eBook review copy; 496 pages
The Massacre of Mankind: Sequel to The War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter is a recommended estate-authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.
Set in the early 1920s, it has been thirteen years since the Martians invaded England. When it is announced that the Martians have launched another, much larger invasion, humans are sure we can defeat them again, with the exception of one man, Walter Jenkins (the unnamed narrator of Wells' book). Jenkins is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, and understood their defeat so they will be prepared this time. Referring to the first book, Walter is often called out as a liar and an unreliable witness by those characters who appeared in the first book. A journalist, Julie Elphinstone, the former sister-in-law of Jenkins, reports most of the action in the narrative to the reader as she tells the story of the second invasion. She witnesses the first wave of Martians landing outside of London. The world is watching for the subsequent invasive Martian forces to land around the world.
The good news is that Martians are still terrifying. The first Martian invasion changed history, thus in this alternate history universe, Britain is a fascist state, Germany rules much of Europe, and the Titanic never sank. You will recognize historical figures but now in different contexts. While this is an interesting take on a second invasion, it has a slow start and I'll admit that keeping my undivided attention during the whole novel was a challenge. It felt overly long, perhaps it was the writing style, but I also didn't connect to any of the characters. We know right from the start that this account is Elphinstone's memoir so we know the outcome of the war, which removes some of the sense of urgency and tension. She is also not an entirely sympathetic narrator.
Finally, Baxter's choice to write in the style of H.G. Wells, no offense to Wells, didn't quite work for me in this case. The descriptions are complex and noteworthy, but I guess I wanted a more action-packed terror-filled novel. Parts of it met this description, but the totality of The Massacre of Mankind missed the mark as a sequel to the classic science fiction novel. It is certainly good, but not great. Hard core fans of The War of the Worlds will likely want to read this, but it will not quite live up to the original.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Crown/Archetype.