The War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives by various authors (2005)
The War of the Worlds is a story ripe for study and speculation, with room aplenty for both serious and frivolous deductions in equal measure: everything indeed from the history of human observation of the red planet to the Martians plainly appalling preparations for the attack. Pulling together a collection of essays that tap this rich vein of potential is a great idea for a book, and when you round up some big name authors (from the modern day world of science fiction) and combine it with a reprint of the original novel, you end up with one of the most interesting ways around of immersing yourself in this seminal story of alien invasion.
Of course with any enterprise of this nature, some contributions work better than others. One of the clear highlights is Lawrence Watt-Evans' devastating exercise in the art of hindsight, in which he deconstructs the Martian invasion and proves that they were a pretty inept bunch of invaders, who seemed to have done little in the way of preparation or investigation prior to launching their assault. It all makes for a compelling argument, bolstered by Watt Evans' further flight of fantasy, in which he speculates why the Martians were such terrible invaders and reveals an entirely plausible history and sociological order for the red planet. Fred Saberhagen is one of those contributors who looks into the Orson Welles broadcast, with the added spice that he is able to recount a first hand experience of the broadcasts effect. The description of his Aunt Mabel running out of the house in terror adds a nice frisson to his retelling of the night's events. I do take slight issue with his comment that Welles was wrong to suggest in his script that Mars was in opposition at the time. In fact, Welles set his story in 1939, not 1938 as Saberhagen assumes, and it appears that Mars in fact made one of its closest approaches of the 20th century that year. One up there for Orson Welles.
Another particular favourite is The Night Wind And The Morning Star, in which Robert Charles Wilson shows off the Mars we are seeing today through our space probes to H G Wells. Going off the really strange scale is David Zindell's wonderfully weird tale that suggest Wells was somehow channelling real events on Mars and in fact covered up a great deal of his knowledge, especially that relating to the Martian's sex lives.
A collection like this lives and dies by its editing, and while on balance the patient stands on its own two feet and minor niggles as I describe above can be ignored, there is a degree of admittedly hard to avoid repetition that becomes irksome. The problem is that many of the essayists need to quote from The War of the Worlds, and the same text inevitably crops up again and again. More annoyingly, there is one glaringly obvious contradiction of fact. It is asserted in David Gerrold's "Wars of the Worlds" essay that Grover's Mill was a fictional creation of the Orson Welles broadcast, but this is correctly challenged in Saberhagen's essay, in which he recounts how scriptwriter Howard Koch came to select Grover's Mill as the beachhead for his invasion. This really should have been picked up at the editing stage and some consistency achieved, but in general terms, the overall quality of the material and the varied subject matter more than adequately compensates for these small misgivings.
If you are looking to read the original novel and at the same time would like to gain some historical and sociological context to the story, then you'll find everything you need and then some within the pages of this book. Highly recommended.
Stephen Baxter, David Gerrold, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Mercedes Lackey, Mike Resnick, Fred Saberhagen, Pamela Sargent, Robert Silverberg, Ian Watson, Jack Williamson, Connie Willis, Robert Charles Wilson, George Zebrowski, David Zindell.
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