The Martian War by Kevin J Anderson
Originally published 2006, by ‘Gabriel Mesta’.
This edition published by Titan Books, October 2012
Review by Mark Yon
After reading and enjoying Kevin’s metafictional romp about Jules Verne (in Captain Nemo, reviewed here) I was looking forward to Kevin’s version of War of the Worlds.
The Martian War was originally subtitled ‘A Thrilling Eyewitness Account of the Recent Alien Invasion as Reported by Mr. H.G. Wells’, which is a fairly effective, if rather bold, summary. The book suggests the premise that the fictional tale War of the Worlds is actually a fictional account that is based on reality, written by HG Wells as a warning to encourage people to prepare for possible events in the future.
Kevin’s version combines fiction with ‘real’ people. Not only is the author HG Wells a key character, but the evolutionist and scientist Professor TH Huxley, who, as a mentor of Wells, introduces HG to a covert symposium of like-minded scientists, working for the British government against an impending war versus Germany. The sudden arrival of Doctor Moreau (see Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau) raises their awareness to a possible invasion from Mars. Moreau has been working for astronomer Percival Lowell in the Sahara Desert recreating the Martian canals to let the Martians know of intelligent life on Earth. Lowell doesn’t realise that letting others know of human intelligence can make the humans a threat rather than an ally, something Lowell comes to regret…
The plot’s firmly in the scientific romance vein, going from the Earth to Mars to the Moon – all Wells’ places – as well as having a rather steampunk-ish feel in places. Mad scientists, test tubes and electricity seem to be everywhere….
Though the science is not accurate, it is in keeping with Wells’s novels. Whilst we could baulk at air on the Moon and on Mars today, it is how things were imagined in the late 19th century. As were those Martian canals and ancient decaying cities. It is rather expected that if you’re going to buy into this tale, then liberties have to be taken with science.
Whereas in the original Wells book, Mankind’s survival is by luck rather than design, here humans take a much more pro-active role in the defeat of the Martians, emancipating enslaved Selenites and developing viruses to combat the Martians on their own territory. With such an energetic response, the ending shouldn’t be a great surprise, though the getting to that ending is quite entertaining.
As before, with Nemo, one of the great fun things about such a novel is the way it combines real people with fictional characters. Here, as well as TH Huxley, astronomer Percival Lowell, and Giovanni Schiaparelli, (the original cartographer of the ‘canals’ on Mars), we have the fictional Dr. Moreau, Hawley Griffin (from The Invisible Man) and Selwyn Cavor (from The First Men in the Moon) amongst others. It is great fun spotting the references, some subtle, others less so. Even ol’ Jules Verne gets a mention.
Perhaps with a nod to more modern audiences, Wells and Huxley are assisted by a feisty female in the persona of Wells’ girlfriend/mistress, Jane Robbins. Once a student of Wells, he is attracted to her by means of her quick enquiring mind and humour. She plays an important part in the tale here. In real life Jane married Wells, in his second marriage, in 1895.
As much as I liked this novel, it didn’t totally work for me. On the downside here, some of the tone was a little too contemporary for me and I found in places the themes rather ‘un-English’. Whether it’s because being English myself, or having read a lot of Wells-age type books from Wells and other authors such as Christopher Priest, Stephen Baxter and Eric Brown, I found it a little diverting here. Others may find it less of a problem.
More distractingly, the same can be said of Kevin’s links between Wells’ fiction and The Martian War. I found that, unlike the Nemo novel, some of the plot links and dialogue linking to Wells’ own work were too convenient and un-subtle to work convincingly. The first chapter, for example, includes so many references to the original War of the Worlds novel – the chances of anything coming from Mars, cylinders, ‘scrutinising’ earth, the importance of bacteria – that the overall effect is that it actually diminishes the ideas of the novel.
Despite this, in the end I enjoyed The Martian War as a scientific romance, though not as much as I did Captain Nemo. It is good entertainment, and typing as a fan of HG Wells’ science fiction, there’s a lot here to like.
Though it’s fun, perhaps it is a secret plot on the part of the Martians in trying to convince me the book’s not totally successful….
Mark Yon, October 2012