The Massacre of Mankind: The Sequel to War of the Worlds by Stephen Baxter

Rating: 6.7 (out of 10)

Baxter’s sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic is at once a continuation of the original story, a meta-critique of that novel, and an alternate history that plays with the many theories of life in the solar system that were circulating in Wells’ time. This time, Julie Elphinstone – a supporting character in War of the Worlds – is the protagonist and narrator. She introduces herself a journalist and former sister-in-law of the original nameless Narrator of War of the Worlds, here called Walter Jenkins. She indicates from the beginning that her narrative of the second Martian war is compiled from her own experiences and from other reports collected from around the globe fallowing the conclusion of the war. From the beginning, it is made clear that humans have managed to prevail again, leaving the “what” and the “how” for the reader to discover.

Despite some distracting post-modern affectations, such as the constant critiquing of Jenkins’ (meaning Wells’) original narrative of the first Martian war, and the incessant name dropping of famous historical figures and their actions during both wars, Elphinstone’s story is fairly riveting through the first two thirds or so, but Baxter makes a critical mistake in detouring from the tale just as the “solution” to the second invasion is about to present itself. Elphinstone takes us on a world tour of the war’s events, leaving us in a state of excruciatingly protracted suspense, while introducing us to a mostly entirely new cast of characters, with even more celebrity name dropping and alt-history shenanigans, before bringing us back around for a rather anti-climactic finale. I appreciate Baxter’s willingness to expand the borders of this interplanetary war beyond the shores of Great Britain, but I think he badly mishandled the execution in this case. The denouement is also overlong, though it makes a few interesting observations and is not lacking for poignancy.

The Massacre of Mankind is, at times, a worthy sequel to Wells’ classic, but falls a little short of the greatness is aspires to.

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