War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches

Another review connected to the recent H. G. Wells series.

Raw Feed (1996): War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, ed. Kevin J. Anderson, 1996.Global Dispatches

“Foreword”, Kevin J. Anderson — An ill-conceived and badly executed conceit for this anthology: that all the stories represent a unified, expanded view of the Martian novel depicted in H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. Anderson would have been better off presenting each story as a particular riff on Wells’ story, not part of a unified suite on Wells’ story.

The Roosevelt Dispatches”, Mike Resnick — Not one of Resnick’s better alternate histories involving Teddy Roosevelt. Essentially, this is about Roosevelt discovering a Martian scout and expressing optimism about the innate American ability to resist Martian invasion.

Canals in the Sand”, Kevin J. Anderson — This story features Percival Lowell (the spiritual godfather, in a sense, of Wells’ Martians and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom) and draws most of its strength by using the historical Lowell – a haughty, Boston Brahmin who spent most of his life as a professional diplomat to Japan and Korea amongst other places – rather than the current conception of him as a crazed astronomer drawing maps of a dying Mars canals. Haughty, rich, strong-willed Lowell spends a fortune constructing an excavation in the Sahara so the (he presumes) peaceable Martians will meet him there thus making him man’s ambassador to them. The Martians do come. Anderson doesn’t explicitly tell us what happens to Lowell when the Martians come, but, having read Wells, we can guess.

Foreign Devils”, Walter Jon Williams — An intriguing, well-done story in which the puppet Emperor (he is under the control of the military faction of “Iron Hats”) and Dowager Empress use the Martian invasion to free themselves from the Iron Hats, the Boxers (the story is set during the Boxer rebellion), and China from foreign influence. The Emperor will use his new power to modernize the hide-bound Chinese state.

Blue Period”, Daniel Marcus — Story of the Martian invasion of Paris and how it influences Pablo Picasso to create a painting of a crucified idiot of “vacant … eyes and glistening lips … slack-jawed” on Calvary with a tripod in the background.

The Martian Invasion – Journals of Henry James”, Robert Silverberg — I would probably appreciate this story more if I had actually read any Henry James. [And I haven’t revisted after reading some Henry James.] Still, I liked it. Plotwise, it’s Henry James’ account of the Martian Invasion as he views it with friend H. G. Wells. (In this universe, James is the one who ends up writing the classic The War of the Worlds. Wells never writes an account of the invasion.) Most of the story’s interest derives from the contrasting characters. James is the moneyed literary man, a connoisseur of leisure who, says Wells, pays too much attention to literary style. To James, Wells seems like a vigorous force of nature constantly spinning out new ideas even though he doesn’t pay attention enough to matters of literary style. Wells scoffs at James’ naïve notion that the Martians attack initially just because they are frightened. Wells sees life as a struggle. He struggled out of his humble station in life. Joseph Conrad fan Silverberg throws in a few references to Conrad working on his “interminable Lord Jim”.

The True Tale of the Final Battle of Umslopogaas the Zulu”, Janet Berliner — One of those pointless alternate histories seemingly written just to show the author did their research and got the names and dates right. I don’t think I would have liked this story even if I had read H. Rider Haggard She and Allan Quartermain from which the title character is taken.

Night of the Cooters”, Howard Waldrop — First published in 1987, this story probably inspired the idea for this whole anthology. It’s a humorous, engaging story about how Sherriff Lindley organizes a resistance against a Martian cylinder that lands nearby. With the help of some big rifles, dynamite, and an old Civil War cannon, the Martians are defeated.

Determinism and the Martian War, with Relativistic Corrections”, Doug Beason — An uninteresting story about how the examination of a downed Martian tripod leads Albert Einstein to formulate his theory of relativity.

Soldier of the Queen”, Barbara Hambly — I enjoyed this story a lot. Like Walter Jon Williams’ “Foreign Devils”, this is a story about the political fallout of the Martian invasion. Here, Indians use the defeat of British forces by the Martians in India and England to gain their independence. The story itself involves the remnants of a defeated British forces teaming up with Indian partisans to fight the Martians. I liked the details of the guerilla campaign, the difficulty of the Martians traversing the rough terrain of India, and the problems the Martians have of using their black gas in a wet, humid climate that renders it inert so quickly.

