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Major Well and You by Lasar Lagin (1962)

Major Well and You by Lasar Lagin.

Even labouring within the limitations of a crudely translated text, it is clear that this represents a quite amazing addition to the literary canon established by The War of the Worlds. Set largely during the original invasion (with a short introduction in the early 1940's) it tells a chilling tale of collaboration with the alien enemy. A set of journals are discovered on the banks of the Thames in London. The finder is an army officer named Patterson, just released from hospital having lost a leg in the Second World War. When he reads the astounding contents of these journals, he realises (motivated by his socialist leanings) that the story must be heard by others, and attempts to interest a British newspaper in publishing them, but the newspaper owners stall, no doubt horrified at what the story reveals and the damage it would do to the image and reputation of the British ruling classes.

I confess I am a little unclear as to this next portion of the story, but it seems that Patterson intends then to bring the story to the Soviets. It is here that the story switches to the scandalous contents of the journals, which tell the story of a retired British army Major who finds himself caught up in the original War of the Worlds. This Major Well is a thoroughly repellent character, which is hardly surprising as at heart this is a propaganda piece, but regardless of his political motivations, I must express my admiration for the writer for creating a truly despicable individual. I can't recall a time I've disliked a fictional character as much as this money grabbing, social climbing, upper class opportunist bigot. You see, it must be really good propaganda, because I've fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

When first we meet him, it seems that Major Well is on the up and up. He's moving in the right circles and financial success and a higher social position seems certain. But then the Martians arrive and his future suddenly looks a lot less certain. Having accompanied an artillery regiment into the heart of the fighting, the Major finds himself scooped up and deposited into one of the metal baskets of the Martian war machines. It does not take him long to make a fateful decision. If he is to survive, he must cooperate with the Martians.

What develops is a truly disturbing work of fiction. Motivated at first by the desire to save his own skin, the Major bit by bit convinces himself that the Martians are a force for good whose intervention in human affairs will solve the woes of the world, amongst which he counts the scourge of socialism. His first act of betrayal has him impulsively bludgeon a fellow captive who is plotting an escape, (having judged the odds of success negligible) but as new captives are added to the basket, he callously sets about assuring them of their safety and waves them off with a smile as they are plucked up into the war machine cupola, there to be drained of their life blood. As part of his own self indoctrination, the Major reasons that the Martians certainly aren't as bad as those who made lampshades out of peoples skin, a clear reference to the Nazis. Not all surprising to find this mentioned here, given how strong anti German feeling must still have been in the Soviet Union, though ironically, the Major's deception of his fellow captives is exactly the sort of deviousness the Nazis used in herding their captives into the gas chambers. The Major takes particular glee in deceiving those he perceives as working class traitors to the country, especially those of socialist revolutionary leanings who are taking up arms against the Martians. Most horribly, the Major achieves his aim of a meeting of minds with the Martians, to the point where they offer and he accepts the honour of human blood to drink. Even the taking of blood he finds not unreasonable, for he believes there are plenty of people (he singles out America as a particularly useful source of livestock) who have nothing better to offer their new Martian masters than their lives.

Naturally given the well known end to The War of the Worlds, we know that the Major is going to get his comeuppance, but Lagin has a particularly nasty fate in store for his traitor. When he comes down with a cold, the Martians bring the Major into their machine, an uncharacteristic gesture of fondness that seals all their fates. Trapped with his dying masters, the Major can find no way out, but frantically pressing buttons brings the machine to life, whereupon it wades uncontrollably into the Thames, where it sinks into the depths with the Major and the Martians entombed aboard. Four decades later, a German bomb strikes the submerged war machine and the Major's journals, sealed in an old biscuit tin, are ejected onto the shore where they are found by Patterson.

This wonderful story is crying out to be translated into English and if there is anyone out there who feels they have the language skills necessary and would like to work with me on this project, I would be delighted to hear from you. You can download the russian text of Major Well and You by Lasar Lagin here.

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See also

Books

1912
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. A former American soldier is transported to Mars and finds himself caught up in war and adventure.

1938
Out of the Silent Planet by C S Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet by C S Lewis. A proffessor is kidnapped to a Mars of breathtaking beauty and deeply spiritual importance.

1961
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. A human raised by Martians returns to Earth.

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