James Naughtie talks to Stephen Baxter who has taken on the grand task of writing a sequel HG Wells's classic story The War of the Worlds.
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Now it is time to speak to Steven Baxter, who has taken on the huge
task of taking on a sequel to HG Wells' War of the Worlds.
You have to be brave to write a sequel to a novel by HG Wells,
But Stephen Baxter has done it for the second time.
Having taken on the story of the Time Machine more than
20 years ago, he has now written The Massacre of Mankind,
which is the story of the return of the Martians
after their defeat in Wells's classic story,
Stephen Baxter, maths and physics teacher turned author is one
of our best-known science-fiction authors with more than 40 books to
his name has also collaborated with Arthur C Clarke, no less,
Now he takes on one of his biggest challenges.
Well, they always intended to, I think.
The first expedition, as we know, failed.
There is so much they didn't anticipate - the bacteria on the
They didn't anticipate resistance, I don't believe.
We did manage to down a few artillery shells and so forth.
Didn't really expect the conditions of the Earth.
Wells says they were baffled by seeing ships in the sea,
I think the first expedition was like Columbus.
He gets over the Atlantic and has no idea where he is or what he is
What followed that is the conquistadors, more purposeful
and they know what they want and how to get it as well.
So it is a story not just of fear on Earth, the sense
of impending doom, it is the story of mutual incomprehension.
Rather like the story of the Americas, I guess.
But the Martians are on a kind of different
They treat us as livestock, basically.
Awkward livestock that is liable to attack
you if you're not careful but livestock.
As with animals, they are loyal to each other, they come back
to each other and save each other when they are wounded and so forth
and what they are trying to do is save the race from a catastrophe
You talk in terms of Wells in terms of enormous respect,
obviously, but a kind of affection for his vision.
Well, he was the father of science fiction, I think
If he had done nothing else that would have been massively
But he did all sorts of other things.
He was a big figure in the world and I
think after his death we've rather forgotten that.
He was a massive public figure all the way through to
Very popular in the First World War, accounts of
the true condition of life in the trenches and so on.
And I think his life's work in a way was crystallised by his work
on the Declaration of the Rights of Man, his work on that
He was a famous idealist but in his great science-fiction books,
the Time Machine, War of the Worlds, which was published just before
the turn-of-the-century in the 1890s,
he was doing something that really hadn't been done before.
Trying to imagine the world in a way nobody
There had been visions of journeys to other planets but nothing
as rigorous and scientifically thought out as Wells.
He used the logic of the time, which was the sun was cooling down
and the further from the sun a planet was, the older it was.
It is locked in an ice age and the Martians have had to reduce
themselves to a kind of minimal, bunker like existence to cling
That's one of the fascinating things that emerges in your own story,
The Massacre of Mankind, the sympathy for, as it were,
I think we, the readers, who aren't under the feet of the
Martians, can see glimmers of sympathy for them.
As I say, they are loyal to each other.
The way you talk about the story and the
Martians is interesting because you've written dozens of
science-fiction stories of your own but it's almost
as if you're coming back to the motherload of
The fascination that we have with Mars
is the archetypal fascination with the other.
In the telescopic age Mars was the only world whose surface
you can see apart from the moon, which was obviously dead,
so you could project your fantasies on it.
All the way through to the 1960s, actually, when the first space
probes went past and it was much more like the moon as it turns out.
Now we believe life of some kind might be up there.
You talk about projecting our fantasies.
Is that really what science-fiction is about?
Well, I think you could say that science-fiction is about...
It's not about the future or in other words
it's about the here and now, predicting our concerns, in a way.
So with Wells and War of the Worlds he was reflecting late Victorian
angst about imperialism and colonialism and the damage it can do
to the colonial conscience, for one thing.
Now I think we could look at it as a metaphor for climate change.
You know, the Martians' planet has collapsed in a terrible way and
migrants, heavily armed migrants come to the Earth.
What is it that gives this story such a grip?
The fear that lurks inside all of us in some way?
I think it works on many levels and as a myth you can take out of it
The sense of the universe as evolving
around us, not necessarily to our liking and we have to adapt.
In other words, in every age there is some threat that
And horrific. Yes.
As I mentioned earlier, you have collaborated with some
extraordinary authors and Arthur C Clarke comes to mind.
A name who is known to people who are not necessarily
science-fiction addicts as somebody who could imagine the unimaginable.
What was he like when you communicated with him and talked to
Yeah, he was in his 80s when I was working.
Much of what he predicted, logically, had worked out.
What I asked him about specifically was about space flight,
how come we don't have places on Mars now, as predicted.
He said no, because so much of what has
The robot probes to Jupiter and beyond.
He set novels out there late in life.
So he never got tired of that curious search for the next thing
He was always open to curiosity, to new influences.
He read the latest SF, like mine, and stayed
Let's go back finally to the Martians themselves.
When we've finished this book, what do you want us to think
I think the lesson we have to learn from the Martians
is what the characters are working for at the end of the book
and, indeed, at the end of War of the Worlds.
In a way the specific nature of the Martians and their
It is the way they represent the wider context of our future.
That is the specific story and you have to take it away.
Rather than Columbus and what he did, his journey emphasised
So I think it's the universalisation of
mankind of what you need to take away.
I would probably be the running fast the other way.
If I could watch from a height maybe, yes.
Good evening. It is very quiet weather across the UK at the moment
because of high pressure but that said, we've got
James Naughtie talks to Stephen Baxter who has taken on the grand task of writing a sequel HG Wells's classic story The War of the Worlds. The Massacre of Mankind sees the Martians return to earth 14 years after their first invasion.