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Edison's Conquest of Mars: A Victorian Era steampunk space opera

The 1898 novel Edison's Conquest of Mars, the unauthorized sequel to The War of the Worlds, lays the foundation for many modern science-fiction films and books.

In 1897 Earth was regarded with envious eyes by many cool intellects — or, another way to say it is that Martians wanted the Earth and wouldn't take no for an answer. The H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds tells how a 19th century world deals with an alien invasion by a more technologically advanced civilization. From the moment of first contact, it quickly becomes apparent that humans' days are numbered. It is only through a quirk of biology (Martians have no resistance to Earth's bacteria and viruses) that the Martians are defeated.

I always wondered what happened after the story ends; did the Martians ponder their failure and make another attempt, or just give up and stay on their dying world awaiting extinction? Also, unlike the Martians, humans aren't particularly well known for having cool intellects; in fact, I'm willing to venture a guess that humans would be out for blood, and the blood's color wouldn't matter. Maybe that's why I spent a number of years looking for the unauthorized sequel, Edison's Conquest of Mars. Written by Garrett Putnam Serviss and published in 1898, Edison's Conquest of Mars isn't nearly as high quality as Wells's The War of the Worlds, but it does have several things beyond revenge going for it. Like its "prequel" Edison's Conquest of Mars started a new sub-genre: the space opera. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Skylark of Space, and even Star Wars owe something to this nearly forgotten book. And decades before Stargate, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and even Erich von Däniken, this book featured Martians building pyramids.

Another much more common science fiction staple is ship-to-ship battles with energy weapons, the Martian heat ray, and the human disintegrators; if you substitute disruptors, phasers, or blasters, and you get the idea. Of course you can't have space battles without losing hull integrity; fortunately, Serviss also introduced the concept of spacesuits.

Although Edison's Conquest of Mars isn't a great read, the novel lays the foundation for many science-fiction works that came later. Whether they know it or not, every fan of science fiction can thank Serviss for this Victorian Era steampunk space opera that started it all.

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