Exclusive Interview: The Massacre Of Mankind Author Stephen Baxter

Since its publication in 1898, H.G. Wells’ classic alien invasion novel The War Of The Worlds has inspired countless adaptations, homages, and imitations…but never a continuation. Well, not an official one, that is. But with the blessing of The H.G. Wells Estate, writer Stephen Baxter has done exactly that with The Massacre Of Mankind (hardcover, digital). Though in talking to Baxter about this novel, it seems he’s pretty aware of those unofficial sequels.

Stephen Baxter The War Of The Worlds The Massacre Of Mankind

Photo Credit: Sandra Shepherd

 

To begin, what is The Massacre Of Mankind and how does it connect to HG. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds?

The Massacre Of Mankind is a sequel to Wells’ book, narratively and chronologically. Most of the action takes place at the time of the next close approach of Mars to Earth, in about 1920. My logic was that Wells’ Martians have to come again. Their climate is collapsing; they’ve fought the end technologically as long as they can, and now they flee extinction. The first party was exploratory and made a lot of mistakes; the second party means business. If the first was Columbus, now we have the conquistadors.

The Massacre Of Mankind is the first authorized sequel to Wells’ novel, with that authorization coming from his estate. How hard was it to get their permission to write this book?

It’s a long story. In 1995 I published a sequel to Wells’ The Time Machine called The Time Ships, which was timed for the centenary of the originalThat needed authorization as Wells’ works were still in copyright, and the estate kindly agreed to it. This was all my idea. Now, The Massacre Of Mankind was also my idea, timed for Wells’ almost 150th birthday. But since Wells’ work is now out of copyright, it no longer needed authorization, but the estate kindly gave it anyway. Since The Time Ships, I’ve stayed in touch with the Wellsian world. I attend conferences, give papers, I’m a Vice President of the international H.G. Wells Society. So I know some of the estate, the descendants, personally now. A lot of us met up last summer in Woking, where a statue of Wells was unveiled. That was where he lived when he wrote War Of The Worlds. They asked to read the book in manuscript, but made no conditions or requests.

Obviously, the biggest literary influence on The Massacre Of Mankind is HG. Wells and his novel The War Of The Worlds. But are there other writers or specific books that you also think were an influence on The Massacre Of Mankind?

The scenes set in the U.S. — it is a global war this time — had some influences. It was the age of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and when the Martians attack the East Coast, it’s pretty much Great Gatsby country.

I also made a few nods to the first sequel to War Of The Worlds, an unauthorized knock-off called Edison’s Invasion Of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, which was serialized in the newspapers just after Wells’ own book was serialized. Edison was a kind of super-science action hero in books like this, which were called Edisonades. So I had some fun having the “real” Edison dreaming up weapons against the Martians in my book.

Basically, though, I was concentrating on Wells, his work, the deeper motivations that lay behind his book. That’s overwhelmingly the biggest influence. He was a pretty deep thinker, and my book is a homage in that way.

What about non-literary influences, what movies, TV shows, comics, or video games do you see as having an impact on The Massacre Of Mankind and in what ways?

You can’t ignore the movie adaptations of War Of The Worlds, the best of which are true to the essential spirit of the book. It’s about the invasion of the homeland, so it’s right that the action should be relocated to, say, California in the 1950s for the 1953 movie. The Spielberg update worked in that way too. But again, Wells’ book was my main source.

Now, as we mentioned, this is the first authorized sequel to The War Of The Worlds, but there’s been unofficial ones, including some that were good, such as Ian Edginton’s graphic novels Scarlet Traces and Scarlet Traces: The Great Game. Did you look at any of them, if only to make sure you didn’t copy anything?

Actually, I met Ian Edginton recently.

I’ve read a lot of such stuff over the years. Did a paper for the Wells Society on them once. There’s some fun stuff; it’s interesting how Wells’ creations, such as the Martians, Moreau, the Invisible Man, have entered a wider pantheon of canonical characters that broke out of their backgrounds. See The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for instance. But I don’t think any of that stuff influenced The Massacre Of Mankind.

Speaking of movies, there’s been a bunch of movies based on The War Of The Worlds. Has there been any interest in turning The Massacre Of Mankind into a film?

There has been some interest, but I can’t talk about it, sorry. Nothing signed yet. 

No worries. Of course, the most famous adaptation of HG. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds is Orson Welles’ infamous radio play. Did you pay homage in any way to Welles and what he did in The Massacre Of Mankind?

Well, I let my Martians loose on Welles’ location, an Easter egg for the alert reader to find.

Leaving aside the notoriety, Welles’s adaptation also worked well because he reset the story in the then present, the homeland. H.G. and Orson did meet a few years later, with H.G. being sniffy about his work being adapted a bit sensationally, but in the end, they got on well.

Stephen Baxter The War Of The Worlds The Massacre Of Mankind

Finally, if someone enjoys The Massacre Of Mankind, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?

They could look for The Time Ships, my other Wells sequel. Or try another novel of mine that scored a hit recently: Proxima, more modern sci-fi, where I managed to predict a planet of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, pretty much where the astronomers found it.

 

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