I had first read this book back in February, 1994. I know that
because I make a tiny marking of the date I complete all my books in the upper corner of the inside cover. Of course, that was way before this website and all
my book reviews. It was essential that I add this one to my list, not only because it is probably H. G. Wells' most famous
novel, but it is also one of the most important science fiction works of all time.
And it is particularly disturbing. Most science fiction novels are effective because they contain elements of truth and prophesy, with many being downright accurate, as we are able to look back in history and compare them to the future, or our present. The War of the Worlds began, as many English novels at the time, serialized in a periodical, in this case, Pearson's Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan in the US, in 1897. It was published in book form in 1898. So, keeping that in mind, the kind of warfare described in it was unknown during that period, as was flight, (the Wright Brothers first succeeded in 1903), and certainly space flight was still far into the future. However, many writers, even from much earlier times, imagined traveling through space and meeting inhabitants of other planets, and especially the moon. Wikipedia has an good article with many of Wells' prophesies in this work that came true.
However, here in 2017, at least for myself, I found other aspects of this book unsettling. We are fairly certain that there is no intelligent life on Mars, at least I believe we are, but many of us do believe that there is an invasive, as in alien force working upon the planet. OK, so they did not arrive in roving tripods that shoot Heat-Rays (now known as lasers), but there are too many signs that there has been some sort of extraterrestrial interference on Earth. Though I have never seen a UFO, I know people that have, and there are many organizations that claim contact with non-earthly beings. What I found most uncomfortable, however, as my mind exploded with "what ifs," as I became more engrossed in the story, was the possibility of a connection between invading forces and the chemtrail assault going on in the skies. As I jolted to a halt with these thoughts, I had to open my mind to wonder if the spraying is a means to block harmful attempts of an alien race from invading our secret intelligence. OK, so I admit, that one is off-the-wall, but it would certainly explain the chemtrail cover-up. I cannot fathom why weather modification would be such a covert activity. So maybe it is not weather modification at all going on, but something else such as an alien invasion attempt, that most certainly would send the population into a panic. Hmm. Really, something to think about. I seriosly believe even the most well-informed of us do not have a clue as to what is really happening on this planet.
And lastly, there is also the very real socio-political, and ethical issues upon which Wells has touched, symbolically. Keep in mind that the publication of this book was not long, historically speaking, from the outbreak of World War I. Here is a paragraph from the first chapter, foretelling the invasion:
And before we judge of them too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?
In any case, here is a bit about the story, and you can judge for yourself if something rings true.
It begins as the unnamed narrator joins his friend, Ogilvy to observe Mars from a telescope at Ottershaw, Surrey, in the southwest corner of London. There they both note what appears to be some kind of eruptions taking place on Mars. This happens over a period of nights, until ten of the eruptions have happened. Then they stop.
Then it happens. What appears to be a meteor lands at the Sand Pit at Horsell Common. near Woking, where the narrator lives. But Ogilvy and the other investigators find that it is not a meteor at all, but something which contains life, a cylinder, blazing hot, which is slowly unscrewing. It doesn't take long for observers to realize there is something alive inside the Thing, and their first inclination is to help them. But they find out as they continue to watch the events unravel, that whatever is inside is completely in control of their situation. Then a creature emerges:
Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.
Of course, people have gathered all around, but the situation
suddenly turns deadly, as the Thing emits a Heat-Ray, which sets the surrounding hills and everything it touches ablaze. Ogilvy is killed. Panic begins.
But even while word is spreading, most people react in ignorance, another common trait with what we see today, for instance, in attempting to alert people to chemtrail spraying. Their reaction? They laugh.
"People seem fair silly about the common," said the woman over the gate. "What's it all abart?"
"Haven't you heard of the men from Mars?" said I; "the creatures from Mars?"
"Quite enough," said the woman over the gate. "Thenks"; and all three of them laughed.
I felt foolish and angry. I tried and found I could not tell them what I had seen. They laughed again at my broken sentences.
"You'll hear more yet," I said and went on to my home.
Then the other cylinders begin to land. The narrator knows there will be ten because he had observed them being fired from
Mars. People begin leaving their homes. The narrator takes his wife and their servant to her cousins at Leatherhead, but he returns to Woking, and they
remain separated throughout the whole ordeal. Meanwhile, artillery troops are being sent to control the
situation, but after the first confrontation, they find they are helpless against the Heat-Ray. As more cylinders land, the Martians head to London, where mass
panic is taking place. Here, we break off from our narrator, and hear from his brother, who has been studying for medical exams. He becomes part of the
stampede; people losing all common sense in an effort to escape, not knowing where they are going, no food, no water, frantic and mindless,
killing other people in their way.
And I think this section is where reality sets in. So, here is London with her millions of people, but look at us now. New York City, Los Angeles, and all the hundreds of other huge cities in America, and all over the world. My God! What would happen in a panic? I shudder to think, and yet, I can foresee an event which would have this effect. Perhaps that is what makes this novel particularly frightening, is that it creates a situation that has a fairly good possibility of happening. OK, not an invasion from Mars, but a horror of mass panic.
When a Martian is actually killed, they have a back-up plan which is far worse than the Heat-Ray, and that is the "Black Smoke," a chemical weapon which kills everyone it touches. The Martians enter the Thames, as people try to escape in boats. The HMS Thunder Child destroys two Martian tripods with torpedoes. But the remaining ones continue to destroy much of London.
I'm going to include a spoiler here, which I don't usually do. What finally happens is not that England's military is able to defeat the Martians, but our own human disease germs wipe them out in a very short time. Wells used this same idea of our germs, and the resistance we have developed in another of his novels I have read, Men Like Gods, although that situation is much different.
This is one of those books that everyone should make a point to read at some point. It is a true science fiction classic, and one of Wells' best works. England is certainly proud of him. Below is a sculpture of a War of the Worlds Martian tripod in modern Woking. The other image is of the Sand Pits at Horsell Common, where the first cylinder lands.
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