The Second War of the Worlds by George H. Smith (1976)
This is one of several books by George H. Smith set in an alternative dimension in
which there is an analogue of the planet Earth called Annwn. There are many similarities
between the two worlds, but plenty of differences, notably that magic is a reality on Annwn.
Technologically, its evolution has been quite similar to ours, and as we join the story,
steam powered cars, airships and mechanised warfare have been developed, though this
industrial revolution is at an early stage. The Second War of the Worlds is the fourth
book (of five) in the Annwn sequence, and the second to feature the lead character of
Dylan MacBride, an explorer who in the previous novel Kar Kaballa, saved his civilisation
from an attack from the Gogs, a nomadic race somewhat modelled on the Mogul hoards.
Victory was achieved with the assistance of the sorceress Clarinda McTague (now MacBride's
wife to be) and technology from Earth, delivered via a portal separating the dimensions.
In the Second War of the Worlds, MacBride is in the city of Avallon, preparing a new
expedition, but is interrupted by disturbing news brought to him across the dimenensional
divide. His visitor is also anything but ordinary, styling himself W and with a tendency
to profess things "elementary". That he has a colleague on Earth he names H should be all
the clues you need to identify who they are, though the introduction of these literary
characters is an early indication that the novel is in a very muddled state of mind. Why
they should be hiding behind these code names is also never explained, and if it's just
to tease the reader, then it's a paper thin joke that wears out quite quickly.
MacBride learns that Earth has fought off an attack from Mars, as recounted in a history
of the invasion by one H.G. Wells, a copy of which he is provided by his visitors. In
fact, we also learn that a version of Wells is alive and well on Annwn, and is renowned
for his romantic fictions, though notably the Annwn doppelganger has not yet written The
War of the Worlds. In the Annwn universe, Mars is known as Thor and it seems that it is
Thor, not Mars, that was the source of the invaders of Earth. Confused yet? It seems that
on Earth, captured and reverse engineered Martian technology has made the planet an
uninviting target for a second invasion, but now the Martians (that is, the ones on Thor)
have their sights set on Annwn, though why they didn't attack Annwn in the first place
is a bit of a mystery. Smith obviously realises this is a bit of a conundrum, and suggests
that the Martians (or perhaps we should call them Thorians) were not keen on confronting
the magic of Annwn. But whatever the reason for their reluctance, they've now got their
sights firmly set on Annwn, and to make matters worse, they have help from a group of
humans from Earth called the Circle of Light, who think the Martians are superior beings
and as such have an evolutionary (even god-given) right to triumph and exterminate the
human race. The Circle of Light have provided the Martians (let's just keep calling them
Martians otherwise we're all going to get even more confused) with the information they
need to counteract the effects of Earth/Annwn germs, so the new invasion stands a very
good chance of success. The rest of the novel concerns MacBride's attempts to combat
the Circle of Light and prevent the Martians from achieving a beachhead on Annwn, though
this is only partly successful and the scene is set for a furious final battle.
I'm really torn by The Second War of the Worlds. It has some fine ideas in it, most
notably the fantastically chilling premise that in the aftermath of the invasion of
Earth, a cult could spring up that worships the Martians. The dialogue in The Second
War of the Worlds is frequently cringe inducing, but those passages in which an ardent
proponent of the Martians' superiority laments their treatment at the hands of humans
is superb, including an account of Martian survivors set upon with cricket bats,
garden hoses and shovels.
Much of the rest of the novel is however a lot less successful. As mentioned previously,
the dialogue, especially the excruciating histrionics of Clarinda McTague is overcooked
to the point of parody, and most damaging of all, the world of Annwn fails to engage
the reader as a living, breathing place. It's just a muddle of ideas that never satisfactorily
forms into a cohesive whole, though to be fair, I have not read any of the other books in
the sequence, so I may be missing some vital background understanding. Equally, there is
a lot of exposition provided to the previous story, so I personally didn't feel particularly
deprived of information. The novel does pick up pace and interest toward the end, with some
fantastic battles with the Martian war machines against the massed forces of Annwn, but
then it all goes flat again, with a perfunctory ending that left me feeling slightly cheated.
In conclusion then, I'm not enthused enough to want to seek out the other Annwn novels,
though fans of The War of the Worlds will find this an interesting read, peppered as it
is with some moments of genuine brilliance.
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