Edison's Conquest of Mars

Edison's Conquest of Mars

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Edison's Conquest of Mars, by Garrett P. Serviss
Garrett P. Serviss
Garrett Putnam Serviss was an astronomer, popularizer of astronomy, and early science fiction writer. Serviss was born in upstate New York, and majored in science at Cornell. He took a law degree at Columbia, but never worked as an attorney...

, is one of the many science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 novels published in the 19th century. Although science fiction was not at the time thought of as a distinct literary genre, it was a very popular literary form, with almost every fiction magazine regularly publishing science fiction stories and novels. "Edison's Conquest of Mars" was published in 1898 intended to be a sequel to "Fighters from Mars
Fighters from Mars
Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and near Boston, is an un-authorized and rewritten story of War of the Worlds, taking place in Boston. The sequel Edison's Conquest of Mars is better known....

", an un-authorized and heavily altered version of H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

's The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds is an 1898 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.The War of the Worlds may also refer to:- Radio broadcasts :* The War of the Worlds , the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles...

, but did not achieve the fame of its predecessor. Serviss wrote himself into the story as a professor that Edison consults.

The book was endorsed by Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

, the hero of the book, though not by Wells. The themes and messages of Serviss's book are diametrically opposed to Wells's original. In it, Edison travels to Mars, his inventions (including the disintegrator ray
Disintegrator ray
In science fiction, a disintegrator ray is an energy beam that destroys an object by disintegrating it to its basic components, which usually disperse into the atmosphere. Ray gun is the generic term for the weapons that fire disintegrator beams...

) allow an Earth spacefleet to destroy the Martians' ability to make war after several exciting battles. There are ship-to-ship battles, and battles between Earth ships and Martian ground forts. This was perhaps the first space opera
Space opera
Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The term has no relation to music and it is analogous to "soap...

, although the term did not yet exist; it was perhaps the most literal of the Edisonade
"Edisonade" is a modern term, coined in 1993 by John Clute in his and Peter Nicholls' The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for stories based around a brilliant young inventor and his inventions, many of which would now be classified as science fiction...


In the story, communication between spacemen in space needs a wire to be passed between them; spaceships communicate by flags or lights. Although the story was published in 1898 during the early real experiments in radio
History of radio
The early history of radio is the history of technology that produced radio instruments that use radio waves. Within the timeline of radio, many people contributed theory and inventions in what became radio. Radio development began as "wireless telegraphy"...

, it contains no concept of radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...


Besides Edison and Serviss, Edward Emerson Barnard, Lord Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Silvanus P. Thompson
Silvanus P. Thompson
Silvanus Phillips Thompson FRS was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, England. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1891 and was known for his work as an electrical engineer and as an author...

 are all depicted as being involved in building the invasion fleet and its technology. A number of heads of state also appear, including William McKinley
William McKinley
William McKinley, Jr. was the 25th President of the United States . He is best known for winning fiercely fought elections, while supporting the gold standard and high tariffs; he succeeded in forging a Republican coalition that for the most part dominated national politics until the 1930s...

 and Queen Victoria. Wilhelm II and Mutsuhito
Emperor Meiji
The or was the 122nd emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from 3 February 1867 until his death...

 are depicted as being treacherous schemers attempting to put their own power ahead of the good of the human race, while the Guangxu Emperor
Guangxu Emperor
The Guangxu Emperor , born Zaitian of the Aisin-Gioro clan, was the eleventh emperor of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty, and the ninth Qing emperor to rule over China. His reign lasted from 1875 to 1908, but in practice he ruled, under Empress Dowager Cixi's influence, only from 1889 to 1898...

 of China is depicted as a child-like stereotype.

The book contains some notable "firsts" in science fiction: alien abductions, spacesuits (called "air-tight suits": see Spacesuits in fiction#Edison's Conquest of Mars), aliens building the Pyramids
Ancient astronauts
Some writers have proposed that intelligent extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in antiquity or prehistory and made contact with humans. Such visitors are called ancient astronauts or ancient aliens. Proponents suggest that this contact influenced the development of human cultures,...

, space battles, oxygen pills and disintegrator ray
Disintegrator ray
In science fiction, a disintegrator ray is an energy beam that destroys an object by disintegrating it to its basic components, which usually disperse into the atmosphere. Ray gun is the generic term for the weapons that fire disintegrator beams...



After the first invasion, Earth is devastated. Many cities have been destroyed. New York is destroyed as the last Martians lift off Earth. Most Martians died from bacterial illness, but some few survived and left. The now devastated but free Earth begins to rise from the ashes and rejoice as the humans find themselves free again.

The joy quickly disappears as observations of Mars show new dust clouds shooting out of the planet. All disputes are put aside and all nations decide to work together against this common enemy.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

 manages to create anti-gravity cars and a disruptor weapon that blasts away molecular
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...


After a test trip to the Moon, the now-united world founds a expedition to Mars to stop the Martians, and maybe even conquer them. Several hundred more ships are made, with a complement of 2000 of Earth's best men. Together, they set off to Mars.

Their first encounter with the Martians is on an asteroid on which the Martians have landed. After a rather quick but costly battle, the Earthmen win. Though the humans first thought the Martians had crashed landed on the asteroid, they soon discover the Martians have come there to mine the asteroid, which is made out of gold.
More Martians arrive on the asteroid and after a new battle, the Earthlings manage to capture one of the Martians. The Martian teaches them their language and is rather amused by the Earthmen.

Edison wonders why the Martians have not invented anti-gravity or disruptor weapons, since they clearly have superior minds.

