The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter is a time machine.
The moment a reader holds this treasure in his hand, a transformation will take place. He will be hurled back to the day when the great writer-prophet H.G.Wells first penned its predecessor–The War of the Worlds. It is obvious that the publishers took great care in supporting the project with a product that creates a visual and tactile representation of the look and feel of the late 1800s. The retro cover art is a delight, and the chosen fonts enhance the spell throughout the novel.
The author went to great lengths to mirror the writing style of H. G. Wells. To accomplish this, he had to turn his back on current conventions of literature. He duplicates Wells by employing a strict first-person narrative. The prose privileges tell over show, as did Wells. He also recreates the adverbial dialogue tags of the past. Most of The Massacre of Mankind is told by a British journalist. However, while Wells employed a male narrator–Walter Jenkins–Baxter chooses to narrate via a female voice. Later in the tale, Baxter includes short entries narrated by citizens of other nations. Although Wells wrote in a more lyrical manner, Baxter’s style is clear and precise.
Fourteen years after the first Martian invasion, Julie Elphinstone, sister-in-law to Jenkins, becomes ensnared in another invasion. Determined to survive this second attack, she not only becomes embroiled in the action, she just could turn out to be the secret weapon that will save the earth. To modern readers, Julia may seem cold and a bit too composed. However, this is true to Wells. In The War of Worlds, the narrator states, “At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all.” Unfortunately, many people today will identify with this comment. Other characters from The War of the Worlds make guest appearances. However, Julie is the main moving force and it is her adventures readers will follow.
As the highly complex plot begins, Julie and other veterans of the first attack worry that an upcoming planetary opposition will enable the Martians to launch another armada. Soon, Martian cylinders begin dropping in England. Before long, Martians build themselves a command center and set up a process for milking humans for their blood. Martian again use black smoke and heat ray guns to massacre soldiers and civilians alike. In addition, they continue to propagate red weed. Most of the action takes place in Great Britain. Later in the tale, the plot leads readers to events as witnessed by other narrators in other countries.
Baxter goes well beyond a strong loyalty to Wells; he takes issues hinted at in the original text and extends them in his homage. These new themes serve to extend the scope of the novel which includes other nations and other life forms.
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying (Arthur C. Clarke).
More now than ever, tales of aliens and invasions, will interest seekers of knowledge–hence the popularity of Science Fiction in film and print. While the plot of War of the Worlds is more tightly knit and packed with action, The Massacre of Mankind is extended and more cerebral. Thus, readers who want non-stop, slam-bang action may find the text a bit tedious. However, those interested in what is hidden in the expanse of outer space will view The Massacre of Mankind as an eight-course feast to be consumed at a leisured pace. This will be especially true of those who are fans of Wells.