Edison's Conquest of Mars
by Garrett Serviss
Review by Kevin Geiselman

Six weeks after the final chapter of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in late 1897, Serviss's "sequel" began, serialized in the NY Evening Journal.

The Earth, still reeling from the Martian invasion, learns of eruptions on the Red Planet that portends another invasion. Despair turns to hope as the famed genius Thomas Edison announces that not only has he discovered how to make disintegration guns more terrible than the Martian weapons, but he has also devised electric ships that will carry Earth's vengeance across space to Mars itself.

It took me five years to finally find a copy of this rare book and now I can tell you its value is purely historical rather than literary.

The first disappointment is the prominent use of the word "American" as it is invariably followed by the words "of course." The Americans, of course, will lead the expedition. The Americans, of course, will provide the bulk of the funding. The ships and weapons will be built in American factories by, of course, American workers.

As the story unfolds, the impression is that Serviss is writing a sequel to a story someone told him about but that he himself did not actually read. His Martians are merely large humans. The horror that Wells was able to evoke by his truly alien creatures is lost completely.

Wells's Martians executed their invasion of Earth out of a passionless necessity. Their world was dying and there was a world full of life next door. The Earthling savages were of no consequence. Wells made no secret of the parallels he was drawing between Martian imperialism towards Earth and Anglo imperialism towards Africa and the Far East.

To make Serviss's heroes all the more heroic, his Martians must be demonized. Malevolent and evil. Their malformed heads are the result of the war-like parts of their brains having been stimulated to enhance their martial qualities. A little phrenology is thrown in just to prove the point.

It's not that Serviss doesn't have an innovation or two. This is the first literary appearance of a "space suit" and the magnetic propulsion he uses to move his ships through interplanetary space is more plausible and founded in science than the gigantic canon that the Martians use to hurl their cylinders towards the Earth. But, in the end, they don't seem like space ships and Edison's other technological marvels, more because of their overwhelming power than any lack of scientific explanation, take on an aspect of magic.

Throw in a beautiful Ayrian captive, the descendant of Human slaves taken from the Garden of Eden and forced to build the pyramids of Egypt and you have a plot holes big enough to drive a Martian war machine through. What about those germs that stopped the Martian invasion this time? Wouldn't importing essentially plague-infested slaves to your homeworld have been a bad thing? And, if they got burned by that fiasco 10,000 years ago and survived, why didn't they learn their lesson?

In the end, the American-lead Earthmen are (of course) able to finally defeat the Martians by. . . get this. . . flooding them out. If they had that much water to flood the entire planet, why did they bother invading Earth in the first place? Oh, yea. . . because they're evil.

Serviss's Conquest is much more a precursor of the pulp adventure fiction of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs than it is the inheritor of the scientific romances of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. Maybe if he had actually read War of the Worlds he might have better blended the important elements.

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