Consequently, when I recently learned of the existence of an unauthorized sequel to The War of the Worlds, also published in 1898, I was greatly intrigued. Called Edison's Conquest of Mars, the novel was written by Garrett P. Serviss, an American astronomer, and was initially serialized in the New York Evening Journal. It was later collected together and published as a whole in 1947 by Carcosa House. Since then it's been republished, often in abridged form, by several other publishers, but you can also read it online, since it's now in the public domain.
Like much late 19th century literature, Edison's Conquest of Mars is very long and given to extensive digressions that detract from one's enjoyment. Serviss's prose is baroque and oddly composed, but it's worth enduring because his ideas are interesting and, in retrospect, prescient, at least insofar as science fiction goes. Written in the first person, from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, Edison's Conquest of Mars begins by both revealing its connection to Wells's original and by immediately expanding on it, as any good sequel ought:
It is impossible that the stupendous events which followed the disastrous invasion of the earth by the Martians should go without record, and circumstances having placed the facts at my disposal, I deem it a duty, both to posterity and to those who were witnesses of and participants in the avenging counterstroke that the earth dealt back at its ruthless enemy in the heavens, to write down the story in a connected form.
The Martians had nearly all perished, not through our puny efforts, but in consequence of disease, and the few survivors fled in one of their projectile cars, inflicting their cruelest blow in the act of departure.From this, Serviss goes on to explain that the fleeing Martians had left behind "a mysterious explosive, of unimaginable puissance" in Bergen County, New Jersey -- a device so powerful that it destroyed what remained of New York and the surrounding towns. The destruction not only slays tens of thousands of people, but causes seismic shocks in Britain and on the continent of Europe. In the aftermath of the Martian invasion and the destruction of New York,
Differences of race and religion were swallowed up in the universal sympathy which was felt for those who had suffered so terribly from an evil that was as unexpected as it was unimaginable in its enormity.Fearing that the Martians might choose to return to Earth to deliver a death-blow against a weakened mankind, the greatest human minds begin a desperate race to understand the Martians' technology and harness it so that they might be repulsed should this inevitable second attack come. Though Lord Kelvin, Herr Roentgen, and others throw themselves into this great task, it is -- as one might expect, given the story's title -- Thomas Edison who succeeds and gives humanity the means to defend itself against the alien invaders from the Red Planet.
Edison's first invention after understanding the Martians' machinery is to build a "flying ship," which uses the "principle of electrical attraction and repulsion" to overcome gravity. A test flight to the Moon proves Edison's genius, a fact made all the more apparent by his invention of a "disintegrator" weapon. Now, the nations of Earth -- led by the United States, "whose leadership was never for a moment questioned abroad" -- meet in Washington to decide what to do with these great discoveries and how best to protect humanity from the Martian threat.
Though initially considering a defensive posture in dealing with the Martians, the assembled leaders of the world come to agree that a better option is an offensive one -- taking the wars to Mars rather than waiting for it to return to Earth. With each nation pledging men and materiel for this cosmic effort, Edison then sets about building a fleet of flying ships, armed with disintegrators, to send into the void of space. In addition, Edison invents spacesuits, an "aerial telegraph," and other marvels to assist in the coming war. The human fleet stops first at the Moon, which they discover was once inhabited but was now a dead world. They also discover gems, crystals, and other materials that might aid them in the construction of yet more devices to use against the Martians.
The story continues on at some length, describing both the wonders Earth men encounter and their preparations for war. As I said, Serviss is a windy writer, given to extensive digressions and his prose leaves much to be desired in terms of beauty. Yet, he throws out so many amazing ideas, from asteroid mining to Martian meddling in Earth's past, that it's hard not to be impressed by the man's imagination, especially when you consider he wrote this story in 1898, well before most of these things had become staples of science fiction literature. Edison's Conquest of Mars is, frankly, an amazing novel from a historical perspective, even if it's far from great literature.