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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/04/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: The Martian War"

The Martian War
by Gabriel Mesta
Publisher Pocket Books
Release date: May 2005

Review by Chad Denton

Full disclosure: I'm actually not too knowledgeable on the works of H.G. Wells, beyond what everyone else tends to know: the Morlocks, Martian invaders dying from the common cold, and the man that went around the world in 80 days (oops, wrong science-fiction pioneer...). And unfortunately I know even less about the man's biography. Gabriel Mesta's "The Martian War" is, above all, a homage to not only Wells and his body of works, but to the man itself, so it reads like an odd but easy mix of fiction and biography. Here we find a young H.G. Wells, whose career is just beginning, is drawn into a secret British agency experimenting with 'high-concept' science, such as anti-gravity alloys and an invisibility formula. After it's revealed that a newly discovered alien civilization on Mars is planning an invasion of Earth in order to take a fresh stock of slaves to work on maintaining Mars' dying ecosystem, Wells, his fiancÚ Jane, and his old teacher Professor Huxley are accidentally sent to the Moon and later to Mars, where they find themselves given the impossible task of thwarting an entire civilization.

The basic concept is like Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," except real-life figures as well as fictional characters are thrown in the mix. Further the setting is in our world and the narrative posits that Wells received his inspiration from the eccentric characters he meets and bizarre adventures he has, so we have Wells meet a Dr. Griffen, find a society where the high caste has become utterly dependent on a mass slave class, running into a real-life Dr. Moreau, and so on. The book's actions are split between the adventures of our Victorian trio and between a diary describing an early encounter between Dr. Moreau and Percival Lowell (a late nineteenth century astronomer who promoted the theory that there were artificial canals visible on Mars) and a Martian scout, whom the two hubristic scientists mistake for an ambassador.

It's a fun concept, but it is a little hard to swallow that a top-secret agency tirelessly developing unorthodox and incredibly potent devices and weapons for a nation with thinly disguised imperialistic dreams would let someone write widely published novels based on their top scientists, most powerful inventions, and other classified information they have gathered. Still, Mesta runs through nineteenth century scientific theories, early modern cosmology (outer space is still outer space, but the moon has oxygen and even sustains an ecosystem), bits and characters taken from Wells' novels, and Victorian culture with a classic pulp sensibility. Even the tone of the book feels more like a pre-World War II adventure (I smiled at the naivetÚ our heroes have when they confront the Martians) than a modern novel. While I didn't have the background to fully immerse myself in Mesta's pulp-ish adventure, it was still a quick, fun read with simple but appealing characters and an eye toward the underappreciated strangeness of early science fiction and speculative nineteenth century science.

(Many thanks to Head Designs for the HG Wells and "friend" graphic. Ed)

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