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The Map of the Sky

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The Map of the Sky

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Author: Félix J. Palma
Publisher: Atria Books, 2012
Series: Victorian Trilogy: Book 2

1. The Map of Time
2. The Map of the Sky
3. The Map of Chaos

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Alien Invasion
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1898. New York socialite Emma Harlow agrees to marry well-to-do Montgomery Gilmore, but only if he first accepts her audacious challenge: to reproduce the Martian invasion featured in H. G. Wells's popular novel The War of the Worlds. Meanwhile in London, Wells himself is unexpectedly made privy to certain objects, apparently of extraterrestrial origin, that were discovered decades earlier on an ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. On that same expedition was an American crew member named Edgar Allan Poe, whose inexplicable experiences in the frozen wasteland would ultimately inspire him to create one of his most enduring works of literature.

When eerie, alien-looking cylinders begin appearing in London, Wells is certain it is all part of some elaborate hoax. But soon, to his great horror, he realizes that a true invasion of Earth has indeed begun. As brave bands of citizens converge on a crumbling London to defend it against utter ruin, Emma and her suitor must confront the enigma that is their love, a bright spark of hope even against the darkening light of apocalypse.


HERBERT GEORGE WELLS WOULD HAVE PREFERRED to live in a fairer, more considerate world, a world where a kind of artistic code of ethics prevented people from exploiting others' ideas for their own gain, one where the so-called talent of those wretches who had the effrontery to do so would dry up overnight, condemning them to a life of drudgery like ordinary men. But, unfortunately, the world he lived in was not like that. In his world everything was permissible, or at least that is what Wells thought. And not without reason, for only a few months after his book The War of the Worlds had been published, an American scribbler by the name of Garrett P. Serviss had the audacity to write a sequel to it, without so much as informing him of the fact, and even assuming he would be delighted.

That is why on a warm June day the author known as H. G. Wells was walking somewhat absentmindedly along the streets of London, the greatest and proudest city in the world. He was strolling through Soho on his way to the Crown and Anchor. Mr. Serviss, who was visiting England, had invited him there for luncheon in the sincere belief that, with the aid of beer and good food, their minds would be able to commune at the level he deemed appropriate. However, if everything went according to plan, the luncheon wouldn't turn out the way the ingenuous Mr. Serviss had imagined, for Wells had quite a different idea, which had nothing to do with the union of like minds the American had envisaged. Not that Wells was proposing to turn what might otherwise be a pleasant meal into a council of war because he considered his novel a masterpiece whose intrinsic worth would inevitably be compromised by the appearance of a hastily written sequel. No, Wells's real fear was that another author might make better use of his own idea. This prospect churned him up inside, causing no end of ripples in the tranquil pool to which he was fond of likening his soul.

In truth, as with all his previous novels, Wells considered The War of the Worlds an unsatisfactory work, which had once again failed in its aims. The story described how Martians possessing a technology superior to that of human beings conquered Earth. Wells had emulated the realism with which Sir George Chesney had imbued his novel The Battle of Dorking, an imaginary account of a German invasion of England, unstinting in its gory detail. Employing a similar realism bolstered by descriptions as elaborate as they were gruesome, Wells had narrated the destruction of London, which the Martians achieved with no trace of compassion, as though humans deserved no more consideration than cockroaches. Within a matter of days, our neighbors in space had trampled on the Earth dwellers' values and self-respect with the same disdain the British showed toward the native populations in their empire. They had taken control of the entire planet, enslaving the inhabitants and transforming Earth into something resembling a spa for Martian elites. Nothing whatsoever had been able to stand in their way. Wells had intended this dark fantasy as an excoriating attack on the excessive zeal of British imperialism, which he found loathsome. But the fact was that now people believed Mars was inhabited. New, more powerful telescopes like that of the Italian Giovanni Schiaparelli had revealed furrows on the planet's red surface, which some astronomers had quickly declared, as if they had been there for a stroll, to be canals constructed by an intelligent civilization. This had instilled in people a fear of Martian invasion, exactly as Wells had described it. However, this didn't come as much of a surprise to Wells, for something similar had happened with The Time Machine, in which the eponymous artifact had eclipsed Wells's veiled attack on class society.

And now Serviss, who apparently enjoyed something of a reputation as a science journalist in his own country, had published a sequel to it: Edison's Conquest of Mars. And what was Serviss's novel about? The title fooled no one: the hero was Thomas Edison, whose innumerable inventions had made him into something of a hero in the eyes of his fellow Americans, and subsequently into the wearisome protagonist of every species of novel. In Serviss's sequel, the ineffable Edison invented a powerful ray gun and, with the help of the world's nations, built a flotilla of ships equipped with antigravitational engines, which set sail for Mars driven by a thirst for revenge.

