I recently got the chance to read The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter, from NetGalley. It is written as a direct sequel to HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, using the very same characters, but setting it in 1920, when the second Martian invasion arrives.
To really get the feel for this, I got the audiobook of the original novel from the Library and listened to it in between reading the new book, and I am impressed at just how well Baxter echoes the writing style of the original. The original only fleshes out the character of the narrator, who is a rather unlikeable type. Other than a brief switch over to a different character, the narrator is the only point of view character in the whole (short) novel, and only a handful of other characters (and only a couple of the survivors) even get names. One of those few named secondary characters is the primary character in The Massacre of Mankind (a title that also comes from a line in the original novel).
In the original classic, a series of explosions are seen on Mars. Sometime later, metal cylinders land on Earth in the area immediately around London. When they open, Martians emerge and starting building machines that allow them to move around in the higher gravity of Earth, and defeat all attempts to resist them. The narrator is trapped inside the invasion zone, and meets a number of other survivors, and spends a period later in the book trapped with a curate in a half-destroyed house right next to the pit where a later cylinder landed, unable to escape. When the increasingly deranged curate endangers them both, he has little choice but to kill the man to save himself. Finally, when the noises of the Martians disappear, he emerges from the house and heads into London, where he finds the Martians dead or dying, killed by Earth bacteria. He then covers a little of the start of recovery, including the fact that the narrator is clearly suffering from PTSD, which surprised me, since I thought awareness of this only began with the first World War, and this novel was published more than a decade before that war.
The Massacre of Mankind begins more than a decade later, when the Miss Elphinstone who appears in the original novel, is a reporter in the US. She is summoned by her former brother-in-law Walter (the narrator of the original novel) to Berlin. History has much changed as a result of the original invasion. WWI did not happen, since when Germany started invading their neighbours, including France, the rest of the world was not inclined to fight back after rebuilding from the Martian war.
The reason for the summons is that a new fleet has been launched from Mars. Instead of one canon shooting cylinders, now there are ten, shooting even more of their vessels. And the Martians learned from their previous failed invasion, so while the military expects the same timeline as the previous invasion, they are quickly overwhelmed by the new tactics. The Martians are able to set up a foothold in England, with people trapped inside the zone of control, making do with their situation, while the people outside work on coming up with a new biological weapon. This is followed by a second wave that spreads out from England, with snippets about the invaders hitting the US, South Africa, Germany, and other parts of the world. The new, female, narrator becomes an integral part of the attempt to stop the Martians from taking over the entire world.
While the original novel feels rather dated, the new novel was fantastic, while preserving the feel of the original (including the ridiculous ideas about the evolution of the solar system). The change to a female narrator gives a different slant on the story, since sexism. Beyond her, there are other strong women, heroic characters, characters that are anything but. And the ending wraps things up, while leaving everything on a note of uncertainty that means that if there is room for a follow-up, but if none appears, we have a satisfying ending.