It is doubtful that two more different a pair of books could be found that H.G. Wells' classic tale of alien invasion The War of the Worlds and its unauthorized sequel by Garrett P. Serviss entitled Edison's Conquest of Mars. Technically, Serviss' novel is a sequel to the downright copyright-infringing Americanization of Wells' novel that was published in Stateside newspapers as Fighters from Mars, but it is actually better to read Edison's Conquest of Mars in full contrast to the British original. In doing so we may marvel at the astounding cultural differences permeating each side of the Atlantic at the dawn of the Twentieth Century.
The War of the Worlds is very much the story of Imperial decline and cosmic nihilism. Wells turns the tables on the British Empire by bringing down an invasion force that does to it as Britannia has done to so many others around the world. How many spears and muskets were but pinpricks against the indefeatble might of the English armada? A superior force from beyond our furthest frontier annihilates the seat of the Empire itself, literally sucking the lifeblood from its citizens. Those citizens are themselves anonymous spectators. The narrator has been denied a name and identity. That is the point: he was just another faceless Imperial functionary before the invasion and just another faceless victim during it. Only a bizarre twist of evolutionary fate rescues a subjugated Earth, but it is psychologically conquered. Our narrator has still lost himself in contemplations of a universe cruelly indifferent to humanity.
Then there is Edison's Conquest of Mars. The title alone betrays so much about it, for this is not merely a war between planets. This is the conquest of the alien orb by the soldiers of Earth, and it is led, by name, by Thomas Edison. The anonymity imparted by Wells is utterly overturned by Serviss, who was himself an already notable scientific author and lecturer. Everybody who is anybody is involved in launching this invasion spearheaded by Edison. Just as Napoleon brought along a cadre of researchers and artists in his invasion of Egypt, so does Edison bring along the best and brightest of the turn-of-the-century: Kelvin, Roentgen, Rayleigh, Mossiman, Hale, and more. Contrary to the nihilistic egalitarianism of Wells, all of the significant heads of state survived the initial onslaught, from Queen Victoria to Kaiser Wilhelm to Emperor Meiji to the King of Siam, whose donation of a massive diamond assists the subscription service required to raise an army of vessels designed by Edison.
Of course, this great counter-invasion force is led by the Americans. Wells wrote of the decline of the British Empire and Serviss writes of the ascent of the American one. This aspiring world power lacks for neither money nor enthusiasm, and Serviss spares no shame for informing us of how grateful the world is to be led by them in this endeavour. With the exception of Wilhelm, however, who Serviss has no small pleasure in picking on. As these royal heads meet in Washington to hash over the invasion, Wilhelm finds democracy unflattering and insists on returning home to lands that know proper respect for a king. Such unruly citizens are practically falling over themselves to enlist for the counter-invasion force.
Efforts like flying to Mars and attacking the invincible Martians would be impossible if not for Edison's technological breakthroughs. Two are most critical for the progress of the story, the first being the development of craft that can cruise between the planets on a principle of electric repulsion. The second is a disintegration beam, the effect of which is achieved by disrupting the harmonic convergence of atoms. For once it's not some kind of ether-based weapons, but nonetheless, humanity is not waiting around for microbes this time. In the words the great Rowdy Roddy Piper, we're here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and we're all outta' bubble gum.
Besides imperial American jingosim, the tone of Edison's Conquest of Mars is quite different from Wells. Given Serviss' scientific credentials, having published the popular guide Astronomy Through an Opera Glass a decade before, his story is much more of a Scientific Romance in the vein of Jules Verne and Camille Flammarion. En route to Mars, the savants pause on the Moon to explore its environs, discovering traces of an ancient cyclopean civilization and diamond-encrusted craters. Before reaching Mars, they have their first engagement with Martian asteroid miners excavating gold from an orbiting body. As much time is given to the study of gravity as to the effects of disintegration rays on Martian physiology.
To recap, a few messages in contradiction to Wells are obvious in Edison's Conquest of Mars. First: USA! USA! USA! Second: that the universe is not only comprehensible to humanity, but conquerable by it through the marriage of scientific knowledge and financial capital. This emphasis on "Capitalism's Conquest of Nature" actually distances Edison's Conquest of Mars from the likes of Verne and Flammarion, implanting it more thoroughly in the American literary zeitgeist shared with John Jacob Astor IV's A Journey in Other Worlds and Edward S. Ellis' The Huge Hunter; or, The Steam Man of the Prairies. Inspired by this very novel, John Clute coined the term "Edisonade" for this variation on the Scientific Romance.
Beyond this, some critics suggest that Serviss had been long holding onto this story and that War of the Worls only provided an occasion for it. A solid clue is that the Martians of the piece in no way resemble the Lovecraftian extraterrestrial menace of Wells. Such alien entities stand as embodiments of malevolent nature, and I doubt that there is any accident in Cthulhu being tentacled. Serviss' Martians are giant, bestial men, a breed of "intelligent savage" who in the end are conquerable by humanity not only in military prowess, but in culture and spirit.
In itself proof of the transition in global power at the end of the 19th century, Edison's Conquest of Mars must have captured the American zeitgeist sufficiently to warrant a new side-career for Serviss. Though never matching the output of a Verne or Wells, he nevertheless did produce a new story every few years, from 1900's The Moon Metal to 1909's A Columbus of Space to 1911's The Second Deluge and his final novel, 1915's The Moon Maiden. This, paired with his almost yearly output of popular scientific books, make him one of the last of the true, grand old Victorian Scientific Romantics in marked contrast with the man whose work he cribbed in Edison's Conquest of Mars.