Book Reviews

Scarlet Traces edited by Ian Edginton


Released: September 2019
Publisher: Rebellion
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5

Mars was defeated in the War of the Worlds, but what became of humanity afterward?


Set after the events of H.G. Wells’ seminal War of the Worlds, the British Empire has taken hold of the Martian machinery left behind on the battlefields.  They have discovered the secrets of the technology and have used it for themselves to assert global dominance, cementing their place on the world stage as an enduring superpower.

Put together by Ian Edginton, this is a collection of stories about the world post-Mars, featuring authors such as Stephen Baxter, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts, and several more.


This anthology was born from a question that nagged the editor Ian Edginton for years, “What happened to all that Martian technology after the war?” Eventually this question led to him and illustrator Matt Brooker creating a Scarlet Traces comic book series set ten years after the failed Martian invasion. The ever productive Victorians reverse engineered the Martian technology and adapted it to suit their needs, preventing the British Empire from collapsing as it eventually did within our timeline.

This continuation from H.G. Wells’ classic opened the door for an endless amount of tales and with this collection, other authors have now taken up their pens to contribute. With any short story collection, some stories will be stronger than others, some will appeal to certain readers while others won’t. What you hope for overall is a collection that, when put together, creates a wonderful narrative. I never used to be a big short story reader, but over this past year I’ve tried reading more and for the most part I have been pleasantly surprised. This collection was no exception.

A few familiar people make their way into the stories, including poet T.S. Eliot and literary detective extraordinaire Sherlock Holmes. It was pretty delightful reading their Martian adventures, not the least of which because these were two of the most humorous stories.

So many subjects were broached throughout Scarlet Traces, ranging from immigration and racism, to the effects of automation, to trying to live in a brave new world. One story in particular stuck out for me, Voice for a Generation by Nathan Duck. It takes place in Birmingham, UK which is actuality is a city in England with a vibrant immigrant population.  In Voice for a Generation, a young Venusian refugee named Wilf living in Birmingham faces not only rejection and hatred from the English he now considers his countrymen, but also has to reconcile the life he had before to the one he has now. Like many immigrants, he has to find a balance between the societal and cultural norms of his homeland and adopted country. He doesn’t want to upset his family, but he also doesn’t want to be restricted to expectations that no longer fit with living on Earth. So many immigrants or children of immigrants face these types of struggles, desperately wanting to find a way to live within both worlds.

Another story that stuck out for me was The Mechanical Marionette Mob by Maura McHugh. Using Martian technology to create animatronic puppets, an engineer of sorts named Belsa puts on puppet shows in an old London theater. Her latest production, “Britain Repels the Martian Invasion,” is about the Martian invasion, set as a valiant knight fighting a (Martian) dragon of sorts. The descriptions of the puppet show were epic:

“The tentacles whip at the champion but it swings its sword, and SNAP, the tentacles separate from the machine, to fall and flip on the ground like beheaded snakes.” 

“The knight jumps lightly from the defeated machine and lands in centre state. Its armour splits and falls off, revealing a beautiful woman with shining golden tresses- is it Britannia! The land itself has repelled the invader.”

I seriously want to see this show. However, the heart of the story was about the influence of Martian technology on humans. The theatergoers leave the performance by, “hopping into Black Crabs, nipping down to catch a bullet tube, or ascend the Overground Monorail.” The author also notes that after the invasion, London became “a gilded Babel, the centre of immigration for the world, as artists, creators, scientists and engineers rushed to be part of the massive rebuilding and unpicking of Martian secrets.”

But is all this technology really for the betterment of Earth? Belsa’s coworker comments on his unease of the technology, worrying that humans are still becoming enslaved under the Martians through their technology. Many stories in this collection touch upon this, and on how rapidly the economic landscape of the world changed as more and more jobs were lost to automation- decades before it actually happened within our world. While the Martian innovations are great for some, they’re not always great for all.


With short stories, it’s more difficult than in a novel to set a full picture or do as much world building to draw readers in. There were some stories that took a few pages for me to feel like I knew what was going on, but for the most part I was able to fully take in what the authors were trying to convey.

If you haven’t read War of the Worlds, as long as you know the basic premise you’ll get a lot from this anthology, especially if science fiction is your cup of tea. I originally read War of the Worlds in high school and even though I rarely re-read books (my TBR Mountain is far too massive as it is), I decided to refresh my memory on the story. Thankfully, Tom Cruise wasn’t in the book!

I’m glad I gave it a read with older eyes. Even today, it holds up as an impressive piece of science fiction, more so when you take into account when it was written. The action within it was pretty stellar and had me as gripped as I was when I read it as a teen.

Obviously we know now there are no tentacled Martians plotting against us (or the Venusians for that matter), but aside from that it’s still a fantastic read over a hundred years on. The only parts that were hard to stomach were the various townspeople going off on ethnocentric and Euro-skeptic tangents. Those sentiments are still rampant here today and it’s depressing to see that over a century later not much has changed in that regard.

However, this is a review of Scarlet Traces so I had better get back to it! It was a fascinating collection that expertly expanded upon a staple within science fiction literature. Vastly different, the stories all had the same underlying theme: that humans are always in pursuit of advancement, but whether or not it is for the good of humanity… only time will tell.

Buy on

Buy on



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