The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

And still they come..

😐 😐

the-massacre-of-mankindIt’s 1920, thirteen years since the first Martian attack ended in their defeat. Now astronomers have noticed ominous signs on the Red Planet – they’re coming back to try again! But this time England has been expecting them, and has made every effort to prepare…

It’s been a long time since I read The War of the Worlds, but I remember loving it – the descriptions of the Martian ships, the heat ray, the terror of the people, the rather quirky ending. So when I saw this sequel had been endorsed by HG Wells’ estate, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, as so often, I came away from it wishing that sometimes (most times) great books could just be left to stand as they are.

The basic plot of the original is that when the Martians arrive, the humans try everything they can to defeat them, but the Martians are so technologically superior they can overcome any of humanity’s weapons. These repeated failed attempts go on, interspersed by the narrator telling of his own experiences and describing the devastation and fear caused by the attack, until finally something entirely unexpected by either Martian or human comes along to break the cycle.

Baxter replicates this approach. He starts by creating an alternative history, speculating how the First Martian War would have altered the course of the next couple of decades. This is quite fun – WW1 happens very differently, Britain has turned into a kind of martial state, Churchill is involved in the plans to defeat any future Martian attack etc. We also meet the two people through whose eyes we mainly see the story develop – Julie, a journalist and ex-wife to Frank, a doctor and brother of the narrator in the original. At this early stage I was quite enjoying it in a mild kind of way.

war-of-the-worlds
But then the Martians arrived. We attacked them with our little guns. They killed us. We attacked them with bigger guns. They killed us. We attacked them with great big guns. They killed us. We attacked them with their own guns… well, you get the point. Now, as I said, this is pretty much what happened in the original too. But there is one huge, major difference. The original is 208 pages long – this one is listed as 464 according to Goodreads, but my ARC from Amazon Vine actually comes in at roughly 540 largish pages. I’m sure you’ll all have memorised my literary laws – I fear this book fails the first one badly…

FF’s First Law
The length of a book should be determined by the requirements of the story.

Apart from the length issue, I found I hadn’t developed any concern for the major characters. Partly this is because I found the writing a little flat, and the female character rather unappealing. But largely it’s because within the first few chapters the author lets us know through some clumsy foreshadowing that they both survive! And furthermore, that they meet up again after the war and collaborate on this book – hence we know straight away that mankind clearly isn’t massacred after all! Telling me about the sudden deaths of thousands of fictional soldiers I’ve never been introduced to doesn’t have the same emotional impact as would fear for one character I’d grown to care about. (Hmm! Perhaps that should be FF’s Fifth Law…) If memory serves me right, in the original the narrator and, therefore, we were concerned about the whereabouts and welfare of his missing wife.

Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter

I’m afraid that by the time I reached page 150 the basic premise (we attack – they kill us) had already been repeated three or four times, and I decided I couldn’t face hundreds more pages. Usually I’d give an abandoned book 1 star, but truthfully this is reasonably well written and the spirit and style of the original have been largely maintained. I didn’t hate it, it was just too long for its content and too repetitive to maintain my interest. Pity.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion Publishing Group.

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37 thoughts on “The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

    • I know – I don’t really know why I read them, they hardly ever live up to the original. This was a good attempt, but just didn’t have the same impact due to being way too long…

  1. I read Baxter’s ‘Flood’ series on the back of his collaboration with the great Terry Pratchett, and while it was OK I am not sure why I persisted. I like the idea of a re-imagining of WoTW, but I am not surprised he doesn’t seem to have carried it off.

    • I haven’t read any of his stuff before, but had heard his name especially in connection with the Pratchett books, so had high hopes. Sadly, it was a good attempt, but way too long and just didn’t have the impact of the original…

  2. So let me guess, FIctionFan: you weren’t exactly drawn into this one. I think you hit on two really important things, too. First, there has to be at least one appealing character. If you’re not exactly drawn to at least one of them, it’s hard to warm to a story. And then, as you say, there’s the length thing. I could go on about that and meander for quite a while on the length of today’s books. After all, they are longer than they used to be, and…. 😉

    Seriously, I don’t blame you for being annoyed at that. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of most follow-ons; sorry this one disappointed you.

    • Hahaha! The length thing drives me crazy, especially when a follow-on is three times the length of the original! But yes, I think the fact that I found the main characters unappealing, plus being told right from the beginning that they survive, took away any tension or suspense. Still can’t get my head round why he told us that, actually, in this kind of book… Ah well! I never seem to be able to resist these follow-ons even if they very rarely thrill me…

    • I knew I’d heard his name when I got this, but it was only later I remembered his collaboration with Terry Pratchett. I love a long book if there’s enough story to fill it, but this one just seemed to be so repetitive… ah well! Onwards and upwards!

    • Yes, I’m trying to let myself abandon books if they’re just not thrilling me – I used to only abandon them if I actually hated them. But this one was a good attempt, just too long and repetitive for the story it was telling…

    • A wise decision, I feel! It’s a pity – I could see he’d done his homework to get the feeling of the original, but way too long for the story it was telling… ah, well!

  3. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one, but I’d never fault you for your reasoning. Don’t you just hate opening a book with high hopes, then reaching a point where you know you can’t finish it because it’s nowhere near what you expected?? Well, ’tis hard to end the week on a down note, but that’s just one more excuse for chocolate (as if we ever need an excuse, ha!)

    • Yes, and I’m trying to let myself abandon books a bit more easily – I have a real tendency to stick with them even when I’m not enjoying them, and really, what’s the point? Haha! No excuse needed here – plus I have the new Jane Casey lined up for this weekend – one I definitely won’t be abandoning! Have a great weekend, Debbie! 🙂

    • Thank you! 🙂 Yeah, I don’t mind if a book’s long so long as the story justifies it, but I hate when a book gets repetitive. But the writing was fine and he got the style of the original so I’m sure it will appeal to plenty of people more than it did to me…

  4. No, no, no…why do people do this? The original was very philosophical. It wasn’t just about warfare, the narrator mused on life and purpose and the kinds of people he met and how they were or were not handling this horrific situation well. Was any of that in this new one? Doesn’t sound like and that’s what, in my opinion, made The War of the Worlds not just another “alien shoot ’em up” story.

    However, I can see why someone would want to read this if they liked the original. Heck, I might even try it, because I loved the original! (And btw, I do believe at the end of the book, the narrator found his wife). But I will read it with a biiiig salt block. Thank you for such an honest review!

    • I honestly think there should be some kind of law to stop people doing it, even if I can never resist reading them! It’s so long since I read the original, and I must say this book and your comments have left me wanting to re-read it – which is what I should have done in the first place rather than reading this one. I don’t think I read far enough into this one to really comment fairly, but it started out well with a look at how the first war might have affected society and left people nervous, but then descended into battle after battle. It may have picked up again later though…

      I think my memory of the original is so coloured now by various films and other adaptations that I’m not sure what comes from the original and what doesn’t…

      • I only read this for the first time last year, so the memory of it is very recent for me. It was also my first Wells and I went on to read two more of his. He is so good!

        I found out my library has three film adaptations from the 1960s on, so I watched those as well and oh my, they were all terrible, imo! They all turned the book in to one big battle against the aliens, none of the philosophical stuff and were all updated to the present time, which doubled the not-making-sense for me. There should also be a law against bad taste 🙂 lol

        • I’ve just re-read The Time Machine after many years and it’s fab too. I really must read more of his stuff – The Island of Dr Moreau is on my Classics Club list so I’ll get to it sometime. Ha! Yes, I can’t think of a good film version of WOTW either, but I did like Jeff Wayne’s concept album very much…

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