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The Original Invasion!
War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Member Name: Novabug
War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Advantages: Original, first-person viewpoint. Vivid images from the words, haunting, thoughtful and inspiring.
Disadvantages: Hard to read in parts, some specialist and rare words used. No large surprising plot twists.
Back in 1987, at the age of ten, I heard a piece of music which started my love affair with a certain famous science fiction novel. This of course was Jeff Wayne's Musical version of The War of the Worlds, and since then I have read and watched most media connected too or retelling the classic Earth alien invasion story, and I still fall back on the original tome as no other version has the haunting descriptions and philosophical qualities it possesses. I first read the book in my early teens, and then many times afterwards. I recently downloaded an E-book version of it and enjoyed yet again. Here are my thoughts and views of H.G Wells' Victorian science fiction classic, The War of the Worlds.
--An Undisputed Classic...--
Written and published in 1898, The War of the Worlds is a story that most people have heard of, or at least come across a piece of work adapted or inspired from the book, but maybe not have read in it's entirety. The author, Herbert George Wells, commonly known by is pen-name H.G. Wells, who was born in Bromley, England in 1866. He had strong views and musings on all social aspects of life, and this comes across in his fictional works. The War of the Worlds is arguably his most famous, joined with other classics like The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. All have been adapted and re-envisioned many times since both in literature and film. Wells came from a lower middle-class background, and due to family issues, became a keen reader and was especially interested in classic works of the time. He lived in various locations around the south east of England, and wrote The War of the Worlds whilst living in Woking, Surrey, the starting location in the story itself.
Wells died in 1946, a few years after the story gained a notorious fame among the American public after actor, producer and broadcaster Orson Welles adapted the novel for a radio show in 1938. Due to the style and presentation of the way he told the story over the airwaves, many people really believed an invasion was happening, and Welles was made to make an apology due to the confusion caused. It is unknown weather the panic was really as bad as the media said at the time, but there was a level of outcry certainly, and the whole incident immortalised both Orson Welles and the novel.
Over the years, many science fiction works in print and in film have borrowed ideas and themes from The War of the Worlds. The 1996 film Independence Day clearly takes cues from it, as do many more films, both in small and larger ways. The series of books and connected TV series "The Tripods", borrows heavily from Wells' ideas. The story itself has been released in many edited formats, including a graphic novel and children's version, and has been made into five films, with another version on the way in the next few years. Notable films would be the 1953 version, set in America in 1953, which gained a cult following of its own. (A terrific re-imagined fighting machine and a follow up television series) and the high profile Steven Spielberg version of 2005 starring Tom Cruise. There have even been various video games released and of course Jeff Wayne's famous prog-rock musical version and subsequent live stage show. All contain many of the key plot set pieces and iconic dialogue, albeit in various interpretations. The book itself has never gone out of print since 1898, and still proves popular today.
"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 opening line that has been re-written for every version of The War of the Worlds
--Price, Availability and Cover Art--
The War of the Worlds was originally published by Heinemann's of Covent Garden, but is now available from various publishers worldwide, and can be purchased from all online book stores and found commonly in high street book shops. Many editions have been edited or added to by a secondary author, so look for it to be the classic version by H.G. Wells alone. My Kindle edition cost £3.11, published by Bantam Classics of New York. E-book versions start from £2 up to £5, paperback from £3 to £10 and hardback anything up to £25.
The cover art in modern editions can vary greatly. The original first edition had no art, just simple large lettering, the downloaded version I have has this. Cover illustrations can be either dark, picturesque or sometimes have a cartoon-ish quality. Many show an image of the tripod fighting machine as described in the book, in different depictions. Wells himself was unhappy with one the first visions by an illustrator and even surreptitiously referenced this in the book amongst the narrative. Some prefer to display space-scape with an approaching craft, the Earth being held by an alien hand, or panicking crowds running from the destruction. There have been many artistic interpretations of The War of the Worlds, and are abundant of the internet.
--Plot Summary and Primary Characters--
I can honestly say the plot of The War of the Worlds is a very basic one, but don't let that detract you if you have never read it, because despite it's twist-free story, It's a tale that has had a lasting impact on the the science fiction genre. Quite simply, creatures from Mars arrive on Earth and begin to destroy the human race at genocidal levels, and all this is told to the reader through the eyes and thoughts of a single character who is only known as "The Narrator". The entire book to written in a first person viewpoint, and we follow "The Narrator" in his attempts to escape the Martians and the interaction he has with people he meets along the way.
