Review by C.J. Bunce
Whether you’re a fan of the original novel, Orson Welles’ radio drama, or any of the film adaptations, you’ll be hard-pressed finding anyone who isn’t familiar with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, in which giant tripod Martian invaders take over on Earth. What if H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds as a cautionary tale, based on facts known only to him and a few other government insiders? Author Kevin J. Anderson asked this question and many more in his 2006 novel Martian War, re-released this month in a trade paperback edition.
Anderson ponders several “what ifs”–What if the Moon and Mars were as Wells and his contemporaries had predicted in the 19th century, with roaming animals, birds and vegetation and advanced lifeforms? What if the Invisible Man was a real inventor, Doctor Moreau an actual twisted scientist, and they teamed with a young Wells, his would-be wife Jane, and real-life contemporary English biologist Thomas Huxley and astronomer Percival Lowell? It all sounds like another take on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and to an extent it is. Martian War is also every bit in the same genre as Guy Adams’ 2012 release, Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau, reviewed here this summer.
Told via The Journal of Dr. Moreau–an account of Moreau’s capture of a Martian on Earth, and a chronicle of H.G. Wells being blasted in an accident to the Moon in a vehicle with girlfriend Jane Robbins and Huxley, Anderson’s story is as much steampunk as it is alternate history or classic science fiction. Moreau uses his latest medical gadgetry to merge man with the Martian to allow the Martian to survive in a very Frankenstein meets E.T. the Extra-terrestrial kind of way. Meanwhile Wells’ lunar journey could come right out of the classic science fiction War of the Worlds contemporary film A Trip to the Moon, as Wells & Co. marvel at the flora and fauna and follow giant mooncows to meet the Martian-ravaged peoples of the Moon, no spacesuit required.
Wells, Jane and Huxley devise a plan to not only become the first Moon travelers, they also plot a plan to avenge the Moon beings–called Selenites–who were enslaved by Martians years ago. Upon arriving on Mars, Wells finds a world that has destroyed itself and as it uses up the last of the resources from the Moon it now turns its beady alien eyes toward Earth.
Initially the notion that humans can walk along a lunar surface that looks a lot like Earth is a bit jarring–we know from 70 years of space exploration he and his contemporaries just plain got it wrong. But once you realize what Anderson is up to, it becomes a creative and intriguing journey, one that maybe only Wells himself might have invisioned back in 1898. Chronicling Wells’ wonder at the strange, new worlds evokes Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Wells’ attack on Mars is reminscent of The Battle for Endor in Return of the Jedi.
Anderson is the author of The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice and Champions of the Force
(three of the better Star Wars tie-in books that I enjoyed in both print and audio versions back in the 1990s), X-Files tie-in novels Ground Zero and Ruins, and he is now working on a new series of Dune prequel novels.