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The War of the Worlds is a classic science fiction novel, which I had never read. Written in 1898 by H.G. Wells it is the experiences of an unnamed narrator who survives the invasion of Martians in the suburbs of London England. The narrator lives a mile or so from the first landing, and after the first attack he flees with his wife. They separate and he spends the rest of the book trying to find her.
Several parts of the book are his brothers story of escape from London. How he first hears about the invasion and the disbelief of those who do not see the Martians first hand. The Martians are octopus looking creatures that use heat rays and a gas or black smoke to kill the humans. As more Martians land Londoners flee the city and the English flee the country.
At on point in the book the narrator is trapped in a partially ruined building with a curate, an assistant clergyman, whos mind has snapped from stress. While the two men hide from the Martians who are right next door the narrator tries to calm the clergyman to avoid the Martians. When they see the Martians feeding on the humans like we are just big caprie sun containers the curate losses all control and is knocked unconscious by the narrator and found by the Martians.
After several days the Martians depart and the narrator moves towards London. It is in London that the narrator discovers that the Martians have succumb to the bacteria that live on our planet. When the narrator returns home he finds his wife waiting. She had believed him to be dead and vice versa.
I downloaded this for free for my Kindle. I have never read this before (I have seen a couple bad movies about it) but was eager to read the original story. Overall I liked the story. I thought parts of it were a bit drawn out and boring; but overall it was definitely worth reading...and much better than any of The War of the Worlds movies I have seen.
The nameless narrator of this book tells about green capsules that fall to Earth. Inside them are strange tripod/octupus like creatures that use a heat-rays to destroy a number of people early on. The book follows the narrator as he struggles through the English countryside trying to make it back to his wife. Then for a while he tells the story of his brother in London and of the second Martian weapon they face, that of a black cloud which instantly kills people. Then the story winds back to the original narrator as he makes his way to London to see the final destruction of the Martians.
Like most classics, this story is most outstanding for the story it told at the time it told it. There are probably better books out there now (Christopher John's Tripod series comes to mind) about alien invasion; but for the time this was a very forward thinking book.
The description in the book is very well done and, it is, for the most part very readable and enjoyable. Wells does an excellent job of creating suspense at certain times in the book. He also does an excellent job at showing humanity both at its best and its worst. It is amazing how inhumane some of the humans in this book behave when they are in a panic. The most colossal tragedies this book show that there is space for great heroics and great evil in a time of mass destruction.
I also enjoyed the irony behind how the Martians finally meet there death; it was suiting and says interesting things about evolution in general.
There were some things I did not like about this book. Some of the parts just went on too long. There is a portion where the narrator spends forever describing every minute aspect of the Martians which was slow, another portion where the narrator is making his way across the countryside that was boring, and the part where the narrator is trapped in a collapsed house seemed to drag on forever. Wells gives great attention to the narrators situation but doesn't ever go outside of the narrators sphere of influence to see what is happening world-wide or what kind of reaction the rest of the world is having. Also the characters were pretty sketchy...this was definitely more of an adventure driven novel than a character driven one.
Should you read it? Well if you like sci-fi and are interested in alien invasion then this is a must; this is pretty much the story that inspired a lot of later sci-fi stories. A lot of the story is very enjoyable, engaging and intriguing; but as with many classics there are portions that drag on a bit. I never found the language or writing difficult to understand, so that means this novel has aged well with time. If you are not a sci-fi fan, interested in post-apocalyptic stories, or alien invasion I would probably skip this in favor of something else.
If you do really like this story and haven't read the Tripods trilogy by Christopher John I recommend that you do; the story is similar in tone, more character driven, and a wonderful read.
Historically, something has seemingly struck a chord with people about the notion of aliens landing on Earth and wreaking havoc on an unprepared and unsuspecting population. I think people identify with the idea more than the novel itself, as it's spawned an innumerable array of iterations, from other books to movies to graphic novels, to the radio broadcast which supposedly caused a public panic. More on that later.
This obviously highly influential novel was first published by literary luminary H.G. Wells in 1897, but initially in serial form, in Pearson's Magazine in the UK, and Cosmopolitan in the US. It first appeared in book form in 1898. Few of the later adaptations are actually faithful to the plot of the original novel, however, which occurs in a period contemporaneous with that in which it was written, so the material probably didn't resonate all that much with audiences decades later. Despite the rather lackluster prose, the book has remained exceedingly popular for more than a century, having never been out of print for more than a hundred years. One could state that the entirety of the "alien invasion" genre owes it a great debt of gratitude for setting the tone for later generations of sci-fi.
