Initially, I chose to read “War of the Worlds” because it promised a fast read by appearance alone, my reading ‘taste-buds’ were crying out for something different and I had a hankering to try out the sci-fi genre. And what better to start withthan one of the fathers of said genre. While reading, I found I began to appreciate the novel for what it allowed me to see. It served as an eye-opener to how a 19th century novelist would approach an alien invasion, his portrayal of Martians and how the people in his story, in all likelihood his contemporaries, would react to a Martian attack.
While the ancient Egyptians first recorded observations about Mars almost four thousands years ago, the 19th century saw developments in telescope optics which made for more advanced observations on the surface of Mars, maps of Mars being drawn and more, all of which might have put Mars forward as a topic of conversation beyond scholarly circles. Perhaps questions about life on Mars, still relevant today, and the mystery surrounding the possible existence of Martians led to this story being written. It certainly seems so.
The narrator postulates that the invasion was in order to secure the Martians a new home as Mars was drying up. The Martians hurtle themselves from Mars to Earth in cylindrical-shaped devices landing in Woking, England where they start their short-lived reign of mayhem and destruction. I was expecting little green men and was surprised when the alien invaders turned out to be formless, grey creatures hovering aboveground with tentacles and one ear. Maybe a bit disappointed too but definitely appreciative of the different point of view.
It becomes clear early enough that the Martians mean business especially when they got into one of their giant, robot-like monstrosities that fired heat and light-rays, leaving charred corpses in their wake. As more cylinders hurtle their way to Earth and the Martians make their way to London we’re treated to a spectrum of behaviours which could almost fit into a handbook of “The way humans behave in times of crises which are just over the horizon” – I need help with a shorter title obviously but bear with me. Firstly, you have the nay-saying disbelievers, then the packing of the useless trinkets, followed by scenes of desperation as people stampede over each other in hysterics (happens everyday in London by the way, no Martians needed, just head over to any major tube or rail station during rush hour), followed by a disquiet, an acceptance.
Wells addresses several further aspects of human nature and society in the novel which made it all the more fascinating to me. He compared the dawning helplessness of the humans in England as the Martians invade to that of the Empire’s colonial subjects in far-off lands. He created an atmosphere of uncertainty, aloneness as the narrator wanders through the English countryside, not just an ambivalence surrounding the fate of his fellow countrymen but the rest of the world. The fragility of connection to the outside world during those times in the length of time it would take to get messages across, and the free for all that emerges in any Armageddon type situation is somewhat explored.
All this made me think of what I would do if faced with a similar situation which is probably hide under the covers, hoping that I had remembered to buy canned food, plenty of drinking water, toilet paper, a generator to watch my stash of DVDs and a light to read by, oh and complete that underground bunker I’ve been meaning to build in my spare time. And the flush toilet, of course. Yup, I’ve got it all planned. As the rest of us I’m sure.
To finish off I’ll briefly outline why I didn’t give this book the full 5 star treatment. Firstly, I would’ve liked a bit more description to his aliens, I got a bit bored of the perfunctory blandness that was used to describe these alien invaders. Secondly, the times where the narrator was left to wander the streets alone had promise akin to the atmosphere I’ve felt after watching episodes of The Walking Dead but it could’ve been taken further. Lastly, I wish the author could’ve been a bit clearer with where he was going with the mention of religion in the novel. But this shouldn't dissuade you from giving it a try, it's a good read with promise. And its got me curious about other works by the author specifically
The Time Machine.