Classic book review: The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is a much shorted book that the previous ones I have read. This 183 page novella tells the story of one man’s (and in parts, his brother’s) story after Martians land in Surrey, South Eastern England.

War of the Worlds front jacket

From wikipedia: Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866 – August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He [was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Both Wells and Jules Verne are sometimes referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”.

The basic plot is that Mars is dying, so the squid-like Martians invade Earth by means of a giant projectile firing gun which shoots capsules across the void. These cylinders arrive on successive nights working their way from Horsell Common in Woking, through Surrey and across the city of London. At first they are a curiosity, but soon turns violent as the technically advanced and emotionless Martians go about extinguishing life on Earth so they might make it their home.

It is an interesting story and has clearly influenced so much science fiction written or filmed since. These days if you were to create a new story regarding any kind of violent encounter between humans and an extraterrestrial race you would touch on themes from this book, even if you’ve never read it. Although the writing isn’t the most coherent or articulate book you have ever read, or even the science particularly accurate, this story does draw you in and makes you wonder how you would react if a similar situation ever arose.

Statue of an Alien fighting machine in Woking, England

The book and subsequent place in popular culture have created great endearment amongst people, from the residents of Woking who have created the above statue of a Martian fighting machine within their town square, to the residents of New Jersey who were considered victims of Orson Wells famous radio broadcast. Well worth a read to understand so many other alien stories.

One thing I found a struggle was the locations mentioned in the novel are not familiar to me. Chobham, Shepparton, the joining of the Thames and Wey rivers -all perhaps make sense to a Londoner but is all a mystery to me. I would have appreciated a map in the book showing locations so I could better visualise the invasion. Or maybe a Google maps mashup that follows the events in the story.

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