Some have argued, reasonably so, that the novel is a veiled critique (social satire, if you will), of the rampant British imperialism of the day, and tells the account of the overbearing and powerful British essentially ravaging other nations, who lacked the technological development to fight back. There were, in the late nineteenth century, rumblings of discontent over the manner in which the "colonies" were being treated by their European overlords, thus sowing the seeds of revolt. The Martians, it seems, have been eyeing Earth for decades, maybe centuries, intent on colonizing it, as their resource base has been overextended on their home world, and they are in desperate need of a new world to augment their dwindling supplies. This situation, of course, mirrors that of Britain in the period in which the novel was written, as resource extraction was far outstripping sustainable limits, especially in coal, and, most significantly, timber. A primary impetus for crossing the Atlantic to the New World, in fact, was the search for raw materials, particularly wood and precious metals.
I won't rehash the whole plot, but there are some features which are eerily prescient. The Martians send down "cylinders" equipped with some type of heat-ray, which begin destroying everything in their path. The narrator makes it to London, whereupon the story then chronicles the desperate fight in the city, where he, along with his medical student younger brother and some girls picked up along the way, attempt to escape. The Martians then start collecting human victims for a purpose unknown. Just when it seems that all is lost, however, the Earth itself is the savior: the one constant of most of the later adaptations is that the Martians die en masse from pathogens to which they have no immunity. Wells states that they are dead "after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth." We might agreed to disagree that pathogens are the "humblest things" in light of the current pandemic, however. Nor had the world seen the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, which killed an estimated twenty million people in eighteen months, so this slight oversight is easily forgiven.
An event which made the story and its author even more famous was a 1938 radio program, which supposedly caused a public panic when listeners to the highly realistic broadcast believed that the Martian invasion was an actual one. The famous radio broadcast was an episode of the Mercury Theater on the Air, directed and narrated by future film luminary Orson Welles. It was performed and broadcast live as a Halloween episode on Sunday, October 30, 1938. Apparently, some people didn't get the memo that it was actually a performance, however.
The program began with an announcement that the show was an adaption of the 1898 novel, but then took the form of several news flashes about a UFO falling and landing on a farm in New Jersey. Martians predictably emerged from the cylinder and attacked using a heat ray, like in the novel. Apparently, in the days following the broadcast, there was quite a bit of uproar over the news-bulletin format, which was decried as deceptive (which kind of misses the point, I think), as it did alarm quite a few people. There was even reportedly a brief scuffle between several police officers and the studio staff when the former attempted to stop the broadcast in the wake of (erroneous) reports of stampedes, traffic accidents and even reported suicides.
How much of an actual panic if caused, and whether there were actually any deaths or injuries, isn't really known. However, the event spawned some 12,000 newspaper articles about the impact of the broadcast within just a few weeks. As it took place in the months preceding the outbreak of WWII, even Adolf Hitler reportedly referenced the broadcast in a speech in Munich on Nov. 8, 1938, so it spawned quite a reception! We forget, I suppose, that it was not really until the latter part of the twentieth century that scientists learned that there was no intelligent life on other planets and moons in our own solar system, something we take for granted today. Less than a century ago, however, it was something of an anxiety, especially, as stated above, in light of the colonizing European nations, which essentially enslaved native populations and exploited them mercilessly, for the sole purpose of cheap labor and resource extraction.
A final word on the novel: it's definitely a recommended read, although the prose leaves something to be desired. It seems to have been written from the perspective of an "average" person, simply recounting the events that occurred with little in between. It's really just a progression of events, which makes it rather dry, when it's meant to be a suspense, or horror novel, which it doesn't really achieve. Still, because of its great influence on later works, and, indeed the entire genre itself, it's definitely worth getting back to basics!
From the back cover: "Across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts, intellects vast and unsympathetic regard Earth with envious eyes, and draw their plans against us..." The massacre of planet Earth
The horror starts on a quiet summer night, with a falling star...and then hundreds: ships filled with repulsive, super-intelligent monsters and war machines deadly beyond even the dreams of military science. The invaders don't want to trade, or talk, or enlighten: they only want to trample humanity beneath them, and take our world for their own. And we can't stop them.
Some call it the War of the Worlds. But it's not a war. It's a mass murder...