I'm more than willing to review any works of audio fiction that are requested. However, as I have stated many times before, I maintain a policy of strict honesty. As I have said, if anything doesn't work I will not hesitate to call it out. With all of that having been said, this brings us to the book that we're going to be reviewing today. We're taking a look at The Day of the Martians, book one of The Martian Diaries by H.E. Wilburson.
Day of The Martians acts as a sequel to War of the Worlds. It picks up the action in 1913. A new comet has been sighted, and the British government is fearful that it means the Martians are returning for another invasion attempt. An unopened Martian cylinder has been discovered in Wales, and our protagonist has been sent to investigate, with his wife Laura in tow. They'll have to be quick about it, as the fate of the world could hang in the balance.
I was asked to give this book a review by my associate Anita Dow. We know each other through various audio drama related groups that we are both members of. She has been a faithful reader and follower of my audio drama reviews for quite some time now. As such, I was more than happy to review Day of The Martians for her.
Now, books that serve as sequels to public domain works always start off with a considerable uphill climb. Right out of the gate, they're setting themselves up to be compared to the original. Most of the time, these sequels just don't measure up to the greatness of the originals. Perhaps it is because the writing is lackluster, or the authors misunderstands, or underutilizes, the themes of the original. Now, that's not to say it is impossible to create great works of fiction using the public domain. One way is to create crossovers with other public domain works. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Anno Dracula do this to great effect. Another is to remix and reinterpret the source material. Works such as Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and Sense, Sensibility, and Sea Monsters do this to great effect. Yet another method is to retell the story from the perspective of another character. Famous examples of this include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Song of Achilles.
That having been said, this isn't always a guarantee of success. There have been plenty of lackluster works that attempted to cash-in on the success of Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Likewise, another method that is popular with works based on mythology is to strip away all the magic and gods and show the "true" story of what happened. Basically, showing the alleged history behind the legend. This has a tendency to backfire, as authors all too often forget that you have to make the characters compelling despite the lack of gods and magic. Still, this can be done well in the hands of a skilled writer. Successful examples include the comic Age of Bronze and, to an extent, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
So, where does Day of The Martians land? Well, I'd say somewhere in the middle. Let me start with some of the things that I enjoy about it. I did appreciated that at least somewhat stay true to the spirit of the original. It is emphasized just how hopelessly outgunned the British are as the Martians prepare to return. It is also mentioned that British scientist have only the faintest of ideas about how to reverse engineer Martian technology. I also like that the tripods didn't have force fields, like many other works depict them. In the original novel, that tripods main defense was that they were extremely fast, which made it near impossible to land a blow on them. This was quite a feat, as the British military is widely considered the best military of the 19th century.
War of the Worlds was written, in large part, to be a satire and critique of colonialism and imperialism. H.G. Wells was trying to show the British public what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot. In many ways, the British, and other European colonial powers, might as well have been Martians to the various peoples they conquered. They came with advanced technology that must have seem fantastically advanced to many of the inhabitants of Africa and Asia. Though that isn't to say it was completely inaccessible. Japan, for example, is rather famous for how well it was able to adapt Western technology. So, I can see Day of the Martians at least somewhat paying respect to the themes of the original.
We also do have at least a few characters from the original novel. For example, Ogilvy, an astronomer from the original book, is working with the British government to find a way to disable the tripods. Granted, he shouldn't have been there, as he died in War of the Worlds not long after the Martians arrived. Still, I thought it was a nice touch. And I would assume the unnamed narrator of Day of the Martians is supposed to be the same one from War of the Worlds.
Having said all of that, this book has a few issues. This is a work of audio fiction, so let's start with the audio. Music and sound-effects are tool when it comes to audiobooks. They are neither inherently good, nor inherently bad. It all depends on how you choose to utilize them. Think of it like adding condiments to a sandwich, or spices to a soup. You don't want it took be so faint and limited that you might as well have not added it. At the same time, you also don't want to add so much, or overplay it, that it overpowers and drowns everything else. Unfortunately, Day of The Martians suffers from both problems at the same time.
The music felt incredibly out of place. The story is set in 1913, but the music primarily consists electric guitars and other bits of modern music. Using anachronistic music can work, but you have to fully commit your story. For example, the movie A Knight's Tale uses anachronistic music to show that people of the Middle Ages weren't so different than modern people. You can't just have the music be anachronistic without adding anything else, or it just comes across as jarring. The music was also very monotonous and repetitive. It was like listening to a song with only one cord. It kind of felt like the music had been selected due to being cheap or free, rather than because of quality.
It also felt like the music was also a bit too loud. Not that it was bursting my eardrums, or anything like that, but that it overwhelmed the narration. Of course, it could just be that the repetitive nature of the music made it feel that way.
The narration also suffered from monotony and lack of variation. The book is narrated by Harry Preston, with Terry Thompson providing the introduction. Harry's narration started out fine enough. It seemed reasonably appropriate to the time period and setting. Unfortunately, it quickly became rather flat and one-note. Harry made little-to-no attempt to differentiate between any of the characters. He also maintained the whole stiff upper lip demeanor, even in scenes where the characters should have been displaying stronger emotions.
The sound-effects, in contrast to the music, were severely under utilized. We get a few decent once at the start of the first third of the book, but the sound effects soon vanish. This is quite a shame, as they were sorely missed, and could really have added to the experience. We do get a couple more towards the end of the book, but it is too little too late.
Now let's talk about the writing and plot. Things started off reasonably well. The trip to Wales to investigate the cylinder actually makes for a fairly descent short story. The pacing was good, and it stay fairly true in style to the original novel while as being a fun adventure story. Unfortunately, the other two-thirds are where things fall apart. The Martians arrive on Earth, and we are treated to what I can best describe as a prolonged action sequence. There was very little introspection or pauses between the action. Well, there were some, but they felt misplaced.
The arrival of the Martians is supposed to feel like the climax of the action. However, due to the short length of the novel, it fails to make any emotional impact. If we had more build up, rather than jumping directly from the trip to Wales to the invasion, it might have worked. As it stands, however, the novel falls flat on its face. Overall, this novel feels too short for its own good.
I can't help but feel that Day of the Martians failed to make the most of its potential. It starts in 1913, just one year before the outbreak of World War I. Would the major powers of Europe have put aside their differences to present a united front against the Martians? Or would old rivalries have proved too strong? Would there even have been those who tried to collaborate with the Martians in parallel to how the happened in certain colonies, such as the Princely States of India? Or what if the invasion had occurred in the middle of the war, rather than before it? Even ignoring all of this, how did the rest of the world react to the first invasion? How have they been doing?
All are intriguing possibilities, which are sadly not explored by Day of The Martians. I'm trying to think of a more tactful way to put this, but Day of The Martians had a very amateur feel to it. It felt like everyone involved needed more time to hone their skills before releasing their final product. The whole novel felt like it needed more time to bake. I'll cut new audio dramas a certain amount of slack, but being new to the world of audio fiction isn't a get out of jail free card. I've seen plenty of audio dramas made by people who were just starting out, but had impeccable production values and story quality.
Now, I'm aware that I might sound harsh, but I do genuinely believe that Day of The Martians had potential within it to be great. Its just that there is considerable work that needs to be done to attain that potential. I understand that there is a second novel in the series, and I'd be willing to give it a review if asked.
And so that was my review of The Day of The Martians. I don't think there's much more for me to add. I will see you guys next time.