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.