After writing an award-winning sequel to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (The Time Ships, 1995), Baxter revisits another Wells classic, War of the Worlds, with a sequel to the seminal 1898 tale of alien invasion.
Set in 1920—13 years after the events of War of the Worlds—the story is narrated by journalist Julie Elphinstone, the sister-in-law of Walter Jenkins, the unreliable narrator who chronicled the First Martian War. Jenkins, who's in a hospital in Vienna undergoing therapy from renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, contacts Elphinstone in New York City with “grave news from the sky”: the Martians have launched ships from the red planet and are returning to Earth, this time in far greater numbers. Elphinstone returns to England just in time to witness the Martians land en masse outside London and quickly overcome human resistance with their Heat-Rays and tripedal engines of war. It becomes apparent that the Martians are not just interested in conquest; they’re attempting to colonize the planet. When another wave of Martian ships lands near population centers all over the world—in New York, Melbourne, Peking, etc.—Elphinstone and her cohorts are left with one last desperate attempt to defeat the invaders. But while Baxter (The Long Utopia, 2015, etc.) excels at describing the time period—as well as simultaneously creating a fascinating alternate history (Britain is a fascist state, Germany rules much of Europe, and the Titanic never sank)—the story has a decidedly detached feel to it. Part of the problem is in the delivery; Elphinstone is writing her memoir many years after the apocalyptic events so there is no feeling of immediacy, no real tension or question of outcome. The analytical, emotionally reserved narrative ultimately makes for a dull reading experience.
A richly described and action-packed, albeit forgettable, glimpse into the near future of a science-fiction classic.