War of the Worlds: New Millennium by Douglas Niles (2005)
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.
Support this website
If you found this website interesting and useful, please
consider supporting it by making a purchase from Amazon. You don't have to do it
now, but if you bookmark this page, then shop with Amazon below, I'll receive
a small commission on each sale.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The ultimate novel of alien invasion as Martians crash to Earth in Victorian England.