Edited by Kevin J. Anderson

Bantam Spectra


274pp/$22.95/June 1996

War of the Worlds:  Global Dispatches

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Shared World Anthologies. At their best, they allow several authors, working in tandem to produce linked works which can either stand on their own or be read to form a larger whole. Robert Asprin's Thieves' World series began on this high level. When carried too far, a shared world can degenerate into a game of one-uppance played by the authors (for instance, later entries in the Thieves' World series.

Sharecropped Worlds. They can often mean money to an author. A quick book or story in a universe created by someone else. Perhaps the most popular examples are the Star Trek and Star Wars books lining the shelves of all bookstores.

In War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, Kevin J. Anderson has assembled a book which is both Shared World and Sharecropped World. Although Anderson states in the acknowledgements that the idea came to him and he "stopped dead in [his] tracks on a hiking trail in the redwood forests of California with the sudden idea for this books," the idea actually predates Anderson's epiphany. The oldest story in the book, Howard Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" first appeared in the April 1987 issue of Omni. Perhaps because Waldrop was not writing for a specific project, his story of Texan farmers dealing with H.G. Wells's Martian invasion rings the freshest in the collection. Nevertheless, other pieces are well worth reading.

Anderson's assignment to his writers was simple: write a short story which deals with H.G. Wells's Martian invasion from a different location than London. In order to make the task more of a challenge, Anderson had each author write the story as if it were an eyewitness account by a noted author. Therefore, we find Barbara Hambly penning Rudyard Kipling's memories of the events and Daniel Keys Moran taking over Mark Twain's pen. The stories, therefore, must work on two levels. Are they good/enjoyable stories? Do they manage to capture the author's style without becoming parody? As might be imagined, some stories succeed on one level and fail the other, some succeed on both and some fail on both.

The first piece in the collection is Mike Resnick's "The Roosevelt Dispatches". Not exactly a story, the piece is a collections of letters written by Roosevelt after killing a Martian in the woods of Cuba. In the letters, Roosevelt describes the physical characteristics of the Martians, thereby setting the stage for the following stories. The reader, even if they haven't read H.G. Wells (and if they haven't, they should), knows exactly what the oddities of the alien's bodies are.

Anderson next takes over the narrative when Percival Lowell, the foremost Mars observer of his time, watches the launch of the Martian vessels from his newly completed observatory outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Realizing what the green flashes meant, Lowell embarks on a mission to signal the Martians and become the first human to shake hands with them. Anderson's piece, like Resnick's, serves a purpose in setting the stage (even bringing in mention of a young journalist, H.G. Wells, but doesn't really satisfy as a story. If left to stand without the rest of the book, Anderson's tale would be flimsy, indeed.

In fact, the book's strongest stories, such as Walter Jon Williams's "Foreign Devils" and Howard Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters", ignore the framing concept of being written by contemporary authors. Instead, they relate events which happened to people as a straight story. Of those which do attempt to live within the framework laid down by Anderson, stories like Resnick's "The Roosevelt Dispatches" and Allen Steele's "A Letter From St. Louis," work better than those which are straightforward story accounts as written by authors. Benford & Brin's "Paris Conquers All" seems to be a mixture of a Jules Verne novel and a story about Jules Verne, not really able to separate the author from his fictitious characters and writings.

The book also suffers from the minor problem of continuity problems. The invasion of Paris seen by Pablo Picasso and the invasion of Paris described by Jules Verne can not be reconciled with each other. Anderson's way of dealing with this is to mention that these men haven't spoken to each other since their accounts were published. Silverberg's "The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James", places the invasion in 1900, three years after the Wells novel and other short stories are set. Silverberg's story, the most blatantly alternate historical work in the book, also has a footnote to the effect that James published his novel The War of the Worlds in November 1900 and Wells never did write about the events.

War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches is light reading. If the reader is looking for a collection of short stories with meat to it, I would suggest looking elsewhere. However, if you are just looking for a few short stories to help escape from the world, you could do worse than this anthology.

Mike Resnick The Roosevelt Dispatches
Kevin J. Anderson Canals In the Sand
Walter Jon Williams Foreign Devils Sidewise Award Winner, 1996
Dan Marcus Blue Period
Robert Silverberg The Martian Invasion Journals of Henry James
Janet Berliner The True Tale of the Final Battle of Umplopogaas the Zulu
Howard Waldrop Night of the Cooters
Doug Beason Determinism and the Martian War, With Relativistic Corrections
Barbara Hambly Soldier of the Queen
George Alec Effinger Mars: The Home Front
Allen Steele A Letter from St. Louis
Mark W. Tiedemann Resurrection
Gregory Benford & David Brin Paris Conquers All
Don Webb To Mars & Providence
Daniel Keys Moran & Jodi Moran Roughing It During the Martian Invasion
M. Shayne Bell To See the World End
Dave Wolverton After a Lean Winter
Connie Willis The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion & Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson's Poems: A Wellsian Perspective

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