When Serviss sent Wells his novel, together with a letter praising Wells's work with nauseating fervor and almost demanding that he give the sequel his blessing, Wells had not deigned to reply. Nor had he responded to the half dozen other letters doggedly seeking Wells's approval. Serviss even had the nerve to suggest, based upon the similarities and common interests he perceived in their works, that they write a novel together. After reading Serviss's tale, all Wells could feel was a mixture of irritation and disgust. That utterly childish, clumsy piece of prose was a shameless insult to other writers who, like himself, did their best to fill the bookshop shelves with more or less worthy creations. However, Wells's silence did not stanch the flow of letters, which if anything appeared to intensify. In the latest of these, the indefatigable Serviss begged Wells to be so kind as to lunch with him the following week during his two-day visit to London. Nothing, he said, would make him happier than to be able to enjoy a pleasant discussion with the esteemed author, with whom he had so much in common. And so, Wells had made up his mind to end his dissuasive silence, which had evidently done no good, and to accept Serviss's invitation. Here was the perfect opportunity to sit down with Serviss and tell him what he really thought of his novel. So the man wanted his opinion, did he? Well, he'd give it to him, then. Wells could imagine how the luncheon would go: he would sit opposite Serviss, with unflappable composure, and in a calm voice politely masking his rage, would tell him how appalled he was that Serviss had chosen an idealized version of Edison as the hero of his novel. In Wells's view, the inventor of the electric lightbulb was an untrustworthy, bad-tempered fellow who created his inventions at the expense of others and who had a penchant for designing lethal weapons. Wells would tell Serviss that from any point of view the novel's complete lack of literary merit and its diabolical plot made it an unworthy successor to his own. He would tell him that the message contained in its meager, repugnant pages was diametrically opposed to his and had more in common with a jingoistic pamphlet, since its childish moral boiled down to this: it was unwise to step on the toes of Thomas Edison or of the United States of America. And furthermore he would tell him all this with the added satisfaction of knowing that after he had unburdened himself, the excoriated Serviss would be the one paying for his lunch.

The author had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that when he returned to reality he discovered his feet had taken him into Greek Street, where he found himself standing in front of the old, forgotten theater at number twelve. But do not be taken in by the look of surprise on Wells's face: this was no coincidence, for in his life every action had a purpose; nothing was left to chance or impulse. However much he now tried to blame his innocent feet, Wells had gone there with the precise intention of finding that very theater, whose façade he now contemplated with what could only be described as somber rage. Consider yourselves welcome, then, and prepare for a tale packed with thrills and excitement, both for those ladies of a sentimental nature who will enjoy the romantic exploits of the charming and skeptical Miss Harlow, to whom I will have the pleasure of introducing you later on, and for the more intrepid gentlemen, who will undoubtedly tremble at the weird and wonderful adventures of our characters, such as this thin little man with a birdlike face, solemnly contemplating the theater. Observe him carefully, then. Observe his thin blond mustache with which he attempts to impose a more adult appearance on his childlike features, his finely drawn mouth and bright, lively eyes, behind which it is impossible not to perceive a sparkling intellect as sharp as it is impractical. In spite of his ordinary, less-than-heroic looks, Wells will play the most important role in this tale, the exact beginning of which is difficult to pinpoint, but which for him (and for our purposes) begins on this quiet morning in 1898, an unusually glorious morning, in which, as you can see, there is nothing to suggest to the author that in less than two hours' time, he will discover something so astonishing that it will forever alter his deepest-held beliefs.

But I will stop beating about the bush and reveal to you what you have no doubt been puzzling over for the past few minutes: why has Wells paused? Is he perhaps regretting the closure of the venue where he had spent so many nights enjoying the best stage plays of the time? Not a bit. As you will discover, Wells was not easily prone to nostalgia. He had come to a halt outside that old theater because, some years earlier, it had become home to a very special company: Murray's Time Travel. Do the smiles playing on the lips of some of you mean the aforementioned establishment is already familiar to you? However, I must show consideration to the rest of my readers, and since, along with the knowing smiles, I noticed more than a few raised eyebrows, no doubt occasioned by the company's curious name, I must hasten to explain to any newcomers that this extravagant enterprise had opened its doors to the public with t...

Copyright © 2012 by Félix J. Palma


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