WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES
edited by Kevin J. Anderson
Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-10353-9, 1996, 288pp, US$22.95
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper
This certainly seems to be the year for pastiches. First there was the anthology RESURRECTED HOLMES (edited by Marvin Kaye), which is a series of Sherlock Holmes adventures purporting to be written by various famous authors. And now there is WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES, a series of accounts of the Martian invasion first described by H. G. Wells, mostly purporting to be written by various famous authors and other personages. (A few are satisfied merely to use famous people as their main characters.) Interestingly, while there is a story in RESURRECTED HOLMES credited to Wells, there is no story here credited to Doyle. (Then again, there have been earlier Holmes "War of the Worlds" stories, notably Manly Wade Wellman's SHERLOCK HOLMES'S WAR OF THE WORLDS.) The only overlapping "authors" between the two volumes are Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. P. Lovecraft, which may seem odd considering that Holmes and the invasion were contemporaneous, but while the invasion stories are written by or about the participants, the Holmes stories are described as having merely been composed by their authors on the basis of notes sent to them, so the authors there tend to be from a later period.
The first story in an anthology is normally the strongest, but here I suspect that it is more that Mike Resnick is the biggest draw. "The Roosevelt Dispatches" by Resnick, while amusing enough, is hardly a strong story, centering mostly around a rather obvious (if not predictable) ending. (It also seems to assume the Martians had landed only in Cuba. I don't object to the stories contradicting each other, but they shouldn't blatantly contradict Wells.)
Kevin J. Anderson's "Canals in the Sand" has Percival Lowell trying to signal the Martians in response to what he believed were canals on the Martian surface. It is more a "pre-invasion" story, and ends just when things start to get interesting, though readers familiar with the original story should have no difficulty filling in the rest.
The main character in Walter Jon Williams's "Foreign Devils" is the Dowager Empress of China and Williams manages to give us a glimpse into a very different world than the other, more Western-centered stories. Because of this, it is one of the best stories in the anthology, with Williams adding interesting and even somewhat alien characters and outlooks to the familiar invasion story. That this happened to be a very interesting period of Chinese history helped, of course, but Williams seems to have been the only one to think of it.
Daniel Marcus's "Blue Period" centers around Picasso but seemed rather flat. Someone who knew Picasso's life and work better than I might have gotten more out of it. This is the major drawback of this book--for many of the stories, a knowledge of the main character's life and work is necessary. The result is that the market of people who will enjoy or appreciate all or even most of the stories is smaller than one might think, and considerably smaller, I fear, than the number of people who will be attracted by the theme of the anthology.
"The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James" by Robert Silverberg is perhaps the best-written piece in the book--not surprising when you consider Silverberg's talent. It is also the least original, however, in that Silverberg follows mainly to the story as told in the original, but with Wells and James as participants. (This story should possibly have been placed first to give readers a good solid background for the other stories.)
Janet Berliner's "True Tale of the Final Battle of Umslopogaas the Zulu" has both Winston Churchill and an H. Rider Haggard character in a way that is not entirely convincing or satisfying. Perhaps it's that having three foci (with Wells's Martians being the third) makes the story just too elaborate.
Howard Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" was not, apparently, the inspiration for this book, though this 1987 tale of the Texas Rangers versus the Martians certainly predates everything else here and is in fact the only story not written specifically for this volume. (Several other stories have appeared in magazine form before the book came out, but were nonetheless written for the book.) In any case, Waldrop should get a few extra points for originality, even though that originality is not obvious here. (There have of course been other stories inspired by the Wells novel, but Waldrop's is probably the best-known.)
Doug Beeson's "Determinism and the Martian War, with Relativistic Corrections" has Albert Einstein thinking about inertial frames of reference while the Martians invade, and "Soldier of the Queen" by Barbara Hambly has Rudyard Kipling meeting the Martians in India.
George Alec Effinger's "Mars: The Home Front" takes a completely different approach than the other stories. Rather than being the story of the Martian invasion of Earth as told by yet another Earthly eyewitness, it is the story of what was happening back on Mars, as told by John Carter. Because Effinger is not describing the same events that everyone else is, this story is a welcome change from the similarity of all the others, and proves that even when given an apparently limiting set of constraints, a good writer can still break out and write something new and fresh.
"A Letter from St. Louis" by Allen Steele, featuring Joseph Pulitzer, is a return to the idea of a fairly standard retelling of the story.
Mark W. Tiedemann's "Resurrection" is primarily a letter purported to be written by Leo Tolstoy. There is more of alternate history feel to this than to most of the others (with the possible exception of the Williams), since the framing story is set in an alternate world from the one we live in.
"Paris Conquers All" by Gregory Benford and David Brin (Jules Verne) is an attempt to tie a Vernian technological solution into the story that did not work for me. "To Mars and Providence" by Don Webb is a reasonably decent attempt to combine the "Elder Gods" of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos with the Martian invasion. But while Daniel Keys Moran and Jodi Moran try to evoke Mark Twain in "Roughing It During the Martian Invasion," they don't quite succeed; you get a story with a riverboat and some snappy asides, but no real Twain spirit. (Maybe I'm just too familiar with Twain, having read just about everything of his in print, including JOAN OF ARC and CHRISTIAN SCIENCE.)
"To See the World End" by M. Shayne Bell is purportedly by Joseph Conrad and is another story that, like Tiedemann's "Resurrection," has a much stronger alternate history feel than the rest of the stories. Most of the stories seem like stories set in the fictional world of Wells, while these two seem as though they are set in our world in the midst of a Martian invasion.
"After a Lean Winter" by Dave Wolverton is set in the far north and told from the point of view of Jack London. It seems to be a good copy of his style, but it's not a style I'm particularly taken by.
I usually like Connie Willis's work, but her pseudo-academic work, "The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson's Poems: A Wellsian Perspective" wears out its welcome rather quickly. With forty numbered and twelve unnumbered footnotes in its eight pages, it may be more appealing to academics. I found my eyes glassing over after about three pages. Then again, that may be the intent.
An afterword by Benford and Brin again in the voice of Verne concludes with a plea that we go to Mars.
%B War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches %E Kevin J. Anderson %C New York %D May 1996 %I Bantam Spectra %O hardback, US$22.95 %G ISBN 0-553-10353-9 %P 228pp %S War of the Worlds %V 2 (in the sense of being dependent only on 1)
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