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Book Note: Garrett Putnam Serviss, Edison's Conquest of Mars

I read this book about 27-Aug-2023. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1898. This note was last modified Sunday, 27-Aug-2023 16:05:54 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Read courtesy of Project Gutenberg, of course.

An old-style planetary romance, I suppose. This was before Gernsback invented "science fiction" as a genre.

Picks up after H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, and in America, and we take the fight to the martians, and of course win. (It's well over 100 years old, I marked that this entry had spoilers, and who would ever expect Serviss to write a version where the martians win anyway?)

Interestingly, the martian's physical description is not compatible with the book; they're much more humanoid. I can't blame this on the radio dramatization, since this came out well before it. (In fact it came out before broadcast radio.) It came out in the same years as the book publication of Wells' novel. The characters from that are not mentioned in this, this is told by a minor person in the same spaceship as Edison and hence hearing all the top-level discussion; first person narrative serving the role of strict third person.

Serviss was a popular author and this was published by a mainstream publisher, so I suppose the legalities of the period were adequately served.

Pretty much as expected for the period, they discover clear evidence of intelligent humanoids having lived on the moon long ago, and mars is inhabited, and there's also a woman from Ceres on mars, captive to the martians. It always bothered me when Heinlein's juvenile heros kept discovering previous intelligent life every time they turned over a rock, but those were written closer to this than to today.

The project of taking the fight to Mars is a fully international effort for Earth. The Americans, and then the Europeans, are given pride of place, but there are modestly respectful references to China, Japan, and even some Native American participation.

Serviss does much better than many SF authors in one area—the concept of genocide as the solution to the martian problem is considered and soundly rejected, without even much dissent. Mind you, the extent of the damage they inflict on the martian civilization may be essentially equivalent to genocide.

One of the characters with a speaking part is an army officer with experience in the wars with the "Indians" out west, and that was expressed entirely in ways favorable to him. Even, at the end of the book, having been unlucky in love, he expresses an intention to go back out west and resume fighting.


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David Dyer-Bennet