Socialist Worker

Massacre of Mankind avoids butchering HG Wells’s masterpiece

Issue No. 2579

Its written by someone who understands the original

It's written by someone who understands the originalWho would have thought that HG Wells’s Martian invaders, who came so close to winning their war of occupation in the seminal War of the Worlds, would come back and have another go?

Actually, quite a few people have. But while it may not be an original idea, Stephen Baxter’s sequel to War of the Worlds is great fun and written by someone who understands the original.

War of the Worlds came out of the “future war” fiction begun by George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking, which recounts a fictional invasion of Britain by Germany. Wells subverted patriotic conventions to question imperialism, colonialism and racism.

Wells’s Martians treat the British brutally.

The book outraged the bourgeoisie because it cut too close to the bone of their imperial adventures.

Stephen Baxter’s vision of a second Martian invasion is told through the recollections of Julie Elphinstone, sister-in-law to the original’s narrator.

It opens 14 years after the first Martian invasion. As a consequence of the war, the course of history has been altered. There was no World War in 1914—instead Imperial Germany and Tsarist Russia have been fighting the “Schlieffen war” for over six years when the Martians return.

The Martians obliterate Amersham, set up camp, then take their war on tour.

Elphinstone is at the heart of the resistance, riding in steampunk-style airships and tanks.

Along the way Baxter has fun referencing historical figures such as Kemal Ataturk and Mahatma Gandhi as their lives might have played out in his alternative history.

It’s an enjoyable novel which captures the style and flavour of the original without being as radical.

The Massacre of Mankind
Written by Stephen Baxter
Published by Orion Publishing
Authorised by the HG Wells estate

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 7 Nov 2017, 14:26 GMT
Issue No. 2579
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.