The Massacre of Mankind

Written by Stephen Baxter
Review by Douglas Kemp

This is a sequel to H.G. Wells’ iconic story of the Martian invasion of England. It is 1920, and the story is told in the first person by the now-divorced sister-in-law (Julie Elphinstone) of the narrator (Walter Jenkins) of the original novel, although it also involves at some stage most of the main characters of the original novel.

It is a different world after the first invasion of 1907. While Germany embarked upon a war on mainland Europe, Britain stood by and did not get involved in the conflict, becoming very much the junior partner to Kaiser Wilhelm’s military regime. The country is itself led by an authoritarian government. Julie is a journalist, and she is summoned to London to be informed that there has been a series of artillery firings from the surface of Mars, demonstrating that a renewed invasion is underway.

The Martians invade in large numbers and are well-prepared to avoid the factors that made their previous effort fail. This represents a major existential threat to the dominion of humankind on earth as Britain and later other major countries come under Martian domination, and a resistance movement is the country’s only hope of throwing off the technologically superior rulers. Julie is part of a scheme to attack the Martians where they are most vulnerable.

It gets a little bizarre with humanoids from Mars and Venus being used by the invaders. But the story is true to the atmosphere of the original novel, and it is an easy and entertaining read, with some interesting speculations on alternative historical courses that the invasions promoted. But the book is a little long for the plot, and I believe could have usefully shed 150 pages or so.