Global Dispatches and Extraordinary Gentlemen

by Dylan
(Illinois, Wisconsin)

A Wellsian tripod battles Tharks, as illustrated by Kevin O'Neill

A Wellsian tripod battles Tharks, as illustrated by Kevin O'Neill

"And slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us."

Ah, War of the Worlds. The book that put alien invasions on the map. I think it must be my favorite book, at least, I'm always hungry for more of it, and often wish Wells had written a sequel. That wasn't his style, of course, he mostly wrote stories to make a point, although he did write a psuedo-prequel in "The Crystal Egg".

To satiate my War of the Worlds craving I've collected a number of books written by authors who don't mind expanding the narrative for its own sake. Some of them are pastiches, such as C.A. Powell's "The Last Days of Thunder Child", and others reimagine the story crossed over with Well's other works, as in Kevin J. Anderson's "The Martian War". "Old Mars" features a wonderful story called "Queen of the Nights Aria" by Ian McDonald, which tells the story of a british counter-invasion of Mars while making a comment on the modern conflict in the middle east- a notion very much in the spirit of the original book.

By far my favorite companion piece to Well's seminal novel is "War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches", an anthology edited again by Kevin J. Anderson. The collection revolves around the premise that the Martian Invasion inflicted itself on the entire world, and not England alone, and so includes perspectives from all over our planet. There really are just a smattering of splendid tales in this book, from "Night of the Cooters" by Howard Waldrop (which details the invasion of Texas), to "Foreign Devils" by Walter Jon Williams (depicting a Boxer Rebellion interrupted by Martian tripods), to "After a Lean Winter" by Dave Wolverton (describing a protracted and desperate fight for survival against a more successful Martian Invasion in the far north). Even Mark Twain and Albert Einstein get to have adventures amidst the chaos. Of all the stories collected, I found only Jules Verne's outing to be a bit lackluster, and that only because the authors blatantly contradicts the source material in describing their Martians, putting the story at odds with the rest of the anthology.

One tale, however, stands out for abandoning Earth entirely and providing us with John Carter's account of the early days of the interplanetary clash. It's called "Mars: The Home Front" by George Alec Effinger, and it's a fun one.

Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the story begins with Dejah Thoris being put in peril, as she so often is, and Carter rushing off to rescue her. Carter goes on to describe the beginnings of a conflict between the forces of Barsoom and Well's Martians, which he calls "Sarmaks."

What an idea! A story pitting Burroughsians against Wellsians for the fate of two worlds- that's enough to make a fan like me salivate. Unfortunately, the story cuts short of the actual conflict, but we aren't left entirely wanting. The story fed provide a bit of action, and more importantly, is continued elsewhere. I now come to Alan Moore's classic graphic novel, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

First, let me say that, should any children happen upon this article, the aforementioned publication isn't at all suitable for minors. With that out of the way, Volume 2 opens with a Mars menagerie. A force of Tharks and Hithers led by John Carter and Gulliver Jones, aided by a group of Sorns, march on Well's Martians in a vicious final battle that spurs the tripod attack on Earth. What's more, Gulliver briefly implies that something dark happened to Dejah Thoris, connecting the comic to "Homefront." It's possible, if one wants, to look at Effinger's story as the beginning of the war for Mars, and Moore's as the end, with only the middle left to our imagination.

If only someone would fill in the rest...

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Jul 15, 2016
A Desperate Struggle
by: Dylan

It's interesting that you think that, Zendexor, as I had thought the opposite!

The problem for the Barsoomians is that their radium guns would only be dangerous to the Wellsians during the day, when their ammunition would be explosive. I picture horrific "night raids" wherein the Batsoomians find they have no effective weapons against the armored Wellsian onslaught.

The heat ray would be doom to the larger, more ponderous ships of the Batsoomian navy - played over their surfaces invisibly and from a distance of several miles, there would be little they could do to save themselves. I imagine large ships would quickly fall out of use, as they present such large targets.

The black smoke would be the terror of Barsoom's ground forces. The Green Men especially would suffer, as they have no flyers, and no good defence against it.

