Tuesday, September 6, 2011

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

Title:  The War of the Worlds
Author:  H.G. Wells
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5 tripods

The War of the Worlds is one of the most evocative science fiction novels of all time.  It is also one of H.G. Wells' most popular works.

The War of the Worlds takes place in England in the late 1800s.  It describes a series of events in which intelligent beings from Mars come to Earth.  Their technology and weapons far outclass our own, and all they have on their minds is complete and utter domination of the human race.  They do not want to destroy our world:  rather, they want to take it over and use us as food.  Reduced to nothing more than glorified cattle, man kind is tasked with the most difficult objective yet:  to stay alive in the face of overwhelming odds.

This novel is written in the first perspective, from the view of an educated writer of philosophy.  I have said it in other reviews, but I am a big fan of the first-person view in science fiction and horror novels.  The fact that the reader is limited in their knowledge to what the narrator knows greatly increases the suspense.  There are two points in the novel in which this scheme changes, however.  Instead of the narrator describing his journey, he talks about the journey of his brother in London.  Although these sections are just as enjoyable, ping-ponging between characters decreases the immersion one feels when reading the book.

One of the most interesting aspects of The War of the Worlds is the way in which the Martians are described, and the manner with which they take over the world.  The aliens are not depicted as an all-knowing and all-powerful race.  On the contrary, they have evolved to be the most dominant species on Mars, a planet with a completely different set of environmental obstacles than Earth.  For example, the gravity on Mars is only a third of that on Earth, so the Martians are sluggish on our planet - their breathing shallow and labored.  However, they compensate for their weak physical stature with their technology.

And that is where War of the Worlds comes into its own as a depiction of a terrifying scenario.  The aliens erect gigantic metallic tripods, capable of razing entire cities.  They unleash a devastating "heat ray" on humans, which instantly turns them into a blazing corpse.  Finally, they shoot canisters of dense, poisonous black smoke, which kills anyone unlucky enough to breathe it in.  What is most horrifying is that the Martians use humans as food - collecting our blood and transfusing into their veins for sustenance.

The reaction of the humans in Wells' vision is also very interesting.  At first, people are curious about the extra-terrestrials.  Then, they become defensive and attempt to destroy them with force.  When force proves useless, all of humanity erupts into a mass hysteria - people flee, loots stores, and trample their neighbors underneath carriages and trains.  The War of the Worlds is more than just a silly science fiction book about aliens.  It is a kind of thought experiment about how Earth would react to such an event.

This brings us to the conclusion of the book, and although I will not spoil anything, I must admit that the ending has always seemed a bit like a cop-out to me.  It is as if Wells wrote himself into a corner, and without any other options, he elects to take the easy way out in order to supply us with a satisfying conclusion.

The War of the Worlds is one of the most entertaining science fiction novels that I have read in a long time!

5 out of 5 tripods!

1 comment:

  1. I ALMOST picked this one for Dueling Monsters this year. I love the old radio broadcast and wanted an excuse to pick up the book. But as you know we went for The Island of Dr. Moreau instead ...