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The Martian War by Gabriel Mesta (2005)

The Martian War by Gabriel Mesta

One of the more interesting literary concepts is the idea of taking a real author and dropping him or her into their own fictional worlds. This has happened to H G Wells at least once before in the great little movie Time After Time, in which a time machine he has invented is stolen, by none other than Jack The Ripper. Kevin J Anderson (writing as Gabriel Mesta) has now taken the even more promising idea of involving the author in his very own War of the Worlds and really run with it, managing the difficult task of interweaving into The Martian War, not only other contemporary figures of science, but several more of Wells' flights of fiction. The result is a very interesting brew indeed, featuring elements of The First Men In The Moon, The Island Of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man.

The book is divided into two broad and concurrently running narratives, in the first of which, we find Wells himself. The year is 1884 and when first we meet, it is atop a London rooftop with his mentor and biology teacher, the renowned T.H Huxley. They are there to observe a meteor shower, but on catching a fever upon the chilly roof, a bedridden Wells gains in his delirium a first blurred vision of a possible War of the Worlds. Fast-forward 10 years to 1894 and Wells is now happily cohabitating (much against contemporary social values) with the love of his life, Jane Robbins. He is also just beginning to find his true calling as a writer when he finds himself summoned to meet again with his old Professor, Huxley. Wells is astounded to discover that Huxley is heading up a super secret scientific endeavour to counter a possible German invasion. Any and all possible avenues of research are being pursued, including a formula for invisibility and a gravity defining metal called Cavorite.

The other strand of the book concerns the rather unusual pairing of the fictional character of Doctor Moreau and the very real Percival Lowell, the amateur astronomer who did much to popularise the concept of a dying Martian civilisation. The unlikely pair come together in the Sahara, where Moreau is fleeing prosecution for his inhuman surgical experiments and Lowell is building a vast signalling device, hopefully to guide to Earth what he firmly believes to be a fast approaching emissary from Mars.

Of course the real Lowell did no such thing in reality, but the strength of any book like this is how well the author can mix fact and fiction. Anderson it must be said, does this extremely well, blurring the lines nicely and creating a fictional world that feels much like the comic-book The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The story also romps along in a very energetic fashion so this can aptly and accurately be styled, a real page turner. Within a short time, Moreau and Lowell have succeeded in guiding a Martian cylinder in to land and encountered its sole surviving crew member. Meanwhile, back in London, Wells, Jane and Huxley have thwarted an invisible spy and saboteur only to be accidentally blasted adrift in space aboard a Cavorite encased space capsule, a concept lifted of course from The First Men In The Moon.

Anderson is highly adept at creating believable worlds and so not only does a great job in bringing to life an alternative late 19th century Earth, but succeeds admirably in fleshing out the Martian civilisation, where the adrift trio eventually come to rest. We saw nothing of this world in the original War of the Worlds novel, so it is a treat to see it described here in stupendous detail, capturing nicely the sense of a dying race whose technology is all that prevents the onrushing doom of extinction.

If I must be moved to a slight criticism, it is that the book hurtles along a little too quickly at times, especially in the sections focused on Mars. The earlier material in London and the Sahara is a little more leisurely paced and Anderson hence gives his characters more room to breathe. On Mars, the events hurtle along so fast that you feel that in attempting to build to a rip roaring climax, the author has taken a few too many narrative short cuts which forces him to remould Wells as a somewhat improbable action hero.

Of course, equally speaking, everything in the book is remoulded from reality to one degree or another, so perhaps this criticism is a little harsh. I merely feel there are two halves to this book that do not quite gel as they should. It is however a minor criticism of a really good book. Modern science fiction does not often just let itself go and have fun with the genre, so The Martian War is something of a breath of fresh air, a bold boys own adventure that rockets through time and space with scant regard for fact or common sense, and all the better for it. I can't help but think this would make a heck of a movie. Someone like Steven "The Mummy" Sommers (who has already proven himself excellent at period pieces) could have of a lot of fun with this story. Brendan Frazer as H G Wells anyone?

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See also

Books

1950
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Matian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. A bitter sweet history of Mars as seen and experienced by both Human and Martians.

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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