“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
A beautiful opening to the book but I must say the Martians did a very poor job of scrutinising us human chappies and our little blue planet considering what transpires later. Ah, but I must not spoil the book even though I imagine most people reading this review (all three of them) already know how it ends. Which brings me to my next point, if you know the story of The War of The Worlds
quite well already but have not actually read the book I urge you to read it, especially if you are a science fiction fan. I don't think there are many books in the pantheon of sci-fi as important as this one. This is the book that launched the alien invasion sci-fi trope and even manages to remain one of the best examples of it.
H.G. Wells was literally* light years ahead of his time, the mind boggles to think what he was able to conceive in the 19th century; alien invasion, time travel, genetic engineering, all these when TV sets are still decades in the future. If historical importance is not much of an inducement for you and you are just looking for a thumping good read Mr. Wells is also at your service here. The War of The Worlds
is often thrilling, skillfully structured and narrated with some unexpected moments of philosophising and surreal dialogue. I generally find that Wells wrote much better prose than most of today’s SF authors do.
He even included some element of hard sf into his novels, here is an example from this book:“It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light.”
Yes, you may already have a fairly good idea of The War of The Worlds
’ beginning middle and end without ever reading the book but you would miss Wells’ marvelously immersive and visual storytelling and the subtexts embedded in the original texts. The scene of naval battle between the military’s ironclads and the Martian tripods is vividly depicted and should please fans of military sf and general badassery. The slightly surreal chapter involving the artilleryman is a particularly interesting depiction of people who always seem to be brimming with ideas, plans and suggestions but never actually do anything.
The story of The War of The Worlds
is so potent that Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds 1938 radio broadcast “became famous for causing mass panic, although the extent of this panic is debated”
. Still, even moderate panic is an amazing achievement for a radio drama.
This book has of course been adapted into movies several times. Unfortunately a straight adaptation complete with the Victorian setting does not seem to have been made. The most recent adaptation being the 2005 Spielberg directed movie with Tom Cruise being the usual Cruisian hero, dodging Martian heat rays like nobody's business.
For this reread I went with the free Librivox audiobook version
, very well read by Rebecca Dittman.
I hope to eventually read all of Wells’ sci-fi and perhaps his more mainstream books also. Any way, never dismiss H.G. Wells' sci-fi as old hat because he invented
the hat and it is still superior to most of today's headgear.
* I have a bee in my bonnet about today's frequent (and incorrect) overuse of "literally".
A quick note about the ending:
The ending is the mother of all Deus Ex Machina, I suppose Wells may have written himself into a corner a bit here as Victorian Brits are never going to be much of a challenge for giant tripod riding aliens armed with heat rays and weird smoke guns.