In his classic 1897 novel War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells took aim at complacent Victorian assumptions of human superiority over animals and European superiority over non-Europeans, portraying what it would be like for his British readers to find themselves on the wrong side of natural selection and/or military imperialism. In Wells’ portrayal, the human defenders were hopelessly outmatched by the Martian invaders, whose defeat finally came not through human ingenuity but through accidental infection.
This gloomy message apparently sat ill with American writer Garrett Serviss, who in the following year penned an unauthorised sequel titled Edison’s Conquest of Mars, in which the human race, led of course by the United States, strikes back against the Martian enemy with the aid of weapons and spaceships provided by real-life inventor Thomas Edison.
I’d never heard of this sequel until recently; turns out it’s a fun read. Stylistically the book owes more to Jules Verne than to Wells, and toward its end begins to anticipate Edgar Rice Burroughs as well – without, of course, being in the same league literarily as any of those authors. There are no great Wellsian lines here on the order of “minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us,” or “by the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers … for neither do men live nor die in vain.” In spirit and substance too it departs from Wells in a number of ways, most notably – and unaccountably – in substituting humanoid Martians for Wells’ rather more effective proto-Lovecraftian creepy-crawlies. (Plus, no tripods! Where are the tripods?!) And the appeal of the book’s high-tech can-do optimism is somewhat offset by its tiresomely jingoistic neocon-fantasy militarism. This is the sort of thing against which Wells’ original book was written! But it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
The book’s chief merit, at least for science-fiction geeks like me, lies in the extraordinary scientific accuracy (at least for the most part) of its description of space travel, as well as its pioneering use of such later genre tropes as asteroid mining, disintegrator guns, and extraterrestrial origins of the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx.
There seem to be more than one version of this book floating around. The version I read is this one from Apogee Books, but I’ve since found an online version from Project Gutenberg. I haven’t looked closely through the Gutenberg version, but a quick glance at the first page alone reveals many differences:
|Apogee Version||Gutenberg Version|
|It was supposed at first that all the Martians had perished, not through our puny efforts, but in consequence of disease. Subsequent events proved however that some of those who arrived in the last cylinder had not succumbed, and on discovering the fate of their fellows they fled in one of their projectile cars, inflicting their cruelest blow in the act of departure.||The Martians had nearly all perished, not through our puny efforts, but in consequence of disease, and the few survivors fled in one of their projectile cars, inflicting their cruelest blow in the act of departure.|
|They possessed a mysterious explosive, of unimaginable puissance, with whose aid they set their car in motion for Mars from the Common. The force of the explosion may be imagined when it is recollected that they had to give the car a velocity of more than seven miles per second in order to overcome the attraction of the earth and the resistance of the atmosphere.||They possessed a mysterious explosive, of unimaginable puissance, with whose aid they set their car in motion for Mars from a point in Bergen County, N. J., just back of the Palisades. The force of the explosion may be imagined when it is recollected that they had to give the car a velocity of more than seven miles per second in order to overcome the attraction of the earth and the resistance of the atmosphere.|
|The shock destroyed all of Boston that had not already fallen a prey, and all the buildings yet standing in the surrounding towns and cities fell in one far-circling ruin.||The shock destroyed all of New York that had not already fallen a prey, and all the buildings yet standing in the surrounding towns and cities fell in one far-circling ruin. The Palisades tumbled in vast sheets, starting a tidal wave in the Hudson that drowned the opposite shore.|
I don’t know what the story is about these two versions; the introduction to the Apogee edition mentions the existence of abridged versions, but “abridged” doesn’t seem like the right word here.
Nice to see a review of the Edison’s book. Thank you. The edition which I compiled and published recently carries historical significance in that it was from the Boston newspaper and not from the New York edition. For years the whole story was believed lost forever and when it was finally rediscovered in the Library of Congress in 1947 it was edited considerably for subsequent publication as a book. It was then gutted even further in 1969 by Forrest Ackerman and published with a different title entirely. The original story by Serviss that appeared in the Boston Post was the version that inspired Robert Goddard (thus the historical significance) and has never been seen since 1898 (until my edition came out). it is unabridged and complete, exactly as it appeared in the Boston paper. The Gutenberg version is from the New York Sun. It is probable that all of the Hearst newspapers ran it right across America and in keeping with the previous syndication a few weeks earlier of War of The Worlds in which each version was modified to fit the home city, my edition refers to Boston Common while the Gutenberg version talks about New York.
Actually, Greg Weeks, who was responsible for the Gutenberg version of the novel which is based on the New York newspaper version, is also preparing the different 1947 Carcosa House book version for Gutenberg (whose copyright was not renewed). His website has scans of both versions:
There’s also another Serviss science fiction novel involving space travel on PG called “A Columbus of Space”, which I haven’t read but is said to also hold up well and be far ahead of its time with genre ideas.
I actually read “Edison’s Conquest of Mars” back in high school, where the school library had the 1954 anthology “Treasury of Science Fiction Classics” by Harold Kuebler which includes the novel — apparently in an abridged form, so this could possibly be yet another version of the novel. The choice of contents in this book is pretty interesting: there’s nothing written past 1938, and it’s revealing to see what the classics of the genre were considered back then; there’s the familiar highlights from early SF like Verne and Wells and Poe; stuff that’s declined in fame like Stapledon and “When Worlds Collide”; genre works by mainstream authors like E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and a couple of offbeat, rare items, like the Serviss novel, S. Fowler Wright’s “The Rat”, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale of underwater exploration “The Maracot Deep”. Here’s a listing of the contents:
I remember enjoying Serviss’s tale; even at the time I thought that the premise was pretty weird, especially incorporating Edison into a sequel to a fictional book, but I was charmed by the innocence and the audacity of the imaginative leaps.
Rob and Joel,
Thank you for the background info! And for clearing up the mystery of the different versions — I’m glad to learn the version I read is the truest one.
Sounds like Space:1889