Monday, June 02, 2008

The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells

Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Pages: 251
Rating: 4/5

"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own."

The Good: I was happy to read this book as it's on my BTRBID list. It describes the invasion and subsequent takeover of England by Martians. We follow the first-hand accounts a man and his brother who experience the Martian landings and their various attacks on the populous. The reader witnesses the power of the Martian's tripods, strangely coloured gases and their deadly heat-ray, a pre-cursor to the laser. All attacks against these strange creatures seem futile, prompting a mass evacuation from London and the countryside.

The action is fast-paced and we meet various characters who react differently to the threat of invasion. The reader practically gets a geography lesson with all of the towns and specific areas of country covered and mentioned by the main character. I have to commend Wells' imagination as he couldn't draw upon other literature to create the Martians and their technology.

There is also some beautiful language here "Those who have only seen London veiled in her sombre robes of smoke can scarcely imagine the named clearness and beauty of the silent wilderness of houses."

It was interesting to read the book that has inspired so many works and to read between the lines. Wells was a staunch evolutionist and this is obvious in his detailed description and reasoning behind the Martian's appearance. Isaac Asimov argued the book was a condemnation of British colonialism, comparing them to the aliens.

The Bad:

There were times I forgot this was taking place before the turn of the 20th century. The reason for this was that several places made me think of WWII. For example, All the shipping in the world seemed going Londonward in those days." That made me think of the rationing going on the UK and the ships coming with supplies from North America.

The language is archaic and very much of the Victorian era, being written in 1898. The syntax and diction is more technical than flowery but I had a hard time picturing some of Well's descriptions of the martian's equipment. I think this probably comes from being one of the first science fiction novels out there.

I didn't find the main character believable. I couldn't see how he would remain sane while the rest of the world went mad around him. The scene in the cellar was a good example. I expected this to be the place where Wells redeemed himself and had the protagonist truly consider murder to save his own skin. It would have brought up questions about humanity and how far a person will go to survive but instead Wells dodges the issue.

The book also felt extremely short. It was just a recounting of events over a period of three weeks and in some parts I felt Wells had left part of the story out or we were missing something important.

The Ugly: Somebody find Eli Wallach.

No comments: