Edison's Conquest of Mars
In 1897, H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds was serialized in the British journal Pearson’s Magazine and in the American magazine Cosmopolitan before it was published as a book. This popular serialized story soon appeared in unauthorized and heavily revised versions in several American newspapers using alternative titles, such as “Fighters from Mars” in the New York Evening Journal and “The War of the Worlds in and Near Boston” in the Boston Post. These unauthorized serializations, made possible by the very lax U.S. copyright laws, inspired the publication of an unauthorized sequel titled “Edison’s Conquest of Mars.”
This sequel was commissioned by Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Evening Journal and was written by George Serviss, an author and lecturer known for his work on astronomy. As a consequence of this commission, Serviss would publish a number of science fiction stories. At Brisbane’s urging, Serviss called on Edison in the hopes that he would agree to collaborate on the story.
Edison declined because, as he later told Serviss, “I am not literary with a 200 Horsepower imagination like yourself. . . . don’t want a reputation for things I cant do.” Edison did, however, agree to allow Serviss to make him the hero of the story in which he develops weapons and other technology, including spaceships, an anti-gravity machine, and a disintegration ray gun, that enable Earth to launch an invasion and defeat the Martians.
The first installment of the story appeared on January 14, but Edison’s estranged son, Thomas Alva Jr., saw an announcement of the story before it was published and told his stepmother, Mina, about it in a January 10 letter:
I notice by the Journal that father has invented flying machines and etc. to attack Mars and a story is to appear this week entitled “Edison’s Conquest of Mars.” Very probably he is not aware that such an article is in existence but it is creating quite a stir over in the city…People come right in to my office and aske me if its is true and if I have any thing to do with it.
Edison expressed his own concerns about the story in a January 14 telegram to Brisbane in which he objected to the announcement being “worded in such a way that it undoubtedly bring me in as a collaborator.” Brisbane responded by sending Edison the first installment and detailing his understanding of how the story came to be written. He went on to ask Edison to explain “in what way the announcement says that you are a collaborator.” He concluded his letter by noting, “The Evening Journal presents you to its readers as the hero in an extremely clever fiction story—which seems to me to be perfectly legitimate and to which, Mr. Serviss tells me, you assented. It presents you in no other light.” Edison replied that “the picture of myself and Serviss would imply colaboration and that is the reason I objected.” Later news reports suggest that Edison tried to publicly distance himself from the story.