Review: The Martian in the Wood, Stephen Baxter, 2017.
This novella is a pendant on Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind.
Like that novel, it’s told by Julie Elphinstone, ex-sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins, the man we know as the narrator of The War of the Worlds.
Besides references to that novel, Baxter works in another work by Wells and uses the concept of an old forest as a repository of memory similar to Mythago Wood (a novel I know only by reputation) by Robert Holdstock to whom the story is dedicated.
On July 7, 1907, as Jenkins is wandering about the ruins of London with its Martians dead in their tripods, another Martian cylinder lands in Homburgh Wood, an ancient forest untouched by the last glaciation of England.
The story depicts the effects of having a Martian in Holmburgh, particularly on Nathan Gardner, an orphan of the war who was nearby when the Martian landed. The increasingly long time he spends in the wood, often returning after weeks looking haggard and bedraggled, concerns his sister Zene. Nearby farmers are concerned with the dearth of wildlife and strange weather. When a local man disappears, things come to a head with Zena and Jenkins heading into the wood to see what’s going on.
It’s an effective aside to The Massacre of Mankind with Eliphinstone’s impatience and criticisms of her ex-brother-in-law Jenkins and his vacillations and pontifications, and the use of Holdstock’s ideas make this something more than just another sequel to The War of the Worlds.
Baxter has a knack for doing takeoffs on Wells’ work as seen in his earlier The Time Ships and The Massacre of Mankind, and this story is no exception. Recommended for fans of Wells and The War of the Worlds and, I suppose, Mythago Wood though I suspect its appeal would be limited outside that circle.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.