Happy Birthday, H.G. Wells!

Science Fiction pioneer H.G. Wells was born September 21, 1866, 150 years ago. Although he died in 1946, his works live on and inspire us today.

The novels of his I’ve read include The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and The Sea Lady. Most of those remain classics today.

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H.G. Wells

As readers of my blog know, my main author-crush is with Jules Verne, but Wells gave us several archetypal story themes and ideas that Verne did not explore.

The two authors approached their writing differently, too. Verne strove for scientific plausibility and accuracy, but Wells concentrated on telling a good story and gave only a passing nod to the science.

After Verne read The First Men in the Moon, which includes an anti-gravity substance named cavorite, he wrote, “I sent my characters to the moon with gunpowder, a thing one may see every day. Where does M. Wells find his cavorite? Let him show it to me!”

Despite my preference for Verne’s stories, I have to say, “Lighten up, Jules. If a scientist does invent an anti-gravity mechanism, your criticism will look antiquated. Further, you knew your gunpowder cannons couldn’t really launch men to the moon when you wrote From the Earth to the Moon, so you’re not a paragon of accuracy, yourself.”

As discussed by Steven R. Boyett, this dichotomy between scientific exactitude and telling a good story with a smattering of sciency stuff persists today in the arguments between hard and soft science fiction.

Returning to Wells, you do have to overlook his personal life and philosophy as you read his books. A believer in socialism, anti-Semitism, and eugenics, he also led a sex life that was, well, complicated. Fortunately, his early, less philosophical works don’t give hints of any of this.

afterthemartians5My readers know that Wells’ The War of the Worlds inspired my own story, “After the Martians,” so I owe him a great debt.

So, happy birthday, Herbert George Wells! Your legacy is looking great after all these years. Your works remain classics today, read and enjoyed by millions, including—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 25, 2016Permalink

After the Martians—the Story Behind the Story

It’s the question readers ask authors most often: “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve blogged about that before, but today I’ll reveal the birth of the idea behind my just-launched book,AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians.”

It wasn’t my idea at all.

My friend, fellow author, and critique group partner, Andy Gudgel, thought of the idea. Heaven knows where he got it. At one of our critique group meetings, he mentioned he’d like to write a sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, but his story would deal with the aftermath, with dead Martians lying around, but also their technology. After all, the tripod fighting machines would be still standing where they stopped. The assembly machines would be intact and stationary near the landing sites of the Martian projectiles. Even a few flying machines might be available.

Andy’s idea was that humans would then use these weapons in a very different version of World War I.

This notion captivated me, and I urged him to write the story. Each time he sent us manuscripts of other tales, I’d ask him about the Martian story. “This one’s good, Andy,” I’d say, “but when are you going to give us that War of the Worlds sequel?”

Then at one December meeting, (at which we exchange little gifts to each other), I unwrapped his gift to me, and there were all his notes, and his copy of H.G. Wells’ novel. A note stated he was giving his story idea to me. I should write the tale, since he would not likely ever get around to it.

Wow! That could be the greatest gift one writer could give to another.

I say ‘could be’ because of an emotionally painful event that happened to me some twenty years earlier. At that time, I belonged to a different writing critique group. One other group member had written more than half of his novel. As I recall, it involved a modern-day (well, mid-1990s) nuclear attack on the United States.

Sadly, this writer died young. He had not completed writing that novel, let alone sent it to any agents or publishers.

His wife wrote to me to say how much her husband had appreciated my critiques of his work, and said he’d wanted me to finish, and seek publication of, his novel.

With a heavy heart, I had to decline the offer, but found it gut-twisting to tell his widow that. To write a story, I must have passion about it and care deeply about it and about the characters. I just didn’t feel that way in this case. Moreover, even if I’d had that enthusiasm, I would have had to rewrite large portions of the other writer’s novel to make it mine, and would have felt terrible about not honoring the deceased writer’s wishes exactly, or not living up to his hopes.

In the case of Andy’s WotW sequel, he hadn’t started writing yet. He’d compiled some notes and a rough outline, but I decided to take the story in a different direction than he’d planned. I didn’t feel badly about that, since he hadn’t begun the actual writing and my passion drove me toward the story that became “After the Martians.”

That’s the story behind the story written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

World War One—After the Martians

One century ago, war raged across Europe. They called it the Great War then. The year 2018 will mark a hundred years since the ending of that massive conflict. Today I thought we’d examine an alternate history scenario. How might WW I have been different if H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds had really occurred in 1901? My recently launched book, “AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians,” explores this scenario.

