A bit of a retro review this morning on H.G Wells The War of the Worlds. It’s a book which has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while but as with everything it’s just took a back shelf (pun intended) for the more recent books I get sent to review and my university studies not to mention work! On top of this I’ve just taken on a volunteer role with the RSPCA (more on that coming really soon!)
Anyway, back to the main event. So The War of the Worlds, definitely falls into the science fiction category a genre I’m pretty fussy with. It has to be a certain style for me to like it and one of the other reasons I’ve not really looked at this book before, aliens just generally aren’t my thing…
However, having read and enjoyed The Time Machine last year I decided to give the author a chance and give this book a read and I was pleasantly surprised. The War of the Worlds is written in Well’s typical autobiographical style. Like The Time Machine the protagonist’s name is never revealed and it is written in the style of a diary-like autobiographical account of events. The reader is addressed throughout with their opinions sought out by the author.
The War of the Worlds begins with the protagonist (implied to be Wells himself) engaging with a friend by looking through a telescope at the planet Mars and noticing some strange bursts and flashes from the planet. The reader is then thrown into the action with the first shell arriving in Woking and revealling the Martians: ‘Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth–above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes–were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.’ (Wells, 1898, in John Walker, unknown date).
The story then follows the adventures of the protagonist and for some time the protagonists brother as London is attacked by the Martians and life as they knew it ceases to exist. I won’t go on and spoil the ending for those who haven’t but intend to read it as I’m a strictly no spoilers blog, however I will explore a little more about the story and the author.
As with the The Time Machine Wells writes with a sense of modernity which does not fit with the 1898 publication date of this novel. Well’s talk of invasions from Mars is in someways a little droll in its description of the slug like creatures and their creaking metal machines it seems almost unimaginative in this day age when we have the likes of Futurama, Star Wars and Star Trek demonstrating advanced and creative creatures far more human-like and intelligent creatures. But of course Wells was working within the limitations of his time and as such the creative process was still well and above other works of the period.
One of the most engaging and clarifying elements of the book for me was the knowledge Well’s already held of the self-made vulnerabilities of mankind. When meeting the artillery soldier after almost being buried alive, the soldier quips that ‘ It’s just men and ants. There’s the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until the men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That’s what we are now–just ants.‘ (Wells, 1898 in John Walker, unknown date). Further into the conversation with about The War of the Worlds which is the subject matter as well as the title, the soldier comments on the lack of importance behind the day to day life of man ‘ They just used to skedaddle off to work–I’ve seen hundreds of ’em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they’d get dismissed if they didn’t; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn’t be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world. Lives insured and a bit invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays–fear of the hereafter.‘ (Wells, 1898 in John Walker, unknown date).
This sentiment is one continously repeated in present day. The idea that our lives are full of the drudgery of going to work, coming home, living lives we are unhappy with because they are safe and are what we know. I hope that like it did with me this has given you something to ponder on….