The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, 1898, Book Review

war_of_the_worlds_coverreading I am Number Four by Pitticus Lore recently, I thought I’d go back to where alien sci-fi all began. Actually, I don’t know if that statement is entirely correct. There may have been earlier extra-terrestrial stories, but this is the big one, the one that has lasted and inspired scads of films and other books.

The War of the Worlds describes an invasion of England by Martians who wipe out half of the communities surrounding London.Given as a first person account by an unnamed witness, the book is a time capsule, illustrating everyday life in the year of its publication, 1898. Science made great strides during the last few decades of the 19th century (think Industrial Revolution) and this play by play account includes many scientific proofs and explanations. If I didn’t know for a fact this never happened, it would be quite convincing.

Another sign of the times is the religious conflict that arose out of Darwin’s scientific theories. Claims of evolutionary development lie alongside supplications and thanksgiving to God for deliverance from these pitiless Martians. In fact, the book makes multiple references to both science and religion, blurring the line between them and illustrating the confusion two conflicting theories wrought. Yes, we’re still arguing about this today, but War of the Worlds takes place only a few decades after Darwin’s controversial publications, rather than the century and a half that has now passed.

In a closely-related theme, the book explores the dominance of one species over all others. Mankind has always ruled earth. But when aliens conquer people, humans are compared to ants, to rabbits and to rats. When the Martians shockingly use humans a food source, the narrator finds new pity for the lesser species who must fear and hide and flee. I’m not sure what Wells’ intent was in this comparison, but to me, it does not lower humans to the status of animals as Darwin’s theory does, but reminds me of the uniqueness of human life.

Modern readers will get a kick out of the weapons Wells comes up with. We’ve grown up with George Lucas’ fictional light sabers and real-life lasers and computers. Wells was pretty creative with his heat ray guns and three-legged fighting machines.

With aliens all the rage in entertainment nowadays, it’s interesting to go back to a time when the idea was fresh and new. It’s interesting. It’s readable. It’s kind of fun. War of the Worlds has so many similarities to modern alien flicks and novels, I had to continually remind myself that this was not a firmly established genre when it was written. If you’re a sci-fi fan, I’d recommend this journey back to the beginning.

Probably best for readers 13+, due to some terminology and the distance created in language after 100 years.

 

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