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Classic science fiction author H. G. Wells's most memorable and compelling novel was arguably The War of the Worlds, made even more famous by the notorious Mercury Theater radio production starring Orson Welles that became the "Night That Panicked America." But what if the Martian invasion was not entirely the product of H. G. Wells's vivid imagination? What if Wells witnessed something that spurred him to write The War of the Worlds not as entertainment but as a warning to the complacent people of Earth?
International bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, writing here as Gabriel Mesta, explores that tantalizing theory in this unique, thrilling novel that expertly evokes the Victorian era. From drafty London flats to the steamy Sahara, to the surface of the moon and beyond, The Martian War takes the reader on an exhilarating journey with Wells and his companions -- and is pure delight from start to finish.
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Gabriel Mesta is better known as his alter ego of Kevin J. Anderson. He has over 16 million books in print in 29 languages. Readers are most familiar with his Star Wars and X-Files novels; the Young Jedi Knights series with his wife, Rebecca Moesta; the prequels to Dune with Brian Herbert; and his original SF epic, "The Saga of Seven Suns" -- Hidden Empire, A Forest of Stars, and Horizon Storms (in which "Gabriel Mesta" briefly appears as a fictional character). His previous "fantastic historical" novel, Captain Nemo (written under the not-so-clever pen name of K. J. Anderson), has been optioned for a feature film or a TV miniseries. For more information on his numerous projects, see his website, www.wordfire.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: Mr. Wells and Professor Huxley Observe the Leonids
In chill November, the nights were as dark as the stars were bright.
Young Wells followed his professor up rarely used wooden stairs to the labyrinthine rooftop of the university hall. When he politely opened the access door for the older man, the damp air threatened fog or, worse, obscuring clouds. Yet he saw that the sky overhead was mercifully clear: a canvas on which to paint glorious streaks of light.
"The meteors will begin falling soon, Wells." The old biology professor looked just as eager as his student.
The minarets and gables of London's Normal School of Science provided a maze of nooks, gutters, and eaves interspersed with sooty chimneypots and loose tiles. Daring students could climb out on ledges and hold secret meetings, even arrange assignations with willing girls from the poorer sections of South Kensington who could be sweet-talked with pleasant and cultured words.
Wells doubted that any of his classmates had ever climbed out for such a lofty purpose as his own.
T. H. Huxley's creaking bones and aching limbs forced him to move with painstaking care along the precarious shingles, yet the famous man had a grace and surety about him. Wells knew better than to offer the professor any assistance. Although Thomas Henry Huxley was now an old man with yellowish skin and gray hair, the bright brown eyes in his square face still held a gaze as sharp as a hunting falcon's. In his youth, he had spent years as a surgeon and naturalist aboard a sailing ship, the Rattlesnake, collecting and documenting biological specimens from around the world, much as his revered colleague Charles Darwin had done. Huxley had been through storms and hostile landscapes, harsh climates and unfriendly natives; he could certainly negotiate a rooftop, even one slick with moss and mist.
With a weary sigh, the professor eased himself down beside a grimy brick chimney, adjusting his black wool coat. Leaning back, he propped his gray-haired head against a chimney and scratched his bushy white sideburns.
"Is this your first meteor shower, Mr. Wells? The Leonids are a good place to start." Huxley's booming voice was startlingly loud on the rooftop.
"I've seen shooting stars before, sir, but never actually studied them. Even in my youth, I spent more time with my nose stuck in a book than looking up at the sky."
The old man gave a wheezing laugh. "Exactly as I expected."
Huxley's private conversational tone wasn't much softer than the forceful oratory for which he had become famous. Whether he was lecturing students or shouting in vehement debate with pigheaded bishops, his confident delivery, wit, and obvious intelligence won him many friends, and created as many enemies.
A flash in Wells's peripheral vision took him completely by surprise. "There, sir!" He gestured so rapidly that he nearly lost his precarious balance on the slanted roof. A streak of white light shot overhead then evaporated, so transient it seemed barely an afterimage on his eyes.
"Ah, our first meteor of the night, and you spotted it, Wells. Of course, your eyes are younger than mine."
"But your eyes have seen more things, sir." Limber enough at eighteen, Wells arranged his legs into an awkward squat, propping his worn shoes against a gutter for balance.
"Don't flatter me, Wells. I won't tolerate it."
Wells would have accepted any number of rebukes in exchange for the insights he received during the professor's biology lectures. Here at the university, his mind had been opened to a whole universe that dwarfed the dreary lower-middle-class existence to which his mother and brothers had resigned themselves.
Wells's dour mother had resisted the idea of an "unnecessary education," afraid her boy Herbert might put on airs above his social station. But the young man wanted to be a teacher, not a tradesman like the rest of his family.
When only seventeen, Wells had taken matters into his own hands by talking his way into a modest position as an assistant student teacher at the Midhurst School. Anxious to be free of his draper's apprenticeship, he had written a beseeching letter to the schoolmaster, Horace Byatt, begging for any post. The letter was embarrassingly manipulative, but at the time Wells had been young and desperate.
