Book Review: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of The War of the Worlds
Publisher: Crown Publishing (August 22, 2017)
Length: 496 pages
Author Information: Website
The Massacre of Mankind is a book that wears several hats and for the most part wears them all well, serving as a sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds while also paying loving tribute to it. Taking place in 1920, approximately 14 years after the events in the original classic, the story continues through the eyes of Julie Elphinstone who now begins her own account of a second invasion. Yep, that’s right, the Martians are back, and they’ve learned some lessons from their first go-around. This time, it’ll take more than microbial infections to take them down, and worse, Earth isn’t exactly in its best fighting shape. Still rebuilding from the first Martian assault, places like Britain are still in complete disarray politically, socially, and economically, especially in the wake of this alternate world’s version of World War I.
While everyone knew that another invasion was possible, governments and armies thought they were prepared. They thought they knew how to beat the Martians and dismissed the warnings of the original narrator of The War of the Worlds—identified here as Walter Jenkins—who correctly predicted that the aliens would come back in force after adapting and developing new ways to avoid being defeated again. Now things are looking very bad for Earth, with extinction threatening the human race once more.
Lately I have been seeing a lot more efforts by publishers and authors to bring back popular characters and classics from the past, either through “reboots” or “official sequels” like this one. I’m still torn as to how I feel about this trend, but I suppose we also have to look at each work on a case-by-case basis. According to the description on the cover, The Massacre of Mankind is fully authorized by the H.G. Wells Estate. Presumably working under their direction and support, Stephen Baxter still nonetheless had some rather big shoes to fill, given the prominence of The War of the Worlds in popular culture and the staggering number of adaptations and retellings it has spawned since being published. In writing this follow-up, Baxter had to tell an equally gripping story while staying true to the style and spirit of the original, with the added challenge of presenting something new to the table.
On the whole, I think he has managed to do that, though as with any project of this nature, a reader’s enjoyment is going to largely depend on how well they know the source material. If you haven’t read The War of the Worlds (or, like me, you read it so long ago that you hardly remember anything from it at all), then you’ll probably not like this book as much as someone who is familiar with Wells’ original, for Baxter basically uses it as a jumping off point. Expanding the story from there, he puts forth what is also in many ways an alternate history of what might happen if the Martians had a second chance and were more prepared to dig in and set up a system for colonization. As well, there are strong ties to characters and events in the original, such as the protagonist Julie, who appeared in The War of the Worlds and is written in this book as the former sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins.
If I could do it all over again, I definitely would have refreshed my memory with a re-read of The War of the Worlds before tackling this one, because I think I would have enjoyed myself more if I had. I suspect too that the first half of The Massacre of Mankind wouldn’t have felt so dry to me if I had felt more connected with Baxter’s drawn-out descriptions of the various events and characters, especially given how much build-up is involved in the intro. The narrative didn’t hook me until well into the second half, and even then I had to really force myself to make it through the slower sections.
To Baxter’s great credit though, he’s gone all out in making us feel like this is a real sequel (perhaps even one that could have been written by Wells himself), adopting a style that recalls the time in which The War of the Worlds was written, including certain quirks and anachronisms of the period. Sure, sometimes a bit of the modern may leak through here and there, but overall the attention to detail is astounding and I can’t even imagine the level of research that must have gone into the writing of this novel. I also liked that we got to see this invasion play out on a more global scale, which I believe was an aspect that was lacking in the original.
In sum, I believe reader experiences will vary depending on how well they know The War of the Worlds. With this caveat in mind, I would still recommend The Massacre of Mankind, which I thought was a well put-together novel and captivating in its own unique way.