British Fiction Focus

Forever Autumn: Gollancz Announces Another War of the Worlds

The inestimable Simon Spanton might have moved on, but Gollancz still has a few tricks up its sleeve, it seems…

This morning, Orion’s genre fiction imprint was delighted to announce the acquisition of world rights to release The Massacre of Mankind—and it has every reason to be pleased: said text is “a sequel to one of the most famous and influential SF books ever,” namely The War of the Worlds by Herbert George Wells. You must be wondering, as I was when I received the press release, exactly who you tap to modernize such a prized property. The answer: Stephen Baxter.

“The pre-eminent SF writer of his generation,” according to his minibio, and an author with “a great track record of collaborating with other authors, from Arthur C. Clarke and Alastair Reynolds”—goodness gracious me, The Medusa Chronicles is nearly here!—“to Terry Pratchett. I’ve seen early material from this remarkable new project,” Commissioning Editor Marcus Gipps added, “and can’t wait to unleash Steve’s new Martian terror upon the world.”

In Stephen Baxter’s terrifying sequel, set in late 1920s London, the Martians return, and the war begins again. But the aliens do not repeat the mistakes of their last invasion. They know how they lost last time. They target Britain first, since we resisted them last time. The massacre of mankind has begun…

Amazingly, The War of the Worlds—a so-called “scientific romance” which depicted the invasion of planet Earth by evil aliens from the first-person perspective of an everyman from middle England—has never been out of print since its publication in 1897.

It’s been adapted approximately a million times, too: into movies, TV series, video games and comic books; but most notably, I suppose, by Orson Welles, who in 1938 directed and narrated a radio play disguised as an actual news bulletin that led to panic on the part of listeners who believed it to be real; and it wouldn’t do, would it, to forget Jeff Wayne’s 1978 musical version—which I personally had the pleasure to see performed live a couple of Christmasses ago.

Appropriately, Baxter, for his part, is more focused on the originating fiction, describing H. G. Wells as “the daddy” of modern science fiction:

He drew on deep traditions, for instance of scientific horror dating back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and fantastic voyages such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And he had important near-contemporaries such as Jules Verne. But Wells did more than any other writer to shape the form and themes of modern science fiction, and indeed through his wider work exerted a profound influence on the history of the twentieth century. Now it’s an honour for me to celebrate his enduring imaginative legacy, more than a hundred and fifty years after his birth.

The good news: The Massacre of Mankind will be published in Great Britain and beyond on 19 January 2017.

The bad news: there’s been no word as yet on whether we can expect Jeff Wayne to put it to music…

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

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