Sunday, 19 February 2017

Massacre Of Mankind

The Massacre Of Mankind
Stephen Baxter

Gollancz hardcover £18.99

**** (4 stars) review by Christopher Geary

Stephen Baxter wrote the award-winning novel The Time Ships (1995), an excellent sequel to classic book The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Wells, and so Baxter is the perfect choice for this sequel to Wells’ greatest work, The War Of The Worlds (1898). The Massacre Of Mankind picks up the story in the 1920s when the Martians are preparing for their much feared return to Earth, as predicted by astronomers view of Mars, a world of “red lakes, green continents” - harbouring busily intelligent, but entirely unsympathetic, life with ancient rivals in the Solar system clearly the wiser residents of Jupiter.    

The heroine and narrator of this adventure, ex-suffragette Julie, returns to a Britain where paranoia under military rule, in league with Germany, seems a necessary evil, despite defences bolstered by the technological fallout from Martian warfare in 1907 that, amongst other accomplishments, ensured that the ship’s armour-plating applied to the Titanic proved the famous ocean-liner really was unsinkable. Emerging from its period melodrama, the best SF content here is found in speculative paragraphs about origins of the Martian slave labourers, some Cytherean amphibians from Venus, and the cosmological implications of inhabited planets within reach of conventional rockets. 

Baxter manages to shoehorn a full set of eclectic WOTW references - to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, Hollywood’s classic 1956 movie, Jeff Wayne’s album, and even Wells himself - into this roundly international storyline, with glowing fan-boy reverence for such meta-fictional asides. And the great philosophical question of human futurism is also keenly addressed: does a threat from space of ET invasion unite the world? There is a heartfelt and hopeful answer and, of course, this narrative’s conclusion is never in any doubt, but Baxter springs a genre medley of clever twists along the way to a finale that Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass might find suitably appealing.