The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
One of the most famous science-fiction stories ever written, The War of the Worlds helped launch the entire genre by exploiting the concept of interplanetary travel.
First published in 1898, the novel terrified readers of the Victorian era with its account of an invasion of hostile creatures from Mars who moved across the English landscape in bizarre metal transports, using deadly heat rays to destroy buildings and annihilate all life in their path. Its power to stir the imagination was made abundantly clear when Orson Welles adapted the story for a radio drama on Halloween night in 1938 and created a national panic. (via Goodreads)
I started reading The War of the Worlds over Thanksgiving through a service that sends out bite-sized chunks of classic novels…and then I downloaded the full novel because I wanted second helpings. As is usual for novels in 1898, the story moves along quite slowly. A goodly amount of it involves our narrator describing the landscape, which doesn’t seem like it should be that interesting. But the writing is really good and often pretty funny. Wells pulled me along.
When reading classic science fiction, you never know what you’re going to get. If the story has had any popularity at all, expectations are often shaped by adaptations. I saw the 1953 movie as a kid. I don’t remember much other than the glowing green and black ships with their heat ray atop a long crooked neck. I was also rather fond of the 1988 TV series which is a sort of sequel to that movie with a dash of The Thing thrown in.
What I found most interesting were the bits that I don’t normally associate with The War of the Worlds:
- Wells refers to the “older worlds of space” and the Martians have a tentacled form that will, after Lovecraft, come to be strongly associated with cosmic horror.
- Chemical warfare was in its infancy in 1898. The Martian’s use of black gas is more devastating than the fanciful heat ray. The Hague Declaration of 1899 would prohibit the use of poison or poisoned weapons.
- The red weeds that take over the areas around the Martian crash sites were a totally unexpected and a really vivid detail.
All in all, I found The War of the Worlds to be a good read. H. G. Wells is going on my “need to read more” list.
Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ebook, public domain, originally published 1898.
Acquired: 11/24/2016, Amazon
Genre: science fiction