The War of the Worlds

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells, 1898.H G Wells

I hadn’t read this novel since 3rd or 4th grade, so it’s been about 25 years.

I was interested to note that my impressions of the novel have been greatly colored by Jeff Wayne’s album War of the Worlds. [U.K. readers will be much more familiar and fond of that than others. I quite like it.] For instance, the clergyman is a relatively minor character whereas the album affords him a song.

George Orwell remarked [in his “Wells, Hitler and the World State”] that he liked reading Wells because Wells’ work had a sense that the smug complacency of English society could be shattered quickly. That is especially true of this novel.

English society is destroyed in the course of a weekend (” … the rout of civilization” in Wells’ famous phrase). The Empire is militarily humiliated; English reserve, order, and politeness degenerate into anarchy.

In essence, this is one of sf’s earliest disaster novels. I don’t know exactly where Wells’ grew up, but he may have been one of the first writers to trash his hometown. [He did live Woking, setting for some of the novel, but he moved there after marrying his second wife.]

The novel is also quite particular in its geographic descriptions, and I definitely think its psychological effect would have been even greater – and it’s a very good read even 98 years later – on a contemporary English audience.

It even features, in the mad artilleryman, a prototype to the survivalist of modern sf. Just like with the more modern examples, the artilleryman sees the invasion as a cleansing of the weak and degenerate from society leaving only him and his ilk to build a better, stronger society. (His actual potential to do so is pathetic.)

I also had forgotten that the Martians bring along human-like food animals and that the Martians themselves are probably evolved from human like descendants. The narrator remarks that the Martians resemble the forecasts of a “certain speculative writer of quasi-scientific repute” who speculated on man’s evolutionary future in an 1893 issue of Pall Mall Gazette. [The article was “The Man of the Year Million”.] That writer was Wells whom the narrator recalls writing in a “foolish, facetious” tone.


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