THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND by Stephen Baxter
Gollancz / 464 pgs / £18.99 hardback / ISBN 1473205093
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin.
This novel is a sequel to H G Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and the new story revolves around the Martians return to Earth in the 1920’s. Whilst other authors have previously written sequels, this version is listed as “authorised by the H G Wells Estate” and I presume was timed to coincide with 2016 being the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth. The author, Stephen Baxter has previously written another authorised H G Wells’ sequel, THE TIME SHIPS which was a follow-up to THE TIME MACHINE and marked the centenary of that book’s publication.
It is fourteen years since the Martians invaded England, and the world has changed considerably. Examination of wrecked and abandoned Martian machinery has led to significant advances in technology. History as we know it has changed as a consequence of the original invasion; most significantly, a recovering UK formed an alliance with Germany, and a “Schlieffen War” between Russia and Germany is still ongoing. The governments of Earth scan the skies, but as another close approach between Earth and Mars nears, they are confident that their progress and prior knowledge means that this time they are prepared for the Martians. But when another Martian fleet begins to land, it becomes obvious that the Martians have also learned lessons and adapted so that yet again mankind is in deadly peril.
Writing in another author’s world, especially one so well-known and iconic as this one, is always going to be a difficult task. What is done very well is the attention to the details of 1920’s geography, vocabulary and appropriate technology. It is clear that a considerable amount of research has gone into writing this novel, and I also enjoyed the little nods to other people or works connected to Mars, ranging from Schiaparelli through to Grover’s Mill.
The worldbuilding is excellent and like the original, there are some suitably gruesome accounts of the Martians’ treatment of captured humans. However, I found myself a little frustrated with the pacing. The first section of the book, which deals with the initial landing, consolidation and the flight of refugees is the most successful in my opinion. After that however, there is an interlude of a couple of years where the Martians in England spend a long time just consolidating this bridgehead, without any attempt to spread further, and I found the urgency and menace of the story evaporating in this section. Towards the later part of the book there are further landings around the world, and the pace picks up but it felt to me like there was then too little space left to give these invasions sufficient details and thus engage the reader.
Fans of Wells’ will appreciate that the narrative does link back and reference the original story. It also includes many of the characters from the Wells’ story, including the original narrator, Walter Jenkins and the artilleryman, although much of the tale is now told by Julie, the sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins. However, I felt that the major focus was on the plot and that thus the characters often seemed to lack depth and I often found it hard to care much about their struggles.
Finally, it was always going to be difficult to find an ending with equivalent impact to the original. Without giving away the conclusion, this story finishes with a resolution that feels a little too “easy” and hence unsatisfying, although there is a “epilogue” which leaves scope for future developments. To summarise, this is a “curate’s egg” of a book – there are some very good bits but other bits that didn’t work for me. CG
(ARC kindly donated at Gollancz SF Gateway anniversary party)