The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter (2017)

Science Fiction
13-Adult
Massacre of Mankind by Stephen BaxterWhat if the Martians came back? That is the premise of this sci-fi novel by Stephen Baxter, billed as an ‘authorised’ sequel to H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The story opens 13 years after the end of Wells’ classic tale. I do recommend reading the original story prior to starting this one, if you haven’t done so recently. It really helps with understanding the relationships between people in this book, as Baxter’s story revives the same characters. While the narrator in War of the Worlds was never named, he appears here as Walter Jenkins, and it is his former sister-in-law, Julie Elphinstone, a journalist who was one of the two women Walter’s brother “rescued” in his 1907 escape from the Martians, who serves as the narrator in this one. It’s now 1920 and Walter reaches out to Julie and others from the Martian War to let them know he has learned the Martians are planning another invasion. Astronomers have seen the ominous signs, though the news is not yet public. When the cylinders arrive, Julie is again in London and is an eyewitness, again, to the destruction. The invaders have learned and adapted for this second attack, but as Julie learns, Earth’s governments and militaries have not been idle either. In an afterword, Baxter explains he draws on an “alternate history” in which the Great War as we know it did not occur; this gives him licence to play with historical events that add to the reader’s enjoyment as the plot unfolds. In this novel, Julie sails the Atlantic on the Lusitania (as it did not sink from a German torpedo), Lord Baden-Powell creates the Young Sappers instead of the Boy Scouts, and my favourite, King Edward’s marriage to Wallis Simpson does not result in an abdication. Yup, it’s Queen Wallis. I can see a whole Netflix series on that premise alone! Baxter remains faithful to Wells’ 1890s understanding and interpretation of astronomical science, in which life on Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are not only possible but in fact have developed much as it did on Earth. It takes effort to overcome this barrier, given our current understanding of our solar system’s creation and science. An engineer and sci-fi writer himself, Baxter’s significant research has created an homage that rings true to Wells’ writing style. Even the title is drawn from the original story, and Baxter expands on Wells’ work to develop characters that are lively, interesting, and honest. I particularly enjoy his historical references, his careful attention to geography, the detailed descriptions of the invasions and the military manoeuvering, and the nods to events of the day, though I could certainly have used less foreshadowing. It’s a device I particularly dislike. My thanks to Crown Publishing for the advance reader copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33269113
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