The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Filed under: Book Reviews,Infinite TBR,Reader of the Stack Goes Canonical — Ibis at 11:12 pm on Friday, March 19, 2010

From the back cover:
“The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky From Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common near London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag — only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray as terrifying tentacles invaders emerge. Soon the whole human race is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.

The first modern tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds remains one of the most influential of all science-fiction works.”

My thoughts:
These days, we’re used to the ‘disaster flick’—especially with today’s CGI capabilities—there seems to be one coming out every six weeks or so. Earthquakes, asteroid strikes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, unfortunate planetary alignments, rapid climate change, and of course (the standby favourite) alien invasion.

Reading this book takes us back in time (ironically enough) to a time when such a notion was completely, utterly novel. Suddenly we’re back in the 19th century, when space exploration was limited to weak (by modern standards) ground-based telescopes, when geographical features on the surface of Mars might have been, according to the speculation of some, grand canals built by an advanced civilisation, when humans had no technology that could come close to matching that of a space-faring species. No nuclear weapons, no plastic explosives or automatic weapons, no computers, no space shuttles or airplanes or helicopters—hell, not even telephones or automobiles.

To this world comes the Martians: intelligent, but so intelligent that we are as livestock to them. No diplomacy possible here. Just slaughter or failure to register. And our narrator takes us through every moment from first contact to the final conclusion. There is no appeal to Hollywood heroes or human spirit. We, as a species are utterly helpless and our doom seemingly sealed. At one point the narrator speaks to a soldier who cooks up a possible plan for mere survival as a feral subgroup of a domesticated animal, that might if it’s lucky find a way to strike back in the distant future, but this is dismissed as sheer blind optimism. I won’t say how this is resolved, only that Wells doesn’t leave us hanging in the midst of a dystopian future.

There are layers of meaning here in this short novel, even more so than when it was first written I’m sure—now that it is we who are destroying our planet, and we who travel to other planets. Excellent book and well worth reading!

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