of the sexes, make dramatic reading indeed!
A mixed group of fourteen people are stranded on the Wheorld—"she is in fact just what you thought she was, a giant wheel"—when the world's powers destroy each other.
The small surviving population includes five women: "Every ship will carry them. The jobs they're wanted for are jobs for women—earth contact, secretary, cook, nurse and stewardess," the professor Trevor Wellis tells pilot Dick Adams, although the news isn't greeted to warmly. "Don't tell me our armies of the future are going into battle with a lot of screeching females at their elbow?".
When nuclear war breaks out, the inhabitants of the Wheorld quickly degenerate into petty bickering. Two years later, the "sulphuric-like" smoke clears over the planet and they find that it has tilted on its axis. The women are mostly cooped up together leaving a crew of randy men to play cards and discuss who they fancy (except the chaplain assigned to the Wheorld who spends his time comparing Christianity and Islam). Another two years pass and tensions are growing: some of the men mutiny, believing that Adams is running a private harem. The mutiny is soon quelled.
More years pass. Almost out of food, Adams decides to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and plans have to be made for a possible future. Adams introduces a No Marriage law and there is much philosophising over the notions of love and marriage. Back on Earth they find food supplies in the shape of giant, clawless lobsters. With shelters built, the small community begins, naturally, to pair off and the No Marriage ruling is dropped when one of the girls falls pregnant.
The ending is surprisingly dark as one of the crew, and then a second, is murdered. In fact, Split World is quite a surprising book—although not wholly in a good way: clearly, the initial set-up (five women, nine men) is deliberately designed to create tensions and the book eschews action for discussions about love and marriage. Potentially intriguing, except that all the sexual barriers broken in the 1960s are still firmly in place in this late 1950s novel and for the most part the attitudes towards women of fifty years ago are on show—the women stay in their quarters while the men discuss what should be done with them. The only twist is that the character through whose experiences most of the story is told is the first to be killed and one of the female characters, Martha, is one of the strongest in the book.
However, the book doesn't live up to the hype offered in an American edition (The Last 14, Chariot Books, 1960), where Barr was described as "the new British Science Fiction discovery" and the book as "a brilliant novel by a writer destined to join the ranks of the greats" comparable with On the Beach (Nevil Shute) and The High and the Mighty (Ernest K. Gann).
Interestingly, the first edition was © Tyrone C. Barr, rather an oddity with Brown Watson/Digit Books, adjusted to © Brown Watson in the second edition. It would be interesting to know what the copyright notice in the US edition said.