The Massacre of Mankind
After reading Alastair Reynold’s Revenger earlier this year I dived right into another thick novel. The Massacre of Mankind is written by Stephen Baxter as an official sequel to H.G. Wells’s The War Of The Worlds. The original story is a first-hand account of a Martian invasion of England in 1907. In 1920 the Martians try their luck again, this time they are come prepared against the Earth’s bacteria and viruses which killed them in the first round. Quickly they manage to devastate England. In The Massacre Of Mankind we follow Julie Elphinstone and we read her first-hand account of how England is coping and how the country is transformed after 2 years of war with the alien invaders.
Stephen Baxter managed to create a convincing alternative historical world. Great Britain stayed out of the First World War, called the Schlieffen War in this story. France is overrun by the Germans but on the eastern front the Russians have managed to hold back the Germans. Because of the prolonged war and the 1907 invasion technology is ahead a few years by our standards, but sadly so is fascism. However, just as Britain seems to tackle the Martians do they send a yet even bigger fleet, this time to other cities around the world: New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Melbourne included.
Not all good news…
This increases the scope of the story with mixed results, but the first-hand account of Julia remains as exciting as ever. Sadly the novel is not without its flaws. No good story ever is. Despite my appreciation for the oeuvre of author Stephen Baxter this is not his best work. The author has written many sequels to classic from decades ago, but last year’s The Medusa Chronicles was better. The Massacre Of Mankind fails to shine as bright as it could due to 3 problems.
The first is the first-person point of view, or narrative. All actions take place thought the eyes of Julie Elphinstone, a journalist and former sister-in-law of the original narrator of The War Of The Worlds. As mentioned we see a first-hand account of the Martian invasion through her eyes. The story is told as a sort of auto-biography many years after the events occur. That in its own is already a spoiler. Other characters, such as the original narrator, have their own chapters told in the third-person narrative. The inclusion of their thoughts does ruin a sense of suspense because it is hard to believe Julia could interview people to thoroughly. Some might argue she did not and in fact might have made up aspects of their experience. As did the original narrator, but the suspense is already gone.
Too many characters
A second problem is the indistinctive secondary characters. The story focuses on each for a long time, but they quickly recede from memory afterwards. After several hundred pages I had a hard time telling who is who. A number of characters from The War Of The World make cameo appearances and that only confuses me as a reader. An exception to this problem is Walter Jenkins, the original narrator of The War Of The World. He is obsessive, cantankerous and funny.
The last problem is that the story drags on at times. Julia really does describe almost every action she undertakes. Stephen Baxter has laced this story full of exposition. That makes the world come alive but at the cost of pacing. At times I was checking to see how long a chapter would continue to last. I didn’t skip pages but I was not far off.
The first-hand account of an invasion from Mars is hugely exciting. So is the alternative historical timeline in which this story takes place. Everything, from the many references to Winston Churchill and the advent of tank design is inspiring and sets the tone well. But the story drags on at times and I as reader was at times confused by the side plots pursued by secondary characters. I think they could have been omitted. If you want a proper sequel to The War Of The Worlds than this is your novel.