The War of the Worlds is one of my favorite classic science fiction novels. One that, every time I read it I think, “Man, I wish there was a sequel.” Imagine my surprise when I learned there was… sort of.
Fighters From Mars came out in the Boston Evening Post shortly after The War of the Worlds in 1898, and is essentially Wells’ novel plagiarized, trimmed, and edited to be set near Boston instead of England. As such it deserves little credit or mention other than what it spawned next…
Due to the popularity of the story, The Post announced they’d be printing a sequel, which was to be written by Garrett P Serviss. While Serviss had written about science before, this would be his first step into science fiction. And what a step it was.
Edison’s Conquest of Mars is simultaneously ambitious, lazy, intelligent, moronic, visionary, and pedestrian. Despite the deplorable plagiaristic tie-in, it is a wholly original work (there is little actually stolen – Serviss completely changes the Martians and the virus that wiped them out has no consequences whatsoever, so all he uses are the heat rays and projectile ships). This is a book that deserves study by any fan of the history of SF. You wouldn’t believe the number of ideas Serviss introduced to the world of science fiction.
Disintegration beams. Handheld ray guns. Space suits. Space battles. Alien abductions. Asteroid mining. Oxygen pills. He was the first to write about all of these in what can only be classified as an early example of Space Opera.
Now, keep in mind at no point have I said this was a good book. It’s not. But it is hilarious. If you ever wanted Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to somehow riff on books and not just movies, this would be a prime candidate. Want an easy drinking game? Take a shot every time Serviss says something is impossible to describe, or there is no need to describe it. Take a double shot if he more or less goes on to describe it anyway.
This is nothing short of 19th century fanfic, which is in itself fascinating. It’s amazing to think of something that has exploded in notoriety due to the Internet existing over a hundred years ago. However, I don’t call it fanfic because he’s building off of Wells’ intellectual property, but because of the quality of his writing.
I’m willing to bet either you or someone you know has written fanfic, and as such know the distinct vibe it gives off. Regardless of their technical grasp of the English language, it still feels like their inner child has taken over and is talking in their head like this: “And… and then Thomas Edison went to the moon! And then they found this giant foot print, and everyone was like, wow! And then they found a crater full of crystals! It was awesome!”
Speaking of which, the novel is also a massive blowjob for Thomas Edison, whom I get the impression Serviss wanted to marry and have little inventor babies with. Shortly after the failed Martian invasion, Edison invents the disintegrator ray and an antigravity spaceship. Note that this is without even reverse-engineering anything the Martians left behind.
No, Edison just woke up one morning, noticed the Earth had nearly been destroyed, and figured someone had to do something about it. And everything he makes works better than the Martian’s versions. And he built it all in a cave with a bunch of scraps. No, wait, that last bit is Tony Stark.
Though much of the super-science is laughable, it’s no more so than the contemporaries of Serviss’ time. And being a science lecturer, he does try to infuse as much real science into the story as he can, such as their understanding of the effects of gravity.
This ‘sequel’ completely misses the point of Wells’ original. It wastes no time going from “Oh my god we barely survived that,” to “Let’s kick their Martian asses!” The assembly of world leaders take it as a given that the US will lead the way in this glorious venture, and quickly funds a billion dollars to build 100 ships with 2000 men total to take on all of Mars. No pressure. From there it’s a space adventure that takes them to the Moon, a golden asteroid in the asteroid belt, and finally to Mars itself.
While Serviss is no Wells when it comes to prose, if taken in a campy context and as a window to the 19th century “ripping yarn” mindset, the writing is, shall we say, Serviss-able? (ducks thrown tomato)
The book also has many cringe worthy moments, such as a native chief from Fiji brandishing a war club at the world assembly (right next to Queen Victoria) while the Emperor of China says things like “Make muchee noisee.” Not to mention finding a woman of the “Aryan race” on Mars. This is many decades before Nazi Germany, but the references are still disturbing.
While not wanting to give too much away, Edison’s victory does come at a terrible price, one which in our time would land him in front of a War Crimes tribunal. Which really brings me to a conclusion I’m sure most of you have already come to:
They should have damn well called Nicola Tesla.
Originally Published in KODT #203