Wells: War of the Worlds - Illustration for the book by Alvim Corréa 1906

Illustration for the book by Alvim Corréa (1906)

War of the Worlds – by H.G. Wells is a classic science fiction novel. Written 1895 to 1897, it tells the story of martian spaceships that invade earth and meet defending forces that are without any chance of surviving the encounter.

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

H. G. Wells , The War of the Worlds

While the unnamed narrator describes the invasion as experienced by him and his brother in the countryside around London and in London itself, the invasion quickly extends to the rest of the world. Within a few days, the whole earth is under control of martian tripods and mankind is simply slaughtered without negotiations and mercy.

The book was then popular, but finally became famous (until the present day) through a  1938 radio broadcast version that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a news bulletin and led to widespread outrage and panic by many listeners in the US, who believed the events described in the program were real.

The influence of the book can be still observed today, within movies like “Independence Day”, “Mars Attacs”, “Man in Black”, “Avatar” and even “Iron Sky” using themes, images and ideas first published in “War of the Worlds” in 1897. Even in Douglas Adams “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” you find more then traces of Wells ideas.

One very unique idea of “War of the Worlds”  is the fact that the invaders do not treat mankind like enemies or opponents, but rather the same way we tread insects or livestock. Douglas Adams plot of making earth not even worth an invasion, but assuming it only an irrelevant obstacle in the way of an new galactic super highway is only taking it one step further.

War of the Worlds reads also as a commentary on British imperialism, Victorian superstitions, fears and prejudices and evolutionary theory. It also applies the ideas of race presented in Social Darwinism, an ideology of some prominence at the time the novel it was written. The Martians exercise over humans their ‘rights’ as a superior race, more advanced in evolution.

An army of Martian fighting-machines destroying England.

An army of Martian fighting-machines destroying England (Source: Wikipedia).

Wells makes his main character consider in retrospect:

And before we judge them  too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

Wells surprises his readers even today with his understanding approach to the mindset of the invaders – Wells is very much aware that his description of an outer space invasion is very similar to British (and US) imperialism at those times. And – if you consider “Avatar”  – would we act different today? Not likely if profits are at stake.

Beneath this insights on Human and Martian aggression and imperialism, Wells provides also an interesting insight on Victorian (and post-Victorian) thinking, science and culture. Beside being Science Fiction (still today), today its also a history book at the same time.

It might also be the first description of anything close to laser technology in literature – Wells describes here in 1897 a weapon he calls a “heat ray” that burns everything within many miles. The book also contains surprisingly modern thoughts on ecology and microbiology.

So, get this book, have fun and lets discuss your thoughts here or next time we see us at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.



Author: H.G.Wells

Title: War of the Worlds

Source: Darmstadt Public Library (Stadtbibliothek Darmstadt)

Pages: 180 plus footnotes (paperback)

My Reading Time: 5 days

Language: Old fashioned British English, with a few technical terms from astrology and military history.

Rating: **** ( out of 5)


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