Mars had been a fictional destination before Wells chose to unleash his invasion. Percy Greg in his 1880 novel Across The Zodiac took his traveller to Mars by antigravity, discovering a Martian civilisation and becoming embroiled in a clash of ideologies. Like most of the works prior to Wells, the Mars imagined by writers was relatively benign, such as Robert Cromie’s A Plunge into Space which found a utopia and Gustavus Pope, who also imagined the planet to have solved the vexing problems of human existence. Like Cromie, the hero of Pope’s Journey to Mars also found romance on the red planet.
Only the German author Kurd Lasswitz offers any kind of aggressive Martian contact prior to The War of the Worlds, and even then, his invaders are essentially benign, imposing peace on an unruly Earth, and not surprisingly, working in another interplanetary romance. However, though one hesitates to call it an invasion novel, the Martians in his 1897 novel Auf zwei Planeten (Two Planets) do knock the stuffing out of the British Navy.
From the very first writings on Mars, the vision of the planet has waxed and waned with scientific thought and understanding. The influence of the astronomer Percival Lowell cannot be over-emphasised and indeed his scientific papers on the subject are science fiction in all but name. He envisaged a Mars of globe spanning canals built by a dying civilisation, and this view held sway for years and clearly influenced Wells and his War of the Worlds.
For other authors, Mars became a place for daring and resourceful men, beautiful princesses and heroic quests. Lester Arnold flew his hero to Mars on a flying carpet in Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905), where he fights for the American way and claims a large chunk of the planet in his nations name. In contrast to the dying world proposed by Lowell, Arnold’s Mars was a verdant and plentiful land, but one author who did take Lowell to heart created the greatest of all the Martian adventurers, though Gullivar Jones was surely an influence.