The most savage fighting would likely be in dogfights between the nimble Wellsian flyers and the faster Barsoomian ones- but again, if caught at night, the Barsoomian would be forced to flee.

The cities of Barsoom would fall to gas and heat ray each night, when their defenders would be rendered impotent against the Wellsian menace. Cities, stationary as they are, would be abandoned. I suspect the Barsoomians would turn to guerrilla tactics, attacking only during the day and hiding at night. John Carter, driven to Mars by Native Americans, might remember them again and emulate their method of fighting against his superior enemy.

That's not to say they'd lose. In fact, going guerilla would likely be the point where the war began to turn in their favor. Perhaps, tired of their losses to hit-and-run attacks, the Wellsians would finally turn their eyes to Earth and then Venus, just to get away from the Barsoomian thorn in their side.

{comment from Zendexor: Um, yes, there are aspects to this which I hadn't thought through. Apart from the points you make, I also should take into account that the Wellsian Martians would be on their home ground, much more numerous and effective than on Earth.

On the other hand, the red men of Barsoom would possess the advantage that their lives are scripted by ERB; in other words, the laws of probability are tipped in their favour because ERB's plots often rely on fortunate coincidences. Very useful in combat!

This luck-factor brings to mind the "luck equations" mentioned in Barrington Bayley's "The Grand Wheel".}

Jul 13, 2016
The Alternate Martians
by: Dylan

I've just discovered, though not yet obtained, a book about Wellsian Martians battling Burroughsians, this one written in 1965 by A. Bertram Chandler. It's called "The Alternate Martians", and is based on the premise that both H.G. Wells and E.R. Burroughs visited an alternate dimension Mars, and returned with only fuzzy memories of it to write their stories. I've avoided learning much more about it for fear of spoilers, but I hope to obtain a copy soon!

Personally, if it came to it, I might find myself rooting for the Tripods, if only because I love an implacable villain. I might enjoy a tabletop wargame that pits Tripods against Barsoomians, perhaps with Serviss' Martians and British Colonists as third and fourth factions. I've never tried tabletop wargaming, but if such a game existed, I could be persuaded to try it.

{comment from Zendexor: I don't see how the tripods could stand much of a chance against the red men of Barsoom, led by John Carter at the head of the Heliumetic Navy and with the technological savvy shown by Phor Tak and Fal Sivas. But if Bertram Chandler can somehow enable the tripods to make a fight of it, it'll be very interesting to follow his line of thought.}

Jul 02, 2016
Astral Projection Opens Up Possibilities
by: Dylan

Brackett's Mars, at face value, seems to be irreconcilable with Barsoom. However, if one is determined enough and willing to make the necessary assumptions, then, I find, anything is possible!

One must remember, first, that the history of Martian civilization is long, far longer than we Earthers seem to really understand. Long enough, possibly, to fit multiple Mars's inside it.

Let's look at, first, the history of Brackett's Mars as we know it. In "The Sword of Rhiannon", we learn about an ancient race of technological sophistication called the Quiru. They eventually leave Mars, and their advanced engineering, behind well before the planet's condition begins to decline.

When John Carter reaches Barsoom, it's to find a race of Martians who possess a mix of both advanced and primitive technology. Is it not impossible that the Martians studied what Quiru technology they could find, and, over the ages, manage to replicate some of it?

Note also that Brackett's Mars seems to be worse off than Burrough's - true, the second relies on an atmosphere plant, but the first lacks Barsoom's mossy plains, the Rivir Iss, or the Toonolian Marshes. Brackett's Mars does seem the worse off.

This brings me now to my little pet theory. Suppose, perhaps, than John Carter traveled not only through space, but also time, to arrive on a Mars where the natives produce fliers, build canals, and manufacture firearms. He has countless adventures there, without ever realising that he has traveled through time.

As the eons wear on and conditions on Mars worsen, the Jeddaks of Barsoom find it harder and harder to control their territory. Beset on all sides by a dying planet and competition for resources, technological advancement slows to ceasing. Advanced tools are no longer feasible to produce when things like basic survival require most of the government's attention. The planet never recovers, and things like flyers and radium guns become dreams of the past.

