The War of the Worlds
Author: H. G. Wells
Published By: Public Domain Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I watched an old film named The War of the Worlds in which Martians, traveling in flying saucers with serpentine-like necks, invaded Earth. Weapons were powerless against them, but the Earth had a secret weapon against the Martians that its inhabitants never imagined could wipe out such a powerful foe. After watching the film, I later learned that Orson Welles had once broadcast a version of The War of the Worlds over the radio and caused a major panic. I also watched a couple of television series that paid homage to a book that I had never read. As it turns out, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, a novel published in 1898, was not something we really covered in school. I decided that it was high time I read this classic.
The War of the Worlds is written in the first person. The narrator is a philosopher who has been published on a number of occasions and is working on yet another publication when he is asked by a friend to check out a meteor event at the local astronomical observatory. What he witnesses is actually the launching of one of several "canisters" shot from Mars to the Earth. One such object lands near the philosopher/author's home in Woking in Surrey, England.
At first, it is believed that, being so hot, nothing could have possibly survived inside the object. The area fills with people as the curious arrive to check out this object from Mars. When the canister begins to open, no one is too concerned. After all, scientists theorize that the Earth's gravity would be way too much for the Martians, making them extremely slow in movement, even pained by moving at all. No one is prepared for what exits the canister or the death soon to be spread by the Martians, encased in their tripod-like walking war machines wielding heat rays and black poison gas.
As the novel continues, we travel two paths - that of the original narrator and his medical student brother. As the narrator struggles to get away from the invaders and back to his wife, his brother is struggling to get away from England, picking up some female companions along the way. The two tales of escape are vastly different. The narrator's brother is swept up in the panicked stampede to get out of London, while the narrator finds himself trapped amongst the invading forces, hunkering down to prevent detection and certain death.
When one gets past the fun science fiction parts of The War of the Worlds - aliens with huge round heads and tentacles used as appendages that speak to one another telepathically and operate war machines that tower above the tallest of buildings and are impervious to most weapons and are rumored to have tackled the ability to fly actual ships through the air - one gets to the heart of the novel. The novel speaks a great deal to the Darwin theory regarding survival of the fittest. Wells, being a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, a proponent of Darwin, shows his support of this theory throughout the novel. Even the end of the novel supports the theory in a roundabout way (don't want to give away the ending here, but the defeat of the Martians comes through a very Darwinistic - yes, I probably just created a new word - turn of events). I've always found Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest to be quite interesting and this inclusion of the theory in The War of the Worlds was quite intriguing.
While reading this novel, I marveled at H. G. Well's imagination. To think that this novel was written before the 1900s and contained such novel ideas as aliens not only existing on Mars, but invading Earth in such a shocking and futuristic way speaks to Wells' incredible intelligence and foresight. The idea of space travel, though possibly wished for by many an astronomer, was in no way near possible. The idea of life on other planets, let alone life that could reach our planet must have been a shocking idea in that time period.
I also loved that Wells, through his narrator, agrees with me on the idea that human beings are incredibly arrogant to believe that intelligent life could not exist on other planets...at least not as intelligent as humans anyway. Not only does the narrator admit to this folly of humans, he often seems to equate us with lesser creatures. For instance, he surmises that we must seem like rabbits in the eyes of Martians. We treat rabbits as lesser beings to be dominated, even eaten, so why should it seem so strange that a more intelligent species than humans should treat them in the same way.
The War of the Worlds is a terrific and truly captivating science fiction novel. A fan of sci-fi, I was so enamored with this book, that I was loathe to put it down, finishing it in a couple of days only because I had to stop for things like sleep and work. The book inspired a certain playfulness in me. I found myself teasing others with the idea that the Martians were coming and quoting moments in the book as if they actually were taking place. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells is one of those science fiction classics that no fan of the genre should pass up.