Before reading Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind, the sequel to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, I decided to read Wells’ novel again after 21 years.
I’m glad I did.
My initial claim, that English civilization is destroyed in the course of a long weekend, is glib and deceptive. The novel does not take place over a bank holiday weekend, and English civilization is, of course, not destroyed. The narrator of the book presents a history for a nation that still survives. However, the main action of the novel does occur starting Friday, when the Martians first use the Heat Ray, and goes through Monday when the Martians attack London. British society dissolves into a mob temporarily.
I’d also forgotten that part of the book is taken from the unnamed narrator’s brother, Frank. It is Frank that flees London when the Martians approach and whose experiences provide the memorable line: “It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.”
And this time I picked up on the apprehension, what we might term “post-traumatic stress disorder” the narrator is left with at the end of the story. Of man, the unnamed narrator says about the invasion:
. . . it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence …
But the scars of memory are not just on general humanity. The narrator says he no longer loves to look at the night sky.
Looking at London, he no longer sees it the same:
I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the Strand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched, going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a galvanised body.
I also wonder if the flooding from streams and rivers caused by the Martian red weed were partially inspired by Richard Jefferies’ After London and its giant lake in central England after the fall of industrial civilization.
This one came from NetGalley, and, of course, I jumped at the chance to review it.
Review: The Massacre of Mankind, Stephen Baxter, 2017.
You still ain’t seeing it clearly. The Martians, you know, would say they are doing us a favor. Lifting us up, as if we made a chimp smart as a college professor. And who’s to say, by their lights, they are wrong? And – pain? What of it? You clever-clogs keep telling me the Martians are above us mere mortals. Perhaps, with their heads detached from their bodies, they are above pain as above pleasure. And what need they care about the pain they inflict on us? And more’n we care about the pain of the animal in the slaughterhouse – or the tree we cut down. To recoil from this is hypocritical – d’ye see?
That’s Bert Cook, merely called “the artilleryman” in Walter Jenkins’ Narratives of the Martian Wars. Jenkins is the man we know as the unnamed narrator of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Cook isn’t the only one to complain Jenkins misrepresented him in his account of the 1907 Martian invasion. That’s the year Baxter, after consulting the astronomical clues in Wells’ story and Wells scholars, places the time of Wells’ novel.
Julie Elphinstone, the narrator of this novel and a reporter presenting us a history of the Second Martian War, isn’t too pleased with Jenkins’ depiction of her either, but at least she got a name and ended up married, briefly, to Jenkins’ brother, the Frank who supplies the London detail in Wells’ novel. Continue reading →