The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, 2017

“It was beginning of the route of civilization, the massacre of mankind.”

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

This book is the sequel to H. G. Wells’ original Martian invasion, authorized by his estate.  Oh, come now.  You knew it was bound to happen sooner or later.  After all, it’s not like there haven’t been sequels to this story before, to say nothing of its myriad adaptations and sequels to those adaptations.  But this one is authorized!  I went into this with my eyes open, a grin on my face, and zero expectations beyond the hope of simply being entertained.  Even so… my loyal readers know exactly what to expect from me.  Let’s see how it stacks up, shall we?

According to the book, it’s 14 years after the original invasion… but it’s also after 1914 and all that implies because… reasons.  It sounds ominous because we all know about the Great War.  “Award winning SF author and Wells expert Stephen Baxter” spends a lot of time setting up our new narrator, the sister-in-law journalist of the original narrator.  Meanwhile, our original narrator is branded a lunatic as the original novel we got was his personally written and published account, and apparently the psyches had a field day with it, claiming he was mentally disturbed and divorced from reality even before the invasion according to his own words.

The Martians have somehow learned (we presume by telepathy) of the germs and Earth defenses, and they have launched not one cylinder at a time, but fifty.  Meanwhile, Earth has also presumably learned, but somehow the original invasion had no lasting repercussions outside of Horsell Common (where the very first cylinder landed), and the Germans pretty much started and ended World War I overnight because everyone else just either got their butts handed to them or laid down for the Kaiser.

Meanwhile, there are even greater intelligences staring at us from the Great Red Spot on Jupiter…

The Artilleryman from the original makes a return, which is cool, until you find out that he wrote a bestselling memoir about his original plans to repopulate the Earth underground, which made him some kind of rock star bad ass to the general population.  Instead of being out there learning how to survive with the Martian tech that’s been lying around, he’s made a living signing autographed copies of his book.

Once the second invasion gets going, the book jumps all over the place from battle site to battle site, with the resistance fighters being used only as a tool to ferry our narrator along so she can report on the war.  Anything resembling a seizure of opportunity is lost, and anything resembling quality storytelling — even at the pulp level — is so far divorced from the original novel that I truly cannot fathom why the estate authorized it, except maybe a way of reminding the public how incredible Wells’ invasion really was.

The world building is atrocious.  When my home city of Dallas temporarily lost gasoline supplies due to a hurricane in Houston a couple of summers back, it left more of an impact in the first six hours — to say nothing of how long it took to fully recover — than the Martian invasion did, according to this book.  I grant you, the British are a lot calmer and better disposed than us Texans when it comes to disasters, but there’s only so much stiff upper lip in Wells’ account.  I’m wondering if Baxter and I read the same book.  In fact, despite the devastation that was wreaked across the globe in a matter of hours the first time, Earth recovered in about a day and a half and went on to a more expedient version of World War I.  From a “Wells expert,” I expect far, far more, because this setup is not only horse puckey, it goes so far as to undermine the themes of the original novel.  Human civilization simply does not recover from something of that magnitude that quickly, nor does it proceed to the recorded historical events as planned.  There’s a butterfly effect here that isn’t much accounted for because…?  All I can come up with is that the author is beyond lazy.  But that’s just my assessment.  I’d like to think better of him simply because I know how much effort it takes to write a novel, and how much love goes into it.  Even so, This felt like less of an homage and more of a money grab targeted to an audience that likely hasn’t read the book and has maybe only seen a film version or two.  Steven Moffat is an expert in Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, and he managed to undermine and subvert those characters and stories something fierce, which is really part of an ongoing trend.  Dacre Stoker couldn’t improve on Bram’s Dracula, there are hundreds of Sherlock Holmes tales that should never have bothered to try after Conan Doyle, with a few exceptions, and now Wells feels the pinch of mediocrity nipping at his heels.  Likewise, Baxter may be an expert in Wells, but he spent too much time ignoring what made that story work and too much time dragging the story.  But as they say, we still have the original.  Long may it reign supreme.

This will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, but I couldn’t finish it.  Classics are classics for a reason.

17 thoughts on “The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, 2017

  1. Thank you for that. When was this written? I know the whole world, now, expects writing to be along the lines of The Walking Dead (comic book genre) instead of deep, concise novels. Most books, today, are either political (tell-alls), war “hero” stuff or one step above dime-store romances. Real storytelling has been displaced with video game nonsense.

    I thought Davies was worse than Moffat.

    Liked by 1 person

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