First, some background. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a sustainable peace across Europe. Half a century later, that peace had frayed. Five nations then dominated the mainland continent and vied with each other for supremacy—Austria, Denmark, France, Russia, and Germany (under Prussian leadership).

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Chancellor Otto von Bismarck

Enter Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, who combined the ‘balance of power’ concept with a pragmatic or ‘realpolitik’ approach to foreign policy. He ensured Germany maintained a changing web of alliances with two of the other powers, while engineering a series of short wars designed to unite and strengthen the German states while weakening enemies. After each war, he’d shift the alliances, always maintaining three on his side against two on the other.

This strategy sustained a workable balance until Bismarck’s resignation in 1890, after which he predicted, “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”

After that time, the European powers armed themselves against each other and tensions increased—the so-called “powder keg.” Without any minor wars to relieve this tension, the strain increased such that even a small event could trigger a major war. That’s what Bismarck had foreseen.

So far, that’s an interpretation of how things actually happened. Let’s insert a fictional twist. Assume the attack of The War of the Worlds really occurred, in 1901. In H.G. Wells’ novel, the Martians only invaded Great Britain, but it makes no sense for a superior alien race to restrict their assault to just one country, so we’ll suppose the Martians spread their forces more widely across the globe.

In time, the Earth’s bacteria sickened and killed the alien aggressors, but only after they’d wiped out a significant portion of the world’s population. Human weaponry of 1901 had been almost useless against the Martians, so our war machines lay in ruin. However, the aliens had left behind their tripod fighting machines, heat rays, “black smoke” poison gas, and some flying machines.

The nations of Europe, then, would have faced two choices. Stunned by the devastation of the Martian War and fearful of another attack from that planet, they could have joined forces and combined their energies to prepare for another assault by a common enemy. Or they could have examined the advanced Martian military technology and used it to refill the powder keg.

After the Martians assumes, as backstory, that the latter occurred. I postulate that the same triggering event—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—lit the fuse and set off the Great War.

Using the weaponry of Mars, WW I would have gone quite differently. Trenches would be useless against one hundred foot tall walking tripods with heat rays. Each side would have gone underground, using the Martian “assembly machines” to construct huge subterranean bunkers with hidden surface entrances.

Moreover, the heat rays and black smoke would have killed off the plant and animal life on every battlefield. There would have been vast areas of bare dirt. The combatants would have spared only the mountainous zones, since it would have been difficult to maneuver the tall three-legged fighting machines on sloped ground.

This is the (alternate) reality faced by my character Johnny Branch in my new book. As you mark the centennial of the real WW I, consider reading “After the Martians,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

H.G. Wells’ Fighting Machines — After the Martians

My upcoming story, “After the Martians”—to be released this month—features the fighting machines, or tripods, of H.G. Wells’ book The War of the Worlds. In that book, the Martians assembled the machines after their arrival on Earth, and they caused considerable destruction. At the end of the novel, the Martians all died from our terrestrial bacteria.

AftertheMartians72d“After the Martians” takes place in the world of Wells’ story, but sixteen years have passed since the alien attack. In my tale, humans make use of the Martian technology, especially the fighting machines, to fight World War I.

Wells depicted a fighting machine as being three-legged and about one hundred feet tall. He did not describe the carapace or main body of the machine, except to say that several flexible tentacles protruded from it. Two of these tentacles held a box with a lens from which shot the devastating heat ray. The tripod’s other weapon was a poisonous black gas.

Such a machine would have terrified the readers of 1897. Since then, the tripod from The War of the Worlds has become a science fiction icon, inspiring the walking weapons of Star Wars, the AT-AT and AT-ST.  Combining huge size with the human attribute of walking somehow adds to the horror.

In The War of the Worlds, we see the fighting machines from the inferior vantage point of puny human victims on the ground. In “After the Martians,” I take readers inside the carapace as human pilots control the alien machines to battle other tripods.

I enlisted the aid of a close acquaintance to make a wonderful 3D printed version of the fighting machine. (Frequent readers will recall my 3D printed Ring of Gyges from my story “Ripper’s Ring.”) For the tripod, she used a Printrbot brand printer, the Simple (Maker) Edition, and PLA filament.

3D printed tripod 13D printed tripod 23D printed tripod 3

The .stl files you need to print the fighting machine yourself are on the Thingiverse site, and the design is by FuzzySadist (William Myers). I added the wire tentacles, and painted the machine to be generally consistent with my story’s description.

Very soon, I’ll give you details on how you can get your own copy of “After the Martians,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe