Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

In cooperation with the H. G. Wells Society, author Stephen Baxter crafted a sequel to The War of the Worlds. The second book takes place fourteen years after the first invasion. England has rearmed, but its leaders gotten a little cocky. They’re sure the new weapons and military strategies can handle any trouble on the horizon, or rather, in space. Walter Jenkins, the original narrator of the first book, is on hand to issue a dire warning: the Martians will return. Their numbers will be greater and this time their diabolical plot will result in the massacre of mankind.

Baxter has taken interesting liberties with the sequel. Walter is a minor character now. Instead, Julie Elphinstone steps in as first person narrator. In the original book, she was Walter’s uninspiring sister-in-law. Now divorced, Julie is a journalist, relocated to New York. She wants nothing more than to forget the past and then receives a mysterious phone call that drags her back to Europe. She returns to England with a fresh outsider’s eye, surprised at all the changes.

Baxter cleverly reimages how society would be affected by a Martian attack. World War I didn’t occur. Instead, the conflict in Europe was brief and didn’t become a world war and drag on for years. Germany increased its territory, but then made nice with Britain and became allies. (Julie returns to Europe on the still-floating Lusitania.) Instead of Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell has the Junior Sappers, children digging defensive trenches and rolling bandages. The Suffragette movement was outlawed, women still don’t have the right to vote. On the other side of the pond, the US, ignored by the Martians last time, maintains its isolationist policies. Will they be dragged into the conflict this time? Will the next Martian attack encompass the whole world?

You betcha. If you liked the verbose tone of the original story, this one will appeal. The book is nearly 500 pages with a ton of description and a multitude of characters. If you prefer more action oriented tales and less elaborate world building, this isn’t for you. 

Quibbles and Bits
The geographic detail is impressive, but it would have been nice to include a map, especially for the part of the story taking place in England. Julie travels a lot, but I’m never sure where she is in relation to the Martians or how far London is from the action.

Although the story is first person it jumps around quite a bit. It’s written as Julie’s book published after the war. Her story is ‘real time’ and focuses on how she became a key player in Walter’s secret plot to stop the aliens. Along the way, she adds other peoples’ accounts. The oddest part of the narrative is the lack of tension. As you meet each person, you know exactly who lives and who dies. Julie blabs their future saying she found out later this person was killed at such-and-such a place or this person made it through.

The ending leaves a lot of loose threads and is definitely set up for a sequel.

I received this from book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.