- Continuing my exploration of books I/we should have read before leaving school, this one is ‘The War of the Worlds’ by HG Wells.
This is another book I’m reading and trying to ignore anything I may, or may not, know about it from popular press, news, and/or Hollywood versions. It’s also very important to remember that if was first published, in serialised form, between 1895 and 1897, way before inventions we take for granted these days like the computers, traffic lights, washing machines, etc. Putting the 1897 publication into context, it was seven years before Einstein published his special theory of relativity and only 20 years after Schiaparelli first observed the canals on Mars.
Written from the first person perspective, the reader is taken in to a world in turmoil as metal cylinders land in the Surrey countryside. From these cylinders comes unusual creatures and metal machines, heat rays, and black smoke. From our perspective of modern science fiction and how these themes have been developed in both books and films we can imagine very clearly the world, the Martians, and the impact such an invasion would have, but for readers in the 1890’s? This would have been the first time many of them even considered life on a different planet, let alone that it might come here. And an invasion where we are the weaker creature? Unheard of.
At this time I think it’s nice to note the innocence of the expectations that Martians would somehow be of basic human form. I know this is one of the first books to deal with extraterrestrial life, but the belief that all intelligent life would, or should, also reflect our own forms is endearing. Perhaps what is more enjoyable to read is the impact the story has on this one person and his views on humanity. He likens the invaders to how we view cows or ants, how we would use and abuse them without a second thought, using our higher-being status and intellectual stance on lower life forms.
I am reminded of the Steampunk creations that form part of the backward-looking future that can give us an insight into the way technology would have developed if technology didn’t progress: H.G. Wells is often cited as a major factor in the ideology and realistic, yet fictional, steampunk machines. The description of the Martians is very heavily centred and grounded around technology as known to H.G. Wells at the time of writing, the steam-ray, the black fog, the formation of the metal, etc.
“And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder.“
In some ways it’s a refreshing look and take on what has turned into a massive genre for authors and filmmakers, yet it’s also to remember that this is one of the first instances of science fiction and the fascination with Mars, our nearest planetary neighbour.
I loved this book, not least for the innocent and simplistic way the invasion and Martians are narrated and the individual story unfolds highlighting the ways in which this invasion throws everything that is known in the 1890’s into disarray and confusion. There is no comparison to more recent science fiction books I’ve been reading (like the The Frontiers Saga and The Lost Fleet) – these are far more complicated, are trying very hard to differentiate themselves from other science fiction books and series available, as well as trying and show the future and encountered alien races as something horrifying and dystopian, by today’s technological and humanitarian standards.
There are other science fiction books in the list I am also really excited to read, not least H.G. Well’s ‘The Time Machine’ and Philip Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’
Held my interest: 9/10
Captured my imagination: 9/10
Worth reading: 8/10