An indeterminate amount of years later, and the age of Barsoom is consigned to the legendary golden age of Mars with the Quiru and the lost Seas. Earthmen finally arrive in force, bringing with them the savage Eric John Stark...

[comment from Zendexor: At first glance this sounds like the most plausible attempt that could be made to reconcile the ERB and the LB Mars. And the LB Mars can without too much difficulty be spliced together with C L Moore's, so we could have a group of three. Now here's a challenge: reconcile these three with a fourth, namely H G Wells' Mars!!! You'd have to posit alternate dimensions, I think. Two dimensions jockeying for supremacy, two realities vying with each other rather like in Philip K Dick's "The Game Players of Titan".]

Jul 01, 2016
OSS Crossovers!
by: Dylan

Do yourself a favor, my friend, and obtain a copy post-haste! For a lover of War of the Worlds, I've yet to find a superior tribute!

The OSS may not be crowding the bookshelves and magazine racks any longer, but it is alive and well in other mediums. I recently obtained a reboot of the Dan Dare comic series by Garth Ennis, which pulls Dare out of retirement in response to the return of the detestable Mekon. It was well recieved and rightly so, as it's a thrilling and heartfelt tale. Another set of graphic novels also sits proudly upon my shelves, Ian Edgington's "Scarlet Traces" and it's sequel "The Great Game", which portray the aftermath of the War of the Worlds as the heroes question whether the old ways have any place in their brave new world. The major reveal of the sequel contains a lovely nod to OSS fans that made me grin from ear to ear.

Barsoom has found a surprising home in Tabletop Wargaming. I've not investigated this overmuch, but I know quite a few companies produce Barsoom miniatures to be used for this hobby, as well as rulesets for commanding armies of Tharks and Banths and airships. I have been interested in a tabletop wargame called "All Quiet on the Martian Front", featuring miniatures of Martian tripods and ww1-esque American and British soldiers. It looks like something I could invest hundreds of dollars in, if I had hundreds of dollars to invest. Fitting also that Wells' book should inspire such a game, as he invented the entire hobby when he wrote the very first rulebook for it, "Little Wars".

As far as crossovers go, I think Brackett would have been thrilled to have Carter appear on her Mars. Perhaps our hero uncovers Carter, asleep in his tomb, and wakes him in the process?

Another fun crossover would be the adventures of Northwest Smith and Eric John Stark. This occurred to me as I was enjoying Smith's adventures for the first time; the universes of each respective hero have many striking similarities in tone, geography, themes and even political institutions. Plus, Smith is a smuggler, and I do believe Stark is said to be a gun runner now and then. It practically writes itself!

[comment from Zendexor: All this is a revelation to me; it looks as though I have seriously underestimated the contemporary scene. Re Stark and NW Smith, they could indeed make a good team, a natural combination of outsider attitudes. It's no accident, I suppose, that NW Smith and Stark both exist in a general frontier milieu, giving them a Terran establishment to rebel against, whereas Carter is a lone Terran in a flourishing Martian society untouched by Terran incursion. Going further, we could divide the romantic OSS into two main subgenres: the lone-discoverer kind (ERB's Carter and Napier) and the rough sprawling general frontier kind with Terrans spilling into the System (Brackett, Hamilton, NW Smith) which causes some alienation among misfits like Smith and Stark. To combine the two would be hard, but I like your idea of Stark waking up Carter from suspended animation. Only, which Mars would they live in? Crucial difference: Barsoom has fliers, whereas on Brackett's Mars you have to ride on beast-back. Maybe some environmental degradation occurred in the interim, depleting the Eighth Ray rather like our ozone layer, grounding all the fliers...]

Jul 01, 2016
A must-have collection of global despatches!
by: Zendexor

What can I say but, "I must get hold of a copy"? And what a tribute to both Wells and Burroughs as writers, that their ideas and imagery continue to resonate in this way. Thanks Dylan for your analysis.

I wonder if the Leigh Brackett Mars could also be included somehow; that would be a challenge. I suppose Eric John Stark's arrival was at least a century ahead of John Carter's, but given Carter's longevity they might eventually meet and team up... the half-savage and the polished Virginia gentleman. Not sure what they'd have to say to each other, but they'd both be good on one's side in an invasion crisis.

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