Review: War of the Worlds: The Anglo-Martian War of 1895

3 May

War of the Worlds: The Anglo-Martian War of 1895

-Mike Brunton, Alan Lathwell

A good book that could have been so much better.

It is something of a frustration to a fan of the original War of the Worlds that we see so little of the overall war. The unnamed narrator tells us what he hears and sees – and what his brother hears and sees – but we have no true grasp of the overall war. It reads like a personal account, rather than a detailed history.

War of the Worlds: The Anglo-Martian War of 1895 is an attempt to redress the balance by turning what we learned from Wells into an overall history of the war. Starting with an outline of the British military in 1895 – there are plenty of interesting details here – it moves on to describing the Martians and their technology, including some pieces of quite interesting speculation. Very little is obviously known about the Martians – the author resisted the temptation to create a whole background for them – but he does take the hints from Wells and work them into a coherent whole. (Rather oddly, the book dismisses the Flying Machines as nothing more than rumour.)

At that point, the book becomes a campaign history, detailing the savage war humanity fought against the invaders. There are some moments of genuine success in the war – a Fighting Machine is disabled by a modern weapon, a Cylinder is blown up before it can open and release its Martians – none of which come close to actually saving humanity. By the time the Martians die – as Wells detailed – the British Government is in hiding and the British Army has effectively been destroyed.

We saw scenes from London in the original book, but the authors flesh them out, discussing how the government of the day refused to take the problem seriously until it was far too late to nip the invasion in the bud. To be fair to them, the Martians were an unprecedented problem, but their attitude rather grates. When the storm broke, the upper levels of society fled while the lower were left to fend for themselves.

Where the book falls down – rather badly – is in its description of the post-war world. The authors basically seem to assume that history will resume its original course, even though Britain has been devastated and the human race badly shocked. World War One and World War Two happen on schedule, with the Martian weaponry largely forgotten (although the British Army does get a reputation for no longer believing in ‘fair play’). And nothing more is ever heard from the Martians, even now that human probes are trundling across the Red Planet. The author speculates that the telepathic shock of so many unexpected deaths on Earth may have wiped out their entire civilisation, but frankly that’s a cheap answer.

If such an invasion did take place, what would actually happen next?

The invasion remained confined to Southern England, but that was among the most prosperous and wealthy parts of the British Empire. Even assuming that the government managed to regain control without a fight, repairing the damage would take years, a problem made worse by the government abandoning the lower orders during the fighting. I would expect the immediate post-war world to be very different. British confidence would have taken one hell of a beating – the same problem that occurred after the Great War – while large parts of the economy would be in ruins. Britain might not even be able to fund the historical Great Naval Race.

The remainder of the world would have been spared the invasion, but it would be equally shocked by just how much damage the Martians had caused. There would be little doubt that the Martians would have crushed the Germans or the French just as easily, had they landed there instead. I would expect human political disputes to be put aside, at least for a while, and defences mustered in the event of another attack from Mars. While duplicating the Martian technology would be beyond them for years, building on what weapons were successful during the war would be quite possible. The arms race would be directed against the Martians, rather than human nations, but it would probably take place anyway.

(The book does mention the Tunguska event of 1908, speculating that it might have been a renewed attack from Mars. However, while the British Government was immensely concerned, the Russians took it far less seriously – luckily, it wasn’t the start of a second invasion.)

Oddly, the book also includes cameos from other fictional universes. (Lord Roberts and Winston Churchill are obviously historical characters.) Most notable is Colonel Sebastian Moran of Sherlock Holmes (a reference to Sherlock Holmes’s The War Of The Worlds?) who stalks and kills a single Martian, in its Fighting Machine. The book notes that Moran, a man with a rather worrying record, was allowed to slip back into obscurity after the war, even though he should have been lionised as a hero. There were very few true heroes during the war and only a handful survived their first encounter with the Martians.

There are a number of other nice touches that made me smile. The book is illustrated by propaganda posters printed by the government – presumably before the Martians advanced on London – none of which bore much resemblance to reality. The text gleefully pokes fun at a few of these posters, including one showing a toothy Martian carrying off a helpless woman – the fact that not all Martians had teeth were left unmentioned.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, save for the post-war speculation. That could have been done better.

11 Responses to “Review: War of the Worlds: The Anglo-Martian War of 1895”

  1. Mark P May 3, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    Christopher Priest wrote a book ‘The Space’ Machine’ which was set as a link of the Time Machine and War of the Worlds. It was serialized on Radio4 in the eighties.

  2. Leonard May 3, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    A couple months back I came accross a movie set as a sequel to the books, it was quite interesting as it portrayed a slightly more relistic post war environment. Its animated and portrays a more steam punk future but was un all the same.

    Also any news on when the next SIM bok is coming out? I know you said soon on your website ? 😉

    • chrishanger May 8, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

      SIM 9 should be out in June. I just completed the first set of edits.


      • Leonard May 10, 2016 at 5:51 am #

        Awesome😊 I’m looking forward to it

  3. shrekgrinch May 3, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    Read that book too. But this one was better…sequel novel to the original WotW.

    The Great Martian War: Invasion!
    by Scott Washburn

  4. georgephillies May 7, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    Curiously, if you know a modest amount of inorganic chemistry, it is readily possible to identify the active agent of the Black Gas, including the piece of nearly correct science. Wells specifies properties of a family of chemical compounds that turn out not to exist, but very close, and their relatives that do exist were unknown for nearly seven decades.

    The black gas is clearly identifiable as an unknown oxidizing agent that “reacts with the argon in the air” to produce a compound with seven spectral lines in the blue and green. Almost every reader here has seen those lines, since they are the lines of the Argon ion, and the black gas has as its active agent an argonide (argon-ion) compound. It’s, unsurprisingly, highly poisonous, decomposes on contact with steam (or, eventually water), and leaves behind the ruins of the oxidizing agent as a black powder.

    I would suggest that the Martians were fighting the pre-Boer-War British army, whose experience was fighting colonial wars against not very advanced nations. It was perhaps ill-prepared against a modern opponent not susceptible to Maxim gun fire. Had they faced the Germans, they might have been much less happy campers. In particular, once it was known what decomposes the Black gas, arrangements for shielding artillerists against it might readily have been improvised. If they had had the brains to invade first in, e.g., Tibet, they would have had more time to expand before hitting resistance.

    • georgephillies May 7, 2016 at 7:28 pm #

      Also, my general impression is that English industry was concentrated in the north and in Scotland.

      Furthermore, the Martians had a good direct fire weapon and a longer range poison gas system. Against countries that could manage indirect
      fire artillery well, they might have had issues.

      • chrishanger May 8, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

        That’s probably true, although hitting fast-moving tripods might have been tricky. The martians might also have adapted their heat rays to shoot shells out of the sky.


    • chrishanger May 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

      A landing in Tibet? That would be a great story .


  5. georgephillies May 8, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

    The response to heat rays that can shoot down shells is time on target, though they appeared to have no path to doing this in the novel.

    Curiously, I have part of a novel based on a Tibet landing, though not from Mars.

    • chrishanger May 10, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

      They might not see the shells as much of a danger. Outside a direct hit, the shellfire was largely useless.


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