War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (1898, 1979)

Science Fiction
13-Adult
War of the Worlds, by H.G. WellsThis is the first of two reviews being published today; the second is a sequel to this classic H.G. Wells story. In preparation for reading the newly published Massacre of Mankind, authorised by the H.G. Wells estate, I decided to read this sci-fi classic. I read lots of sci-fi as a teen but I don’t think this one made my list; at least, I don’t remember it, despite having seen a couple of movie versions and of course listened to the equally classic radio play. So I checked my own bookshelves and found a copy of the novel within an anthology of Wells’ work. It included an undated preface by the author himself, who died in 1946. In the preface, Wells describes his classic story as an “assault on human self-satisfaction,” a criticism of the Western world view. Keep in mind, this novel was written in the last years of the 19th century, during the period known as La Belle Epoque – England’s imperialist perspective was at its height, always viewing progress as positive, and the rich and nouveau-riche enjoyed economic prosperity fueled by an unbounded optimism. Life was not as rosy for the poor, and artists like Wells drew attention to the plight of the marginalised and disenfranchised. (Think of Edward Degas’ painting L’Absinthe, or Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters.) Okay, back to the book. The story is quite short, under 200 pages. It’s presented as a narrative memoir by a survivor of the war who is never named. He lives near Woking where the first Martian cylinder lands, and is there to witness the emergence of the creatures and the amazing technology they use to destroy the British countryside. Heat rays that kill, fatal black smoke, a weapon that causes a river to boil and steam, and a strange red weed that grows exceedingly fast. Britain mounts a pitifully inadequate response; one soldier in the story aptly calls it “bows and arrows against the lightning.” Wells describes the panic, the confusion, and the fear with awesome realism. Despite the fact that what we know about Mars today makes this story more fantasy than science fiction, it is still a powerful classic cautionary tale that is eerily prescient of the coming Great War and the Germans’ attack with gas, zeppelins and planes in the sky. More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/652083
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