Top positive review
on March 14, 2017
If you are a fan of science-fiction, especially anything involving aliens, this book is an absolute must. This is, by my count, the fourth time that I am reading War of the Worlds, and I enjoy it each and every time.
Today alien invasions are a popular theme in science-fiction. How many books, movies, comic books, computer games and TV shows have you seen in which Earth is invaded by aliens? But when H.G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds in 1897, alien invasions were still a fresh concept. I do not know if he was the very first writer to come up with that idea, but his book was the first alien invasion story to become widely popular.
Wells wrote it in 1897 and the book is set more or less in the same time period. The story takes place in Victorian England. One day, just like that, Martians decide to invade Earth. Back in those days there was still debate whether or not there is intelligent life on Mars, so from Wells’s point of view making the aliens come from Mars was plausible.
The Martians first crashland very near the town where the book’s narrator (never named) lives. At first they are perceived more as a curiosity than a threat and the news of their arrival spreads slowly. Back then mass communications meant telegraph and newspapers. Today someone would film them on his smartphone and we would be able to watch them on YouTube five minutes later. (Ah. How the times have changed.)
But the aliens do not stay in their crater for long. They soon start killing people who get too close to them and then they assemble huge walking machines which they use to move around and kill any people they encounter. Their principal weapons are heat rays (laser?) that incinerate people on touch and toxic gas called “Black Smoke.” Any organized opposition to them collapses within two or three days and then they rampage through England until they get all sick from Earth’s diseases and then they die.
I will not go over the plot, especially since there is not much in terms of plot. Most of the book is about the narrator running away for his life and hiding while the Martians are busy obliterating everyone and everything around him. The narrator does not fight the aliens, but then again, how could he? In order to damage one of the alien machines you would need to have at the very least a large caliber canon. Canons are indeed deployed against the Martians, but they achieve little and the aliens can obliterate entire artillery batteries in seconds.
No, the narrator cannot do anything except hide like a rat and try to survive, and even that is something of an accomplishment taking into account how good the Martians are at committing genocide.
So why the War of the Worlds is such a good book in my opinion? There are many reasons. One is simply because H.G. Wells is a good writer who knows how to captivate the reader through good mastery of writing techniques. That is why I like all his books and I recommend them to you as well. But it is not just about Wells’s mastery of the writing craft. Even the best writer cannot do much with a story that is flat and boring, and War of the Worlds is definitely not flat or boring.
One of the things that fascinated me in the book is the contrast between normalcy and disaster. When the aliens first attack, when they are still trapped in their crater, the narrator survives through dumb luck and runs back home. There he meets the local people who do not know about the attack and are going around their business in their sleepy, little, peaceful town as if nothing was happening. The narrator gets back home, calms down and eats a nice supper with his wife and goes to sleep reassured that everything is going to be fine. The next day aliens get out of their crater and destroy his sleepy, peaceful, little town.
Or take London. At the that time it was the world’s greatest city and the capital of the biggest superpower on the planet. The news of the invasion is slow to reach the city, and when it finally does, the authorities assure the populace that the situation is under control. And so the Londoners go to sleep feeling a little bit apprehensive, yes, but not fearful. They trust their government and they trust that the army will stop the Martians. Then, just few hours later, the authorities wake up the whole city and tell the people that all is lost and that they must flee. And so within merely couple of hours the world’s greatest city goes from normal to everybody running for their life.
I remember reading accounts from World War I and II and how the roads were filled with refugees. The scenes that Wells describes in his fictional book are eerily similar to the ones I read in real memoirs. One moment life goes on as normal, and then, couple of hours or even only minutes later, everybody is running away in fear bordering on hysteria. Civil society is a fragile thing that can collapse in no time.
Or how about the rapid collapse of morality and civility. In the book, as soon as the aliens show up, and even before, rules of moral and civilized behavior go flying out of the window. And no one dwells on it. It is not something that is discussed in the book, and even hardly mentioned. It seems like the most natural thing in the world that one moment, when things are going well, you respect the laws and customs of your society, and then, when things no longer go well, acting like an animal becomes the most natural thing in the world.
Perhaps morality is a thing that only a civilized society can afford? If yes, then even more of a reason to preserve civilization.
What I am trying to say is that War of the Worlds has a lot to offer not only because it is a well written, interesting story about aliens invading Earth, but because is deals with themes that are worth thinking about. Themes such as the fragility of our society, collapse of morality or man’s overblown sense of self-importance. These topics were as relevant in 1897 as they are today.
Even if you do not care about these things, you can still read the book for its originality. Despite all these hundreds upon hundreds of movies, TV shows, books, comic books and computer games about alien invasions that came out since 1897, War of the Worlds presents a different, if fatalistic and depressing, approach to the subject. Of course, I cannot speak for every alien invasion story out there, but most of the ones I am familiar with have protagonists who literally save the world. Most of these stories feature soldiers and world leaders (usually relatively young and handsome men) who fight against aliens and inflict damage on them all the while some scientist (usually played by a relatively young female who looks like a supermodel) comes up with some ingenious way to destroy the aliens and then the (young and handsome) soldiers go on a mission that ends up saving the world. (And usually kills all the aliens in the process.)
War of the Worlds is completely the opposite of that. The narrator does not fight the aliens. He does not even try. He does not even think about it. How could he? What could he do? Bang his little human fists against one of the gigantic Martian war machines?
As for the government, the army and the scientific community, we see next to nothing of them, but they appear to be completely helpless and useless. The soldiers who try to fight the aliens get butchered with nothing to show for it. Their sacrifice achieves nothing. And no, no scientist comes up with a brilliant way to defeat the aliens. In fact, what saves the human race is microbes. People had nothing to do with it. We consider microbes to be the lowest of the low on the biological hierarchy. In fact, they are something of an enemy. How many people have died from plagues and diseases? And yet, it is the microbes that defeat those super powerful invaders and not us. Our microscopic “enemies” have achieved what we could not.