Deep Ice: Dead Men From Mars! (Eric S. Brown’s War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, Continued)

By the time we get to chapter eleven and the first meeting of the narrator with the artilleryman, Brown’s additions have become shorter, but more frequent. A reference to checking his ammunition before setting out from his house. Mention of soldiers guarding refugees as they packed their belongings in Byfleet, and references to civilians arming themselves. Not all of the insertions directly relate to the zombie menace. When the narrator first meets the artilleryman and invites him into his house, he points out that hiding outside won’t work. At Shepperton Lock, where Wells notes that, “There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting,” Brown adds, “He joked about the end of the world in an odd kind of black humor [sic].”

These little additions work a lot better than the earlier ones. By being short and matter-of-fact, they don’t clash with Wells’s style, yet they add a bit of subtle shading around the edges of the whole section, a little tonal difference in what kind of panic has gripped those in the path of the advancing Martians and zombies.

The artilleryman’s account of his own survival sticks out as problematic in context — Brown presents it unmodified, despite the fact that it involves him, “lying under a heap of charred dead men and dead horses,” in a context where that would almost certainly get him bitten. Otherwise, though, Brown is largely consistent about adding explicit head wounds to corpses seen by Wells’s narrator, or specifying them as, “True dead burnt to a crisp or devoured to the point that they had not reanimated.”

The dead are suspiciously absent from the battle at Weybridge and Shepperton, but they reappear when the Martians retreat in chapter 13 to reevaluate their tactics after a cannon takes out a tripod. We return to the curious theme I mentioned last time. “The dead were still very much a threat and a terrible one,” Brown inserts into a paragraph about the positioning of human reinforcements, “But the Martians’ sheer capacity for destruction was appalling to the point that they, for the moment, outweighed the threat of the dead.” We retain the strange juxtaposition that, confronted with Martian invaders, even the walking dead seem like a manageable threat by comparison. Indeed, Brown goes on to interject that, along with the military preparations for their next fight against the tripods, teams are sent out into the streets to prevent the last round of casualties from rising up.

By this point, I’m surprised by the fact that we haven’t yet had any explicit reference to the zombies having an infectious bite. Sure, the victims of the zombies do rise up, but we haven’t yet had any mention of soldiers who survived a biting, only to turn later. For now, the military continues to keep things in order by dispatching teams to issue the coups de grace to their casualties. The clinical tone Brown adopts here is a better fit with Wells’s normal style. Particularly in context, the fact that the army is able to keep the dead at bay complements the general sense at this point in the story that things are still under control. We’re a few chapters away, at this point, from humanity at large admitting that the Martian threat is insurmountable rather than just serious — despite the casualties and destruction so far, the humans managed to destroy a tripod in the last chapter and they have as yet no reason to believe that, once they’re prepared, they won’t be able to continue to dispatch them.

That said, there’s a tension here, because it’s also at this point that the narrator, having only narrowly escaped the last battle and scalded from a heat ray hit to the river, flees in a panic. That tension exists in the original too, with no specific or imminent justification for the narrator’s renewed panic. The lengthening of the opening paragraphs of chapter thirteen by Brown exacerbates it, though. Maybe it’s a cultural thing for me as a modern reader, but the addition of the risen dead for me does help make the curate’s breakdown more believable when he is introduced in this chapter. As someone whose ballywick covers what happens to people after they die, it’s easier for me to imagine a zombie apocalypse having such an immediate impact on him  than the Martians, who, at this point, are still behaving in a way that’s recognizable to anyone who’s familiar with a technologically advanced culture launching a military invasion. They might be alien cephalopods, but the tripods are essentially doing a cavalry charge. Brown adds a full page of action at the end of chapter thirteen, placing the narrator and the curate in a fight scene with some zombies. As has happened before, Brown’s gorier style clashes with that of Wells.

Now, I’ve pointed out a few popular zombie conventions that Brown has surprisingly omitted so far, in order to retain parsimony with the Wells story. In chapter fourteen, when the viewpoint switches to the narrator’s brother in London, things start to change. If this change in style is deliberate, that’s a clever place to do it. It has little relevance to the narrative in the original text that the brother is a medical student. Brown takes advantage of the lucky break here and has the brother witness the resurrection of the dead first-hand as medical cadavers manage to devour some of his classmates. The sense that the Martians are the real threat and the zombies just a sideshow continues here, but there’s a tonal difference: the government deliberately suppresses news of the dead to avoid panic, presenting the Martians as the primary threat, even as the press persists in emphasizing the sluggishness of the creatures in Earth gravity and insisting even after the battle at Weybridge that the invaders, despite their powerful weapons, will eventually succumb to the greater numbers and home-field advantage of the humans. An addition by Brown also informs us that the authorities were inspecting refugees for bite-marks as they fled to London from the countryside. If this means that the zombies do indeed have the traditionally infectious bite, the brother doesn’t know it yet.

Distrust of the authorities is a common trope in zombie fiction, of course, and Brown plays it up here. Where Wells notes with wonderful understatement, “At the time there was a strong feeling in the streets that the authorities were to blame for their incapacity to dispose of the invaders without all this inconvenience,” Brown adds an entire paragraph expressing condemnation that, “The fools who made first contact with the aliens,” hadn’t simply dumped a mountain of explosives on them, “The second it was known the men from Mars were not men at all.” Aside from the overly Star Trek word choice at the beginning, the sentiment, “Okay, not shooting them on sight might have been justified if they’d turned out to be humanoid, but since they’re octopuses, we shoulda nuked them from orbit just to be sure,” is pretty pitch-perfect here. And the notion that the success of the Martian campaign was largely predicated on the slowness of the initial human response fits in very well with recurring themes in the original book.

The hope that greater preparation by the humans would be able to contain and defeat the Martians is, of course, dashed by the introduction of the deadly black smoke that can be deployed to depopulate an area before defenses can be set up — and adds to the ranks of the dead. The dead vanish from the narrative for a few pages but then return with an abrupt transition from the army “somehow” being able to hold them back to the army being completely overwhelmed by them. Chapter fifteen ends with the tale of General Alves, whose troops fought to the last man to buy the population time to flee from the dead.

The dead remain only a haunting flavor for the remainder of book one. As the narrator’s brother flees from London, there’s mention of a family of refugees, unable to face the facts, carrying their zombified daughter with them, carefully bound, a somewhat welcome bit of standard zombie cliche, honestly. Even in the original, the scene is heavy on human suffering, and Brown enhances it. Where in the original the brother observes that an injured man he passes is “lucky to have friends,” Brown has him wonder, “If his friends wouldn’t be unlucky to have him. If he died, they may find themselves in unexpected trouble.”

At this point, I was going to start plowing through the second half of the novel, but my neck has hurt for days and it turns out that Halloween is a comparatively busy time when you’re a parent, and I’ve already blown my schedule enough that I have to go take out all of the election jokes out of the the remaining parts of my review of the musical, so instead, I’ll just remind you that The War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies is available from Amazon.

To Be Continued…

2 thoughts on “Deep Ice: Dead Men From Mars! (Eric S. Brown’s War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, Continued)

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Roundup for November 4th, 2016 | The Slacktiverse

  2. Pingback: Deep Ice: Mad Distortions of Humanity (Eric S. Brown’s The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, Part 3) | A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *