What was the first science fiction story that showed a successful alien conquest of the Earth?

Until I read an answer to the above question, I had never heard of Kurd Lasswitz. He is notable to me for being almost a full generation older than H. G. Wells, and while Wells lived to actually see his prediction about nuclear weapons come to pass, Lasswitz seems to belong to a remote and antique time, passing as he did before World War I even. Indeed he is almost halfway between Verne and Wells and Verne was around when many who remembered the French Revolution were not even so old. (Lasswitz was a near contemporary of Edison, although Edison would outlive him by a full generation — I note that Lasswitz studied math and physics and while I have never read of him in this context either, I do wonder who of the giants of German science he encountered. He did live long enough to become perhaps aware of Einstein and was a contemporary of Klein and a decade older than Planck — he saw some monumental developments in both math and physics — if one had to pick a 60-year period to be alive as a scientist, his choice was certainly a good one.)

So Lasswitz has Martians, less belligerent at least initially than the Martians of Wells' War of the Worlds, attacking Earth a year before War of the Worlds. Is this just coincidence, or is it argued that it is at least possible that Wells was influenced by Lasswitz?

Reading about his work, his educational background seems to have contributed to a much more sophisticated/scientifically accurate story than those involving space travel by both Verne and Wells.

2 Answers 2


My German copy of "Auf zwei Planeten" (published in 1982 by now defunct publisher 2001) contains an afterword by writer Rudi Schweikert, that suggests Wells and Laßwitz were "de facto voneinander unbeeinflusst", i.e. that they wrote independently from each other. Instead he traces the similarities back to a long existing field of phantastic stories about Martians (his earliest example being the German story Reise in Gedanken durch die eröffneten allgemeinen Himmelskugeln from 1739).

I would not view a 40 year old essay as the last word on the matter, but it is at least a written reference by a known Laßwitz scholar.

Update: While I do not have the critical edition of WotW mentioned in the comments, I found my copy published 1988 by Tor Books with a preface and afterword both by James Gunn (the science fiction writer, not the director).

The preface mentions that Wells had started writing Science Fiction (not a word used back then) in 1894 at the invitation of an unnamed magazine editor while working as a journalist (Laßwitz at this point had been writing utopian stories for some 20 years). The afterword gives Wells inspiration:

Wells got the idea for the novel, as he recalled, from a chance remark by his brother Frank as they were walking in the peaceful countryside of Surrey: "Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly and begin laying about them here!" Wells went on to say, "Perhaps we had been talking about the discovery of Tasmania by the Europeans - a very frightful disaster for the native Tasmanians!"

Gunn points out that

It was easy in the 1890s to think of Martians as a threat. The astronomical speculations of astronomer Percival Lowell had presented a popular image of a Mars that had once been a thriving planet but having lost much of its water was trying to postpone extinction by a huge 'canal' building project to carry water from the poles to the equator. An older civilization might well envy the moist, green Earth.

(That this influenced Wells' thinking is unsourced speculation by Gunn, but it is reasonable).

Still not proof, but this suggests that Wells has not been influenced by Laßwitz, and it is hard to see how an influence would have worked in the other direction.

  • Thanks. The timing is to me suspect, but certainly any Wells fan would assert that HG had plenty of his own ideas, some I think that had his family had the means would have meant he could have been another Faraday perhaps. AFAIK, he was the first to describe time as the 4th dimension, although I am not sure. His atomic energy ideas are remarkable for their time, and the great physicist Szilard was inspired by Wells in more than one way.
    – releseabe
    Dec 30, 2022 at 8:44
  • That both books can be reasonably viewed as parables on colonialism might have contributed to the timing. After all, that was quite heavily discussed in both countries. Dec 30, 2022 at 8:49
  • BTW, is he well-known in German-speaking countries today? My guess is not or more of his works would have made it into English although many German writers of great ability remain almost unread in the USA. So if you can compare him to some popular or not so popular American or English writer, that would be interesting. I suspect Wells is better known in Germany and almost any German writer is known in the English-speaking world -- WotW movies, many of them, almost make that certain.
    – releseabe
    Dec 30, 2022 at 8:49
  • 1
    @releseabe What about the timing? The fact that The War of the Worlds and Auf zwei Planeten were published almost simultaneously would seem to make it unlikely that one influenced the other. (Books take some time to write, and then take some time to get published.) The magazine serialization of The War of the Worlds began around April of 1897 according to the ISFDB.
    – user14111
    Dec 30, 2022 at 12:00
  • 1
    @user14111: Good point so sort of a coincidence although maybe some event, like something astronomers discovered, inspired them both at the same time. In 1894, not too long before this time and novels can take a while. Lowell "confirmed" the canals.
    – releseabe
    Dec 30, 2022 at 13:03

