Lazy Luddite Log



You may be familiar with Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds (1978). It is an adaptation of the H G Wells classic science fiction novel War Of The Worlds (1898) in the form of a progressive concept album (which much more recently was made into a live musical). I enjoy the album but there is one part of it that has always annoyed me – the added epilogue.

The story is set in the time H G Wells originally set it but this epilogue has a setting contemporary with that of the music album or sometime in the future. In it the transmission from a NASA mission to Mars is suddenly interrupted and the sound effects used throughout the album to signal Martian presence echo and fade. This track was added, I suppose, to grant a contemporary relevance to the story, and to add an ominous note to its ending, but it annoys me because if human civilization had been almost destroyed by Martians in the 1890s then the subsequent history of space exploration, and indeed the history of all sorts of things, would have been very different.

Imagine your world has been almost conquered by aliens and the only thing that stopped them was Earth bacteria, which the aliens had zero resistance to and, in a display of selective intelligence, had somehow overlooked in their colonization plan. You are yet to have had any kind of human-versus-human world war. Chances are you never will now. All the efforts of all the nations of Earth will be bent towards preventing the Earth from ever suffering again at the hands (pseudopodia) of extra-terrestrials.

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The existence of aliens, let alone hostile aliens, would likely have altered the disposition of humans towards each other. The differences between nation-states and military alliances would be diminished and the overwhelming similarity of humanity would be embraced. The value of saving ourselves from celestial terror would be paramount. It is likely that our emerging defence plans would include forward defence and who could blame us if a motive for this offensive strategy was revenge for all that death and destruction. I envisage a counter-attack directed at Mars with the intention of destroying rather than colonizing that world.

The first rockets – the V2s of Nazi Germany – were operating in 1944. Twenty Five years later, drawing on the same technology, the United States put astronauts on the Moon. Moonshot in 1969 was a product of decades of technological development spurred on by both hot and cold wars, but I suspect a Martian invasion would be an even greater motivator to technological development, assisted, not by super-power competition, but by cooperation between all the great powers.

The ability to get to Mars would also have been assisted by having the abandoned Martian war machines to study. Human ingenuity supplemented by alien tech would assist the process drastically. Still it would depend on the nature of the tech. I get the impression from War Of The Worlds that the Martians travel interplanetary space by means of projectile rather than propulsion. In other words the Martians capsules were thrown to Earth rather than self-propelled and thus key technology would be far away on Mars and impossible to study. On the other hand one could imagine humans developing a different way – possibly propulsion is the human method in my scenario.

If there was a way chances are we would find it. Without two world wars to distract us, and a fervent desire to get back at the bastards, one could imagine us in orbit and on the Moon by the 1920s. And from there? What then? I can imagine us mining the Moon to make artificial meteorites and hurl them at the Martians, causing a planetary extinction event. But would the Martians be prepared for us?

The Martians knew of us since they sent the invasion to us. However that act was itself one of desperation as they are described as coming from a dying world. Possibly, having poured resources into a failed invasion, they would then have turned their efforts back into rehabilitating their own world. Also, they had shown themselves capable of overlooking Earth microbes, so they could very well also overlook Earthlings. It could be that they had one chance, blew it, and now are at the mercy of the new and very dangerous kid on the solar block. I almost feel sorry for the slimy gits.

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To my surprise I recently discovered that someone did think that the natural consequence of the War Of The Worlds story was an Earth retaliation on Mars. What was even more surprising was that this was done later the same year that H G Wells published his novel. I’m sure there are other more recent science fiction novels that do this but for it to have happened then alters some of my perceptions of literature over a century ago. An American author, Garrett P Serviss, published Edison’s Conquest Of Mars without approval from Wells, but with the acceptance of Thomas Edison himself. What this says to me is that fan-fiction is nothing new and that fictionalizing public figures is also old hat. Now it is all the rage – heck I only discovered this because I was reading a historical fiction novel in which Wells and Serviss are characters – but then? I would have expected more propriety in Victorian times. Tells you what I know.

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There are superficially tantalizing aspects to the alternative history I have described. A united world which never had to suffer the trauma of two world wars is an appealing one. A humanity that has ventured into interplanetary space rather than just sent a few toy robots into it is likewise attractive. But other things may have come with this other history. A united world could still be one with lots of problems. The forces of totalitarianism that were developing between the world wars could have also developed but taken on a different form in which jingoism was humanocentric. We could have had a regimented planet dedicated to conquest in which everyone had to contribute to the never-ending effort of making sure nothing in the Universe was more threatening than us. This alternative is anything but tantalizing.

I think I will stick with what we had. And yes of course this is a silly discussion because Wells was simply mistaken – we know now that “the chances of anything coming from Mars” are zilch. Which gets me back to the musical version – we were pretty sure of that in the 70s too and that just makes the added epilogue even more annoying.

Cross-posted here.

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  • I forgot to name the novel that inspired this post - Map Of The Sky (2012 ) by Felix J Palma. It is more science fiction than historical fiction in that I assume that H G Well cannot himself mentally manipulate the time dimension...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 17 January, 2013  

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