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.