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War of the Worlds: New Millennium by Douglas Niles (2005)

War of the Worlds: New Millennium by Douglas Niles

This novel makes the assumption that H.G. Wells never actually wrote The War of the Worlds or indeed that his fictional world ever existed at all. So when Martians turn up in the early 2000's, we are totally unprepared for the concept of an alien invasion. As in the original novel, the first sign of trouble is a series of inexplicable flashes spotted on the surface of Mars, foreshadowing the arrival of a fleet of spacecraft. In one of the more interesting departures from the original, the first three incoming cylinders do not land, but instead self-destruct above the Earth, sending out powerful electromagnetic pulses, which fry most of our electronics. The remaining cylinders slam to Earth and begin disgorging Tripod fighting machines, which is where it goes a bit wrong. I can sympathise with the writers desire to stamp his own ideas on the concept of the Tripods, but this really was one area best left alone. Having the Tripods stamp around the countryside on beams of light is too silly to take seriously; if you'll pardon the pun, it just doesn't hold up.

Chapter by chapter, the novel alternates from character to character, giving us a number of different perspectives on the war. It's a familiar enough literary device and the author doesn't stray far from the conventions, except for a disconcerting habit of switching to the first person for one character, which is rather odd, as he does this with no one else. Naturally, just about everyone knows everyone else in the story and the various threads are destined to come together for the big denouement at the end.

Like the movie Independence Day, the action is largely rooted in the United States, and so when the author very occasionally steps outside the USA, you are left wondering why he bothered, or left rather frustrated, because one of the more interesting ideas of the book turns up in one of these momentary side trips abroad. The sad fact is that an invasion from Mars would very likely not unite the world against a common enemy, but simply raise the stakes for the settling of scores and unpleasant mistakes. Thus it is that Pakistan launches a nuclear strike at the Martians, which is mistaken for pre-emptive strike by the Indians, triggering a full-scale nuclear exchange. It's a great idea, but tossed aside in a few pages. It's ironic when you consider the name of the novel, (both this one and its illustrious predecessor), that the action tends to be very much concentrated in one locale; England for the original and America for this version. As the brief scene set between Pakistan and India implies, there is a rich vein of material to be tapped here, showing not only the physical impact of the Martians, but the political and social upheavals that would surely result on the world stage.

In must particulars this is a reworking of the original novel, though one of the more entertaining pastimes while reading the book is spotting the references to other subsequent versions and interpretations of the novel. In the light beam stilted War Machines, there is a hint of the George Pal movie (the idea that was considered and then largely abandoned except for one brief scene) and one of the characters is called Koch, which is surely a reference to Howard Koch, the writer of the 1938 Orson Welles panic broadcast.

H.G. Wells closed his narrative with the Martians destroyed by earthly germs, but Niles inverts this idea for Millennium, abandoning completely any suggestion that the Martians are interested in us as livestock. In fact I rather think he was influenced by the mindset of the post 9-11 world. Anything alien doesn't warrant an explanation for its actions, it is simply sufficient (even beneficial and expedient) just to say they implacably want to kill us without rhyme or reason. Admittedly, in principle, it's an interesting idea that Niles presents for the eventual victory of humanity, but one rather fatally flawed in execution. Without spoiling it for readers, I'll just say that if the Martian war machines are so impenetrable to modern human munitions, I can hardly imagine that the home cooked solution his heroes deploy would have the remotest chance in hell of success.

So not then a great addition to War of the Worlds literature. For sure it's a fair airport novel to be read and forgotten about; a quick page-turner with some nice set pieces, but full of irksome little niggles. Would the Martians really abandon their cylinders immediately on landing and let someone just walk in to steal away a vital clue to their defeat? Why are they just destroying everything without the slightest apparent motivation, and can you really see the Valles Marineris canyon on Mars through a portable telescope as the author suggests. (The answer to that seems to be a firm no.) So in conclusion, not a book I can comfortably recommend to any but War of the Worlds completists.

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See also

Books

1898
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The ultimate novel of alien invasion as Martians crash to Earth in Victorian England.

1969
Sherlock Holmes The War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman.

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds by Manly & Wade Wellman. The Martians find a worthy opponent in the great dectective of Baker Street.

Comics

1973
Killraven

Killraven. A bold attempt to show a war of resistance against a conquering second Martian Invasion in the year 2001.

1996
The Haven and the Hellweed

The Haven and the Hellweed. A gritty vision of a modern day Earth under the heel of the Martians. A more realistic counterpoint to the Killraven series.

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