Byatt had found him an enthusiastic and dedicated pupil. In order to advance himself, Wells crammed immense amounts of knowledge into his hungry brain; he spent a great deal of time in school libraries or riffling through volumes in the Uppark Manor library while his mother worked. Each time Wells, or any one of his students, received a high mark on special exams provided by the government, the Midhurst School received a financial reward. And young H. G. Wells was very profitable to schoolmaster Byatt. In fact, he did so well that he was admitted to the prestigious Normal School of Science, much to Byatt's disappointment (and loss of income).
There, Wells had met T. H. Huxley.
Although his mother sent him only a few shillings a week to pay for his schooling, Wells would rather have starved than return to his former terrible apprenticeship to a draper. He was destined to become a learned man. Huxley always said, "Ideas make mankind superior to other creatures...and superior men have superior ideas."
With a lean face and hollowed eyes, Wells was scrawny -- even cadaverous, according to his roommate and friend, A. V. Jennings. Sometimes, taking pity on him, Jennings would fill him with beefsteak and beer so they could return replenished to the workbench in Huxley's laboratory. As the son of a doctor, Jennings received a small weekly stipend, but even he could little afford such generosity.
Wells shivered. Though his garments, a thin coat and an old shirt, were insufficient to combat the chill, he had no desire to go back inside when he could be out here with the professor. He wiggled his foot, fidgeted his hands, always moving, trying to get warm, as he continued watching.
Around them, a miasma of nighttime noises rose from the streets of London. Horsecarts and hansom cabs clopped by; prostitutes flounced into dim alleys or waited under the gas street lamps. Across the park, in the boarding house at Westbourne Grove where he and Jennings shared a room, the residents would be engaged in their nightly carousing, brawls, singing, and drinking. Here, high above it all, Wells enjoyed the relative peace.
A second meteor appeared overhead like a line drawn with a pen of fire, eerie in its total silence. "Another!"
Bright in the western ecliptic, the ruddy point of Mars hung like a baleful eye. Mentally tracing the meteor's fiery line back to its origin, Wells saw that it radiated from a point in the sky not far from Mars itself, as if the red planet were launching them like sparks from a grinding wheel.
"Do you ever imagine, Professor, that these meteors might be signals of a kind? Perhaps even ships that have crossed the gulf of space?" Wells often spoke his odd speculations aloud, sometimes to the entertainment of others, sometimes to their annoyance.
Huxley's eyes held a bold challenge, as did his tone. "Ships? And from whence would they come?"
"Why not...Mars, for instance?" He indicated the orange-red pinpoint. "If Laplace's nebular hypothesis of planetary formation is correct, and Mars cooled long before Earth, then intelligent life could have evolved much sooner than any such spark occurred here. Therefore, the Martian race would be more ancient, and presumably more advanced. Their minds would be immeasurably superior to our own -- certainly capable of launching ships into the realm of space."
A third shooting star passed overhead, as if to emphasize Wells's point.
Huxley took up the mental challenge, as Wells had known he would. "Ah, Martians...interesting. And what do you suppose such beings would look like? Would their bodies be formed like our own?"
Wells resisted making a quick reply. Huxley did not tolerate glib answers. "Natural selection would ultimately shape a superior being into a creature with a huge head and eyes. Its body would be composed almost entirely of brain. It would have delicate hands for manipulating tools -- but its mentality would be its greatest tool."
Huxley leaned forward from the chimney. "But why would Martians want to come to our green Earth? What would be their motive?"
Again Wells paused to think. "Conquest. Mars is a dry planet, sir -- cold and drained of resources. Our world is younger, fresher. Perhaps even now the Martians are regarding this Earth with envious eyes."
"Ah, a war of the worlds?" Huxley actually chuckled at this. "And you believe that such superior minds would engage in an exercise as primitive as military conquest? You must not consider them so evolved after all."
Wells kept his thoughts to himself, for he suddenly wondered if perhaps T. H. Huxley might be a bit naive. He might be a font of knowledge about varied species and their adaptations to the environment, but if the professor could see no reason why Martians would want to invade the Earth, then Huxley did not understand the ambitions of those in control. A hierarchy existed between powerful and powerless. As with bees in a hive or wolves in a pack, social castes were part of the natural order.
Growing up in a poor family, Wells had witnessed the gross divisions of the upper and lower classes, how each fought against the others for dominance. When he ws a miserable apprentice, he had labored as a virtual slave. After escaping that fate through calculated incompetence, Wells had lived with his mother, who was the head domestic servant in a large manor, Uppark. His lackluster father had once been a gardener, then halfheartedly ran a china shop, but for years had found no better employment than occasional cricket playing.
Wells answered his professor carefully. "It is survival of the fittest, sir. If the Martians are a dying race, they would see Earth as ripe for conquest, full of resources they need, and humans as inferior as cattle."
Huxley shifted back to his fo...
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