The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

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The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: The Martians return in this officially sanctioned sequel to one of the most influential science fiction books of all time. Baxter intelligently builds on the legend, whilst remaining true to the source material.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473205093

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An intellectual property no longer dies with the author. After a certain period the copyright is lifted so that an independent author can tackle the characters, hence the proliferation of Sherlock Holmes books. For many fans of the original, these books feel like cover versions and are best avoided. It is only when the estate of the author gets involved that their interest is piqued. H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds left enough of a door open to explore further and when you hire as an experienced a science fiction author as Stephen Baxter to pick up the official story, it may just be worth a read.

With the First Martian War over the citizens of Britain have been left picking up the pieces. Looking to some form of strength the country has fallen under a Fascist Regime and even this cannot prevent the events that follow. The Martians are back and they have learned from their previous attempt to ensnare mankind. No longer are they susceptible to the common cold. Can Julie, the sister-in-law of the original book's narrator, survive to tell the tale?

There is no doubt that Baxter took on a megaton of pressure when agreeing to produce an official sequel to one of the most influential science fiction books of all time. Readers of Wells' book will be aware that it is still great, but feels very much of its time. Walter is a rather observant and dry narrator and the book has a cold arm's length feel to it. Baxter sets of immediately to humanise the book by introducing Julie, a wannabe Suffragette, who is able to fend for herself.

To make The Massacre of Mankind work Baxter had to produce a new work that would entertain a modern audience, but also respect the original. This is a delicate line that he just manages to tread. There is an interesting theme throughout the book that suggests Walter was an unreliable witness who characterised people he met and wrote about them in his now famous memoir of the First Martian War. There is fun to be had meeting the original cast and nearly all of them saying that the how they were described in War was nonsense.

Where Baxter oversteps the mark is not actually linked to the original book, but to history itself. This is essentially an Alt-History book in which the Martian War changed the fate of Europe etc. The first part of this book is actually alien free and more a world building experience. This is well done, but Baxter throws in a few too many knowing references to our own history and this is jarring when reading a story of alien invasion. When Wells write, he was a contemporary of the time, Baxter writes like he knows he has the power of hindsight.

Once the Martians start to attack the book really lifts off. The creatures are as terrifying as you would expect and Baxter is extremely adept at creating moments of action and tension. The book spans the globe and we are introduced to invasions all over the planet. Here we get into some geopolitics as different countries cope with the Martian Red Menace in different ways. This was all very interesting, but did slightly get in the way of the main narrative thrust of the story.

It should be noted that although the book is pulp science fiction, it can be quite hard hitting in places. Some of the best parts are how Baxter describes the systematic undoing of man. A tour of the alien base is a particularly harrowing read as the men, women and children housed there are treated like cattle. Be warned that it proves to be a grimmer read than you may think.

Massacre is a well thought out and worthy extension of War. It cannot, and will not, have the same impact of the original, but it respects the source matter and moves it on in a way that is in keeping. For people who have little knowledge of the first book, you will not miss out too much as you get a very strong science fiction book that looks at politics of the early 20th Century in an interesting manner. For fans of the original, they will be intrigued, and possibly equally frustrated, by the various call backs that litter this manuscript.

There are plenty of books out there that continue the legacy of a character after the initial author has died; The Dragon Tattoo (Baker Street Mysteries) by Tim Pigott-Smith and Closed Casket: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah are just two examples

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