Anderson’s entertaining The Martian Wars offers a return to the gilded age of science fiction for an H.G. Wells-inspired mash-up, a fast-paceed romp through many of the author’s best-known works.
Anderson’s novel begins in fact, with a young Wells studying with T.H. Huxley, grandfather of writer Aldous Huxley, a man known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his aggressive proselytization of the new theory of evolution. Anderson introduces his fictional conceit early on, when Wells, speculating on extraterrestrial life with Huxley, muses:
Perhaps even now the Martians are regarding Earth with envious eyes.
Even casual fans will recognize this dialogue as an appropriation of War of the Worlds’ opening lines. Anderson’s first chapters continue in this vein, introducing the reader to many of Wells’ best-known plots and characters, including Dr. Moreau, the Invisible Man, and of course the Martian invaders, whom Wells soon learns are planning for the invasion he warns of in his then-unwritten novel.
Anderson creates a nice narrative rhythm by breaking the storyline in two. The present action follows Wells, Huxley, and Jane, Wells’ soon-to-be wife, as they are accidentally launched into space in a weightless circular ship out of Wells’ First Men in the Moon, and begin traveling first to the Moon, then on to Mars. The second half of the story takes place in the form Dr. Moreau’s journal, which Wells received moments before being shot into space. Moreau, along with wealthy scientific dilettante Percival Lowell, have captured a Martian from a crashed ship, and hope to present it to the scientific community to redeem their careers. As the trio journey through our galaxy in their lighter-than-air ship, Moreau and Lowell bring their captured alien from Africa to America, hoping to keep it, and themselves, alive throughout the process.
Anderson’s novel owes more to the spirit Wells’ fiction than to that of scientific inquiry, on which Wells based his books. Modern scientific knowledge is ignored: people breathe as easily on the Moon and Mars as they do on earth; vivisection is still a promising, if outlawed, scientific procedure. Anderson also side-steps the trickier aspects of Wells’ character, painting Jane and Wells as a perfectly complementary couple without hinting at Wells’ lifelong womanizing (“Jane,” former student Amy Catherine Robbins whom Wells has re-named, is his second wife, although he will have two children with two other women).
Although the novel falls squarely into the category of camp, its camp is founded on the sense of adventure underlying the best of Wells’ work, and fans of gilded-age science fiction will love seeing one of the genre’s greatest heroes cast as an interstellar swashbuckler in Anderson’s fast-paced and fun The Martian War.