The Massacre Of Mankind by Stephen Baxter (book review)

January 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

‘War Of The Worlds’ was just the beginning. The Martians have returned and this time it is going to be ‘The Massacre Of Mankind’.

Set some years after the first invasion, we are introduced to the narrator, Julie Elphinstone, the ex-sister-in-law to the original narrator, journalist Walter Jenkins, who took us through the traumatic events of ‘War Of The Worlds’ until its conclusion. Here, some years after the failed invasion, in a convoluted but entertaining introduction, he passes the baton to Julie, also a journalist during a transatlantic phone call to the USA. Julie will be our eyes and ears as she attempts to not only to stay alive but contribute to the fight against the terrifying invaders.

In this version of reality, there was no world war as England was devastated by the invasion. This is an alternate history with European conflicts aided by abandoned Martian technology and British ‘advisers’ leading to German domination within Europe. Here, the Lusitania has not been torpedoed by the Germans and is available for Julie to return to England. This England is ruled by an ominous sounding General Marvin, the Border Control wear black uniforms. There’s a whiff of martial law, too, and Germany has its eyes on the prize of America.

As a novel, this is very much a tribute to HG Wells and an examination of the ‘hero’ of ‘War Of The Worlds’, who sought out the conflict rather than looking after his family. It looks at how history is manipulated by this very particular invasion and how it might have shaped the conflicts we all remember as the two world wars along with human rights, fascism, Freud and women’s emancipation. There some inside jokes, too, with Julie’s transatlantic colleague Harry Kane representing the scaremonger other-Welles Orson. Fantastic stuff and there is so much period detail here without feeling like it has been shoe-horned in.

Characters from the ‘War Of The Worlds’ are integral to the plot including the soldier Albert Cook, who wanted to begin again underground. (Sorry, I’ve got David Essex stuck in my head permanently thanks to Jeff Wayne.) He’s been making a living on his memoirs since the end of the Martian invaders but is he ready to take up arms again?

The updating of the story is clever and still retains many the links with Wells’ book. He even gets an almost-name-check as the million-year man. After all, he saw the future rather too clearly. We have only just dodged the bullets he saw flying from nation to nation.

I really enjoyed this wholly unexpected treat of a sequel with lots of food for thought about the shaping of history, heroism and politics. There is even room in this for some emotion at times, although I feel the story takes precedence over most of the characters leaving us with a very small but telling gesture in the final pages that gives hope for humanity over the cold-blooded Martians.

Sue Davies

December 2016

(pub: Gollancz. 464 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47320-509-3)

check out websites : www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.gollancz.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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