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August 2007
 
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Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia, by H.G. Wells (1937)

THE WAR of the Worlds (1898) is a landmark of science fiction. Yet, in all the history of literature, no other novel of such magnitude has spawned so obscure a sequel by the same author. Star Begotten, written four decades later (and published in America with a hyphenated title: Star-Begotten) must be reckoned as Wells's official sequel to his War of the Worlds. Very briefly in this novel, the characters reminisce about those pesky Martians who invaded London two generations earlier. Star Begotten is a subdued and moody sequel, with much angst and very little action.

Joseph Davis is a respectable Londoner: married, with a young son and a career as an author of popular histories. (He thoroughly resembles an idealized younger version of Wells himself.) Gradually, Davis becomes convinced that the Martians have begun a second, subtler campaign to conquer Earth: this time the Martians are modulating the cosmic rays that bombard Earth, in a manner calculated to cause gradual mutations in humanity's genome, so that humans will eventually evolve into Martians. In his growing certainty—or perhaps it's paranoia—Davis believes he has discovered evidence that his own son is a Martian…and maybe also his wife…and perhaps even Davis himself.

In Star Begotten, the aged and embittered H. G. Wells approached the threshold of Philip K. Dick's universe, depicting a protagonist who can no longer decide what is real, or whether or not "the world isn't some queer sort of put-up job."

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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