Mars: the Home Front”, George Alec Effinger — Effinger cleverly combines the two great sf Martian stories here. In a well-done pastiche, John Carter again returns to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom to rescue his beloved Dejah Thoris from the hideous sarmaks who are Well’s Martians. He succeeds, of course, and incidentally stops the sarmaks from launching anymore cylinders at Earth.

A Letter from St. Louis”, Allen Steele — An uninteresting story which simply recounts the Martian destruction of St. Louis (Steele’s hometown thus continuing an sf tradition of trashing hometowns).

Resurrection”, Mark W. Tiedemann — This story postulates that the Martian invasion helps to build a global state in part because of the experiences of narrator Leo Tolstoy during the invasion. A minor character is Iosef Vissarionovich – a complete unknown to the historians writing the framing memos of the story but known to our world as Stalin.

Paris Conquers All”, Gregory Benford and David Brin, — A disappointingly silly story from two authors I expected better from. Essentially, Martian sexual habits cause them to regard the Eiffel Tower as a mate? fetish? that a team of English, French, and Americans lethally boobytrap with electricity. The story does make note of the differences in H. G. Wells’ sf and that of narrator Jules Verne when the latter (I believe echoing a remark he actually made) says “I make use of physics. He invents.”

To Mars and Providence”, Don Webb — A moody, clever working of the life and work of H. P. Lovecraft into Wells’ Martian invasion. I caught (and there are probably some I didn’t’ catch) references to Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”, “The Shadow Out of Time”, “The Call of Cthulhu”, and “The Outsider”. The plot takes its cue from the latter story when eight year old Lovecraft turns out to be the displaced mind of one of the “elder gods”.

Roughing It During the Martian Invasion”, Daniel Keys Moran and Jodi Moran — A well-done, humorous, if simple story of Mark Twain and others attempting to capture a live Martian for exhibition (and making money – a perfectly consistent Gilded Age Twain goal).

To See the World End”, M. Shayne Bell — I liked this story despite the prophecies of African woman Sililo (I felt she added a jarring tone of fantasy to an sf story). I enjoyed reading about Conrad’s early life: his noble Polish parents dying after being forced into Russian exile, his experiences with ill health and Belgian imperialism in the Congo. The theme of imperialistic oppression drives this story as Conrad helps Sililo and her family escape Belgian repression. The Martians are seen by both Sililo and Conrad as simply another imperialist power who sweeps the great powers of Earth aside (Conrad seems to have, before taking up writing, been involved in anti-imperialist causes). Like Mark W. Tiedemann’s “Resurrection”, this story postulates that the Martian invasion gives impetus to a new global political order. The Africans also use it to throw off European shackles. Several stories in this anthology feature indigenous peoples throwing out foreign powers. This comment on 19th century imperialism follows the lead of Wells’ who explicitly compared Martian actions to those of the British in Tasmania.

[“After a Lean Winter” by David Wolverton is a worthwhile, Jack-London-meets-H . G. Wells story I’ve briefly reviewed elsewhere.]

The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poem: A Wellesian Perspective”, Connie Willis — A spoof of literary criticism (with a title featuring no less than 3 colons) which purports to show that not only Dickinson, who died in 1886, had a prescient knowledge of the Martian invasion but that her bad rhymes drove the Martians off. It’s pretty funny, and the best humorous piece I’ve read of Willis.

Afterword: Retrospective”, Gregory Benford and David Brin — This is better than the same authors “Paris Conquers All” in the same anthology. It too features Jules Verne as a narrator. He details the effects the Martian invasion had on Earth: the creation of “fetishists” who seek to imitate Martian ways, a peaceful global order that has turned technological progress away from war into creating a 1928 much more advanced than ours (including a human expedition to Mars), and a plea to replace the war of the worlds with a reconciliation of worlds. Verne urges man (in our universe, Verne grew increasingly pessimistic about man’s future) to learn “even from the defeated”.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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