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The Second War of the Worlds by George H. Smith (1976)

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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See also

Books

1898
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The ultimate novel of alien invasion as Martians crash to Earth in Victorian England.

1969
Sherlock Holmes The War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman.

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman. The Martians find a worthy opponent in the great dectective of Baker Street.

Comics

1973
Killraven

Killraven. A bold attempt to show a war of resistance against a conquering second Martian Invasion in the year 2001.

1996
The Haven and the Hellweed

The Haven and the Hellweed. A gritty vision of a modern day Earth under the heel of the Martians. A more realistic counterpoint to the Killraven series.

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