Stephen Baxter Meet the Author

Stephen Baxter

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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


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