Martian Redux Created by ggrihn on 12/8/2017 5:59:24 PM
The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter. Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor.
The Massacre of Mankind is a sequel to H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, by novelist Stephen Baxter, who also wrote The Time Ships, a sequel to Wells’ The Time Machine.
Baxter takes an approach to the subject matter that is in some ways quite different from Wells’. For one thing, the characters have names. Wells’ original is written as a diary or contemporaneous record, and the writer did not name himself, or the people he ran across during the “first” Martian War. In this book we find that his name is Walter Jenkins, writer. He is obsessed with the Martians’ eventual return, has taken treatment for what we now call post-traumatic stress from Sigmund Freud, and is divorced from the wife he reunited with at the end of The War of the Worlds. His brother, Frank, then a medical student, is now a practicing physician, also divorced. Julie Elphinstone is Frank’s ex-wife, who has built a career as a journalist. When the new book opens, she is in the United States. Albert Cook is the name given to the artilleryman that Jenkins encounters during the The War of the Worlds, and Eric Eden is a British Army officer who is one of the few people to survive seeing the inside of an active Martian cylinder.
It is 1922. Telescopic observation has detected the commencement of the long-dreaded second invasion. Deeply scarred by the first Martian incursion, Britain has become a near police-state. She has largely withdrawn from European entanglements, save for an alliance with the most technologically advanced European power-Germany. As a consequence, when war broke out in 1914, Britain initially took no part, resulting in the swift defeat of France in what has become known as “The Schlieffen War.” (The Schlieffen Plan was the German army’s plan for war against France and Russia. It was created by the German Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen in 1903 the request of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was revised in 1905. It called for invading northern France via the “Low Countries” in hope of knocking France out of the war quickly.)
The Martians again make Britain their initial target. Their technology has not changed, but their tactics have evolved, and the first “landing” turns out to be a devastating bombardment that destroys much of Britain’s armed might deployed to receive the Martians, and allows the invaders time to establish their beachhead in the second wave.
Baxter’s story recounts the two-year occupation by the Martians in detail, and sometimes seemingly in real time. Told mostly from the viewpoint of Julie Elphinstone, her adventures replay much of the experiences of the first Martian war—retreating ahead of the war machines, and making a perilous way through London and its outskirts. She escapes to Paris, then goes back into the occupied zone on a secret mission.
One problem I had with this book was the persistent impression that Baxter was trying to do Wells one better: giving his own version of the flight from the Martians was part of that. In addition, most of the characters, resentful at being portrayed unflatteringly and without names in “The Narrative,” as Walter Jenkin’s book is known, are slighting of it, and refer to Jenkins as “the unreliable narrator.” Wells himself is referenced offstage as “The Year Million Man” (a reference to his being the author of “The Time Machine”) who is part of a think-tank on Martian issues, but who is not respected and his ideas not valued. Baxter adds somewhat to Wells’ story, introducing slave races from Mars and Venus that serve the Martians.
Ironically, while Baxter’s characters obliquely criticize Wells/Jenkins denouement of “the Narrative” as smacking of deus ex machina, in Baxter’s story the Martians withdraw from Earth due to a far larger and more unlikely deus ex machina.
While generally fairly tightly written, there is one huge plot hole I must mention. When the Martians return to Earth, they have immunized themselves against Earth’s germs. How they could possibly have done that when no Martians, and no tissue samples, escaped from Earth the first time is not even considered, and the Earth people don’t even speculate about it. It is taken as fact that the Martians communicate telepathically, even over interplanetary distance, so they would have known how their fellows died, and maybe had an idea what sort of thing caused it, but I see no way they could have come up with an effective immunization on that basis.
Reading through The Massacre of Mankind was more of a job than a joy. It is basically a do-over of The War of the Worlds, with more detail and more characterization—a novel, rather than a “narrative,”—but tells us little that is actually new.
The Massacre of Mankind