Jul 05

War of the Worlds

Posted by Soliloquy in Books on CD

Famous for the mistaken panic that ensued from Orson Welles’s 1938 radio dramatization, The War of the Worlds remains one of the most influential of all science fiction works. The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common in London. Naïve locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag—only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat ray, as terrifying tentacled inv… More >>

War of the Worlds

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  • Today H.G. Wells is chiefly recalled by the general public as the author of three seminal science-fiction novels: THE TIME MACHINE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, and most famously THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. But these are only three of the more than one hundred books Wells published in his lifetime, and it is worth recalling that Wells himself was a socio-political and very didactic writer, a determined reformer with distinctly socialist leanings. And his point of view informs everything he wrote–including these three famous novels.

    In each case, Wells uses the trappings of science-fiction and popular literature to lure readers into what is essentially a moral lesson. THE TIME MACHINE is essentially a statement on the evils of the English class system. THE INVISIBLE MAN addresses the predicaments of the men and women to whom society turns a blind eye. And THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a truly savage commentary on British imperialism and colonialism.

    This is not to say that it isn’t science-fiction–for it most certainly is, and moreover it is science-fiction well grounded in the scientific thinking of its day: intelligent life on Mars was believed to be entirely possible, and Wells forecasts the machinery and weapons that would soon become all too real in World War I. Set in England about the beginning of the 20th Century, the story finds a strange meteor landing near the narrator’s home–and from it emerge Martians, who promptly construct gigantic and powerful killing machines and set about wiping the human population of England off the face of the earth. The Martians and their machines are exceptionally well imagined, the story moves at a fast clip, and the writing is strong, concise, and powerful. And to say the book has had tremendous influence is an understatement: we have been deluged with tales of alien invaders (although not necessarily from Mars) ever since.

    But there is a great deal more going on here than just an entertaining story. Both the England and Europe of 1898 were imperialistic powers, beating less technologically advanced cultures into submission, colonizing them, and then draining them of their resources. With THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, Wells turns the tables, and imperialistic England finds itself facing the same sort of social, economic, and cultural extermination it has repeatedly visited on others.

    The upshot of the whole thing is that Wells ultimately paints the English habit of forced colonization as akin to an invasion by horrific blood-sucking monsters from outer space–and even goes so far as to suggest that if the present trend continues we ourselves may follow an evolutionary path that will bring us to the same level as the Martians: ugly, sluggish creatures that rely on machines and simply drain off what they need from others without any great concern for the consequences. If we find the idea of such creatures horrific, he warns, we’d best look to our own habits. For these monsters are more like us than we may first suppose.

    And this, really, is why the novel has survived even in the face of advancing scientific knowledge that renders the idea of an invasion from Mars more than a little foolish. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a mirror, and even more than a century later the Martians reflect our own nature to a truly uncomfortable degree. A memorable novel, and strongly recommended–at least to those who have the sense to understand the parable it offers.

    –GFT (Amazon.com Reviewer)–

  • Many people who have heard of “The War of the Worlds” may have seen the movie without reading the book. The movie was set in Cold War America, with martians that flew in what looked like greenish manta rays. The book was set in Victorian England, and the martians looked like towering tripods. In both versions however the premise is the same: Earth invaded by a superior alien intelligence. HG Wells wrote about humanity’s ego and complacency being crushed by a highly developed lifeform.

    “The War of the Worlds” has been interpreted as an allegory of imperialism. Just as the British took over other countries to make them part of the Empire, so too is the Earth being taken over by the Martians. They even bring their own plant life with them, the “Red Weed”. The Martians see us as vermin, trying to wipe us out with heat rays and poisonous black gas. Thats’s what makes the story so much fun. It is frightening in a cosy sort of way. We read the story in a safe, comfortable room, while the narrator talks of all the death and destruction he sees.

    An interesting point that Issac Asimov once brought up was that if alien intelligence did exist, their advanced evolution would also mean they would be emotionally superior to us. They would not act like barbarians, as war is a primitive thing. When people write alien invasion stories, they are really saying something about us. We are destructive and aggressive by nature. Our history has been one long story of conquest, slavery and even genocide. So HG Wells has put a little bit of us into his Martians. Both metaphorically (as imperialists), and literally (as food).

  • Unknown to the inhabitants of Earth, the planet Mars is aging and nearing its exhaustion. The Martians, not even perceiving humans to be anything other than animals, decide that it is time to seize this lush, young planet. Landing in several locations in southeastern England they begin their conquest of the planet. Can man, with his most advanced technology hope to stop the Martians with their much more advanced technology?

    You’ve seen the 1953 movie, War of the Worlds, and want to read it in book form? Well, then don’t look here. Herbert George Wells wrote this book in 1898, a mere one year after The Invisible Man, and two years after The Island of Doctor Moreau. The moviemakers of the 1950s made a wonderful movie, but one that, alas, bears very little resemblance to the original!

    This book is one of the crowning examples of nineteenth century fantastic fiction. It is a gripping story that masterfully combines horror and suspense, keeping you at the edge of your seat until the final page.

    I am lucky enough to possess the 2001, Books of Wonder edition that contains fourteen wonderful, full-color, full-page illustrations plus the two-page illustrations on the front and back, all done by the masterful Tom Kidd. It is very well made, and would make an excellent addition to any library.

  • I though I knew this story. I had heard the radio show and seen the movie – so I was just planning to read a classic in the original words but wasn’t expecting anything new or interesting in the content. I was very surprised. Setting this back in Victorian Times when it was originally written totally changes the story. The speed at which the disaster is communicated is different. The speed at which the participants can flee from the Martians is different. The tools that the humans can bring to bear against the Martian invaders is different. All of these things make the story surprisingly new. I really enjoyed it.

  • Note: I made some Mormon reader angry over my negative reviews of books written by Mormons out to prove the Book of Mormon, and that person has been slamming my reviews.

    Your “helpful” votes are appreciated. Thanks. It took some effort to type up the following wonderful lines from this story about an invasion from Mars. I hope you enjoy them.

    “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 scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.”

    Don’t miss the other great novels by H.G. Wells–“The Time Machine” and “The Invisible Man.” The wonderful opening lines of “War of the Worlds” are worth repeat readings–note the phrase “across the gulf of space.”

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