If you ever read and enjoyed H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds then this one might be for you, as this offering by established science fiction author, Stephen Baxter, is its sequel.
It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.
He is right.
So has Baxter been successful in keeping the tone and feel of Wells’ book? Yes, I think he has. Walter who was the main protagonist in The War of the Worlds, has spent his time since then exhaustively researching the Martians and is convinced they will return. He’s not the only one. Britain is quite a different place as society is more militaristic, poverty is widespread and life is a lot more drab as everyone has been impacted by the damage inflicted by the Martians. Julie, our protagonist who also made an appearance in The War of the Worlds, is shocked at how much England has been affected on her return. I really enjoyed the fact that Baxter has not just reprised a Martian invasion – he has also constructed an alternate history for Europe and America in the aftermath of the initial invasion.
Once it all starts to kick off again, the feel of the action with the pace, the tone and some of the characters from Wells’ apocalyptic adventure returning makes Baxter’s tale feel very familiar, in particular the artilleryman’s appearance is every bit as disturbing as before. Although there are some important differences – the Martians have learnt some vital lessons after their first unsuccessful attempt to conquer Earth, which transformed the familiar into an engrossing page-turner. Initially, Baxter emulates Wells’ action-filled chaos as the British military are all set to engage the invasion force – it shouldn’t come as a huge shock if I reveal the carefully laid plans by the best military minds don’t go to plan. I really enjoyed Baxter’s trick of using historical figures in his catastrophic scenario, such as Winston Churchill.
Like Wells, Baxter regularly cuts away from his main protagonist to other characters in key positions as the Martians tighten their grip on Earth by targeting cities around the world. Will humanity survive, or is Mankind doomed to unremitting slavery for the rest of millennia? We learn of other humanoid races who accompany the invasion force – and there is a real sense of shock when we learn who they are and where they come from. For the purposes of this book, Baxter has continued using the version of the solar system provided by Wells. So not only is Mars inhabited, but also Venus and Jupiter. As for the final twist that brings the Martian advance to a halt – it certainly provides an interesting outcome. I really enjoyed the idea once I got used to the notion, particularly as Baxter then builds upon it and gives a fascinating scenario.
There is scope for another book in this series and I’m very much hoping Baxter writes it – I found The Massacre of Mankind as compelling as The War of the Worlds and would love to read more set in this traumatised, alternative world.