Like a lot of truly groundbreaking ideas The War of the Worlds was written in 1897 by HG Wells, and was serialized when it was first released. It wasn’t until 1898 that the book was released in a hardback version. The book charts the events of an alien invasion and focuses on the narrator’s experience following the arrival of hostile aliens from Mars.
This is one of the most influential works in science-fiction and was one of the reasons behind the Apollo Moon landing missions when it inspired Robert Goddard who invented both liquid fuel and the multistage rocket. So Robert Goddard read this book and became an actual rocket scientist that wanted to head into space…that is how influential this novel is. There have been several adaptations of the book over the years and it was clearly the inspiration behind 1997’s Independence Day.
So, like I said, the plot involves the arrival of Martians and an attack on Earth, but there is a little more to it than that obviously.
Initially the narrative begins with an observatory sighting several explosions on the surface of Mars, which creates a lot of interest on Earth. Later on, a “meteor” lands on Horsell Common, near the unnamed narrator’s home in Woking, Surry. He arrives at the location of the crash and sees a strange cylinder that opens and bizarre creatures emerge…it’s easier if I let the novel give the description…[the Martians] are "big" and "greyish" with "oily brown skin", "the size, perhaps, of a bear", each with "two large dark-coloured eyes", and lipless "V-shaped mouths" which drip saliva and are surrounded by two "Gorgon groups of tentacles". It seems that the Martians have difficulty with Earth’s atmosphere and retreat back inside their cylinder, a human with a white flag approaches but the Martians incinerate them with a heat-ray. The military arrive and surround the common much to the relief of the locals.
The following day the Martians destroy everything in the Common and damages the nearby village. The narrator leaves with his wife in a borrowed horse-cart and goes to his cousin in Leatherhead, on his way back to return the cart, the narrator sees the Martian’s behemoth war machine, a three-legged tripod with a heat-ray and chemical weapons that wiped out the military forces around the cylinder and turned their attention to Woking.
He learns that more than one cylinder landed and the Martians have a tripod between Woking and Leatherhead which separates the narrator from his wife. The military are able to amount a counter-offensive and destroy a tripod so the Martians retreat to their original crater. Creating a defence around London the military awaits the aliens returning, which they do, with more tripods, and they begin the extermination of London.
As the invasion continues the Martians start to overwhelm the human population and take many people with them, and the narrator ends up alone in London where he begins to wonder if there is anything that can stop the attacking invaders…
Like a lot of books that were released in the 1800s this was yet another that created a genre, we had The Picture of Dorian Grey which gave us the idea of immortality, Frankenstein which showed that man is the real monster, The Invisible Man which gave us a main character that was a complete dick and so on…so The War of the Worlds introduced the idea that invaders from space may attack and if they did, what if your weaponry was unable to stop them? For you humans that must be a pretty frightening thought, these days nuclear weapons are your most powerful weapons of war, and yet if they were useless against a superior invasion force, what would you possibly do???
The story itself isn’t looking at how the world leaders are coping with the invasion, or how heroic Americans are taking the fight to the aliens, this story’s focus is much smaller. It focuses on one man’s struggle to escape from the attacking Martians and get back to his wife as the invasion grows in scale. The Martian’s are not indestructible and there are a couple of sequences in the book when the military are able to destroy their tripods, what the Martians have is the range, which means they can destroy the human’s weapons from a greater distance, and therefore they can obliterate the military’s artillery before they get into the range of the weapons, thus rendering them useless.
I would say the main themes of the book are hopelessness and panic, the ordinary men and women of Woking are suddenly under fire and are desperate to get to safety. The Martians are also terra-forming Earth to make it a more suitable environment for themselves, plus when they start taking people it is so they can feed on them.
Probably my favourite sequence in the book is when the narrator is holed up in a destroyed house in London right beside another cylinder’s crash site. The Martians are very close and he is with another guy (I forget his name), they have to remain quiet and are able to observe the Martians up close and personal. Both are left to wonder if they are going to make it out of there alive because if they stay they might be found out and if they leave they might be discovered. It works well to create great tension. The novel moves between confusion, curiosity, fear, and panic as the narrator tries to make it back to his wife.
Considering that this book was released in 1898 as a novel and has received several live-action adaptations over the years I am not going to drop a spoiler warning as I talk about the ending…so the weapons that the humans have are unable to stop the Martians. However, because the aliens are drinking the blood of humans for sustenance they absorb all of your diseases which ultimately kill them. I think it is basically the same thing that happened when Europeans first encountered the Native peoples as they travelled around the world. The Europeans took their illnesses with them and as a result viruses like the Common Cold would kill because the bodies of the natives had no means of fighting off infections that they had never encountered before. That is the gist of the ending here, basically the Martians get a Cold, and that is what ultimately kills them off…depending on how you look at it that is either really interesting or really, really lame.
I’ll leave you to ponder that thought for a moment…
Personally I think the idea is quite interesting and works in book form but is a pretty lame ending in a film adaptation. Thankfully I am looking at the book not one of the films. Like I said this is the book that created the “alien invasion” genre and keeps the focus on a single individual rather than looking at the effects of the invasion on a world-wide scale. I encourage you to give this book a read because although it does have its slower moments it is still an interesting read. The book gets a Thumbs Up from me, however, just bear in mind that yours truly has been on Earth for over thirty years and has encountered pretty much all of your diseases so when my people invade even if a Cold kills the rest of them I, TAC, will be left alive to rule over you all unchallenged…
7/10 – The book has some slower moments when I felt my attention waning a little however the alien encounters and the sheer creativity of the story kept me reading. It isn’t like Jekyll and Hyde which I couldn’t put down, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of…[shudder]…Moby Dick, which I still haven’t finished reading.