I found a copy of A Critical Edition of The War of the Worlds: H. G. Wells's Scientific Romance, the "Introduction" section details what's known about the genesis of the novel based on documents like letters and drafts, they show that Wells had already had the idea and had done a lot of the writing prior to 1897 when Lasswitz's book was published. Here's part of the introduction on p.1 which details the original inspiration for the book in 1895:

In an 1888 debate, he upheld the proposition that "the surface of Mars was occupied by living beings,"3 which, he added in 1896, would not be humanoid (see Appendix IV). However, when he left London for suburban Surrey in March 1895, Wells seems to have had no conscious inkling of the book itself. It was shortly thereafter that his brother Frank suggested the idea of a Martian invasion. The two were strolling through the peaceful Surrey countryside when Frank remarked: "Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly, and begin laying about them here!"4 About that time Wells and his wife had taken up bicycling, and he later recalled exploring Surrey and finding himself "marking down suitable places and people for destruction by my Martians."5 Frank's remark had fallen on fertile ground.

Footnote 4 after the quote from Frank Wells is 'Strand Magazine LIX (1920):154. Also, Wells dedicated the book to Frank as "this rendering of his idea."' Footnote 5 about his imagining places in Surrey marked for destruction is 'Experiments in Autobiography (1934), p. 458.'

The introduction goes on to discuss some letters from during the time he was writing it, here's the discussion of the ones from before 1897 (p. 1-2):

Actual composition took place in three spurts in the late summer and early fall of 1895, in the first half of 1896, and in the last quarter of 1897. Two letters mark the 1895 period. W. E. Henley remarks (September 5, 1895): "I am waiting with the greatest interest, the keenest curiosity, to see what comes of the Martialist visitation: the idea is so strong, & you are working it out with so much gusto, that I have great hopes of it."6 Wells himself, in a letter of October 15, said he had "in hand" and prospectively ready by "early in 1896" or sooner, "a scientific romance" that "will be called 'The War of the Worlds' & will run to perhaps 75000 words."7 But some months later the story was far from finished, and the second writing spurt is marked by a letter from the Authors' Syndicate to Wells and five from Wells to the Syndicate (early January to late March 1896) that show him hard at work on it. ... In April 1896, he had sold the British serial rights to Pearson's Magazine, promising "complete & finished copy no later than August 1st,"9

Page 2 of the introduction also discusses some surviving drafts of different sections of the story, three from 1897 which were revisions of the Pearson's Magazine version (labeled P), and two others from 1896, one of which contains an episode deleted from later published versions:

The surviving manuscripts came to the University of Illinois in five holograph sheaves, plus the Atlantic edition galleys. ... Three of the sheaves constitute Wells's revision of P for book publication ... The other two sheaves belong to 1896, before serial publication. The shorter is a draft of the narrator's closing philosophical reflection ... The longer (hereafter MS), the fragment transcribed and collated in Appendix I, begins when the narrator leaves the ruined house (in the chapter later entitled "The Stillness") and covers his wanderings in dead London and his homecoming. But between the ruined house and dead London it contains the hitherto unpublished "Marriott" segment. In due course, in L, "Marriott" would be replaced by PR3, "Putney Hill," the artilleryman episode.

Page 3 summarizes the "Marriott" (MS) segment:

The interesting, and earliest, document is MS, inasmuch as the "Marriott" segment—of just seven holograph pages—comprises an alternative plot line. As noted above, in all versions the narrator progresses from imprisonment above the Martian pit, to dead London, to homecoming. In P and L, the imprisonment is near London, at Sheen. In MS, imprisonment is at Byfleet, near home in Woking and wife in Leatherhead, and when the narrator escapes, he ceases searching for his wife only when kindly folks who feed him bear witness that the Heat-Ray must have killed her. He then turns dramatically north to London—packing a bomb procured in Kingston from the formidable Marriott—bent upon dying in a single-handed assault on the Martians' Primrose Hill redoubt (where of course they lie already dead).

P. 3-4 also mention that in the MS segment the narrator recalls some of the previous incidents, and based on how certain events were described we can infer that some events earlier in the narrative (like the Thunder Child battle) were added in revisions after he wrote the MS segment. P. 4 goes on to note that what he sent to Pearson did include a draft of the story before MS, although that draft of those earlier sections hasn't survived:

That Wells after completing MS went back and interpolated much at earlier points is further indicated by his five letters to the Authors' Syndicate and the one surviving response. The latter indicates that when negotiations for serialization began, the story was unfinished and very likely broke off somewhere near the point were MS begins. Pearson received an unfinished draft, liked it as far as it went, but wanted to see the conclusion. Wells adorned the request for his wife's amusement with a "picshua" (reproduced, with the letter, in Experiments in Autobiography) of a horned devil pulling an acceptable end to his "tale" from an ink pot preparatory to swapping it for a sack of money on the "serial chopping block." The sack is labeled "£200." The letter is dated March 14, 1896, and the latest date of the five letters on Wells's part is March 26.

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