The Earthmen arrive on Mars with a 1000 men, half of what they started with. The Martians soon discover them and cloud the planet with a black fog. Edison and his men manage to land on Hellas Planitia
Hellas Planitia
Hellas Planitia, also known as the Hellas Impact Basin, is a huge, roughly circular impact basin located in the southern hemisphere of the planet Mars. It is the second or third largest impact crater and the largest visible impact crater known in the Solar System...


Looking for supplies, they rescue a human girl named Aina. She tells the men that her ancestors were brought to Mars as slaves over 9000 years ago, after the Martians had conquered the ancient world. She also tells them that the Martians built the Pyramids and the Sphinx. When the Martians saw Edison coming, the emperor had given the order to execute all human slaves. Only Aina survived.

Aina becomes the key to the Martians' downfall as she advises Edison not to attack the Martians openly, but rather open one of the great dams of Mars. Since most of Mars' cities are under sea level, the flood spreads rapidly. The men could not help but think of the similarity to the story of Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

 as they see the Martians climbing the hills. About 90% of the populations is killed. The Earthmen state they did not come for revenge, but were forced to do strike out of fear that the Martians would attack them again. Edison meets with the emperor and demands his surrender. Though initially resistant, he gives in, and swears not to attack Earth in the future.

They leave the Martians for their devastated world, and come home to an Earth that celebrates their return.


There are three type of aliens in the book.

The Martians in this version are not like the squid-like Martians described in H.G. Wells's story. These Martians are more humanoid with arms, legs and an enormous head
with projector-like eyes and bad looking faces. When they rise, they are 15 feet high (4.572 meters). However this is only the male, for the species exhibits sexual dimorphism
Sexual dimorphism
Sexual dimorphism is a phenotypic difference between males and females of the same species. Examples of such differences include differences in morphology, ornamentation, and behavior.-Examples:-Ornamentation / coloration:...

. To Earthlings, they appear unpleasant. The Martian women, however, are graceful and beautiful, like the women of Italy and Spain since they do not do much. This can be considered a reflection of the treatment of the sexes at the time-men do all the hard work, and women just look graceful.

The residents of Ceres are at war with the Martians. However, they are only mentioned, except for a female slave who is 40 feet tall. The 'Cerenites' are this height due to the reduced gravity of their world.

When Edison's men land on the Moon, they discover that the Moon was, at one point, capable of supporting life. Only a giant footprint is seen, leaving the reader (and the characters) wondering what was once there.

Strangely, not a single alien seems to have problems when transferring from their home world to a place with greater gravity.

The book

Written in first person of an unknown character. The book is very slowed passed, little action, more focus on details. The book talks very much about the unique happening when the entire world goes united against the common foe: it must have seemed quite a fantasy writing for the people of the time.

It's rich with technical details, at the same time trying to keep it understandable. There are also it's fair share of action. Richly illustrated compared to many books of the time. The book was written in articles or episodes often leaving the characters on a cliffhanger
A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction...

, trying to get the reader back for each new chapter.

Without debate or explanation the story places America as the natural leader for this operation. The monarchs and public figures of the time are described, though
presidents are simply added as "president of...". Kaiser Wilhelm II is mentioned several times and is used as comic relief in the book. Queen Victoria is described as a sensible leader. The other monarchs are simply mentioned.

The Martians are described as very smart; however, they are not much more then arrogant cynical humans. In H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds the Martians have evolved into beings of nearly pure brains. Their invasion is due to survival; the humans are no more then animals to them. However the Martians in this book are more humanlike, just thinking a bit faster.

Publication history

  • 1898, USA, New York Journal
    New York Journal American
    The New York Journal American was a newspaper published from 1937 to 1966. The Journal American was the product of a merger between two New York newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst: The New York American , a morning paper, and the New York Evening Journal, an afternoon paper...

    , Pub date 12 January - 10 February 1898, serialized in 30 parts
  • 1947, USA, Carcosa House , Pub date 1947, Hardback, first book publication
  • 1954, USA, Hanover House , Pub date 1954, Hardback, abridged version included in The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics, edited by Harold W. Kuebler
  • 1969, USA, Powell Publications , Pub date 1969, Paperback, slightly abridged by Forrest J Ackerman
    Forrest J Ackerman
    Forrest J Ackerman was an American collector of science fiction books and movie memorabilia and a science fiction fan...

     as Invasion of Mars
  • 1972, USA, Ace Books
    Ace Books
    Ace Books is the oldest active specialty publisher of science fiction and fantasy books. The company was founded in New York City in 1952 by Aaron A. Wyn, and began as a genre publisher of mysteries and westerns...

    , Pub Date 1972 - 1973, Paperback, heavily-abridged version serialized in Perry Rhodan
    Perry Rhodan
    Perry Rhodan is the name of a science fiction series published since 1961 in Germany, as well as the name of the main character. It is a space opera, dealing with several themes of science fiction. Having sold over one billion copies worldwide, it is the most successful science fiction book series...

    , nos 16 - 22 as The Conquest of Mars
  • 2006, Canada, Apogee Books
    Apogee Books
    Apogee Books is an imprint of Canadian publishing house Collector's Guide Publishing. The Apogee imprint began with "Apollo 8 The NASA Mission Reports" in November 1998 at the request of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon. The first publication by Apogee was printed to celebrate the 30th...

    ISBN 0-9738203-0-6, Pub Date August 2006, Paperback, unedited unabridged version with the original newspaper illustrations

External links