The characters are quite sparse, as almost the entire story to spoken to you by "The Narrator". We get very little scope of him, with just basic details about his marital life, family and occupation. You are lead to think he is a philosophical writer and journalist, but this is never made clear and hardly any of his back-story is told. Critics have panned this as weak characterisation, but I don't agree, because you don't need this knowledge to experience what he witnesses. In the same vein as "The Narrator", almost none of the other principal characters are named or given any back-story, but are important to put across different human reactions to the extremity of the situation. "The Curate" is a man whom has lost faith and slowly becoming insane, "The Artilleryman" shows the firstly the hopeless fight, and then impossible dreams of survival. "The Narrator's Brother" experiences things that are not apparent to "The Narrator", as do other minor characters like "The Narrators Wife" and "The Women in the White Dress". Surprisingly, having no names to remember is not as hard to follow as it seems, and soon you become accustomed to the way this is done.
I believe when The War of the Worlds was first published, it was a mind-blowing concept for many people of the time to grasp. Brimming with ideas that were so new and far-out for it's time, coupled with the fact its written in such a personal way, I would think many readers of the early twentieth century would have struggled with it. Creatures coming from Mars and attacking Earth, with technology so brilliantly and vividly imagined, and the creepy descriptions if the Martians themselves. The pictures your mind creates are quite scary, even in this modern world of crazy science fiction stories. So while the plot maybe straightforward, the images and thoughts it triggers still hold up well for me. What makes it even better for me personally is that if you have lived or know off the West London area and its southern suburbs, you can match the locations in your mind and picture the destruction and panic as if it were real.
The first-person narrative maybe off-putting for some, and it does take a few pages to get used too, but after a while it becomes unnoticed. At many points, "The Narrator" shares his in-depth thoughts with the reader, and these can be lengthy and deep. Still keeping your attention, but hard to read without concentration, the occasional obscure word crops up and sometimes the sentence construction maybe confusing for the more casual reader. These small discourses of thought trigger emotions too, and you may find yourself angrily disagreeing with some of his words. All this still remains connected with the events that are happening though, and are relevant to the extraordinary and sometimes nightmarish experiences he has throughout the book. The sections of the book where "The Narrator" describes his brother's personal account is a nice aside to his journey, and this is where a real feelings of panic, fear, hope and loss are expertly put into words. The "Thunderchild" scene is especially excellent for this.
The story highlights many themes in human society too, something H.G. Wells had strong and sometimes hard-line opinions, and this is echoed with the words of "The Narrator". To be honest, I get the impression that "The Narrator" is an alternate version of Wells himself, and he uses this and the story to drive some of his opinions home. Commentary on human social behaviour such as kindness and hatred, naivety, mindless panic, and the loss of hope are frequently eluded too, and make it all the more fascinating and, even more real to a degree. Also, political systems and human management are another topic frequently talked about and compared too this total and unstoppable destruction of the human race that happens. Imperialism, religion and, in a more flippant way, the press are all heavy referenced and discussed within "The Narrator's" own mind, as he tries to make sense of all that is happening around him. In a way, you bond with him and his predicament, particularly the parts of him with "The Curate" and "The Artilleryman", and the contrasting dialogue and vastly different experiences he shares with them. You care for "The Curate", like he does, and also like him, you feel detached and ashamed from the wild thoughts and dreams of "The Artilleryman". This is down to clever writing and thought put into how different minds handle such incredible events.
Finally, away from the primary human dissection of the events, are the Martians themselves. Although the descriptions given are detailed, they still allow enough for your own imagination to paint a haunting picture of these creatures. Further explanations of their movement, behaviour, anatomy all help to make you picture them, again fuelled by your own imagination, and be horrified at their unexplained actions of wanton destruction and genocide. I believe this is why no other version or film of The War of the World can capture this horror as if it were real. If you become immersed in this book, it can change the way you think about human behaviour and the possibility of a superior race. I'm of course not going to disclose how it ends, its an ending pretty well known anyway, but it makes heavy connections with either Earth's evolution or the human belief in God, it's really how you interpret it.
Much the like the original book, the Kindle version is separated into two parts containing the original chapter titles from the first edition. No digital cover art is included, but contents page, and the Epilogue are all present. Clearly presented with very few errors. (I found one!) It's a faithful conversion with no serious problems to speak of.
It pretty obvious that I will recommend this book to you, if your a socialist or science fiction fan it's right up your street, (I'm just a Sci-Fi Fan!) but I think everybody should read this at some point, its one of those classic books that deserves even a glance from all types of readers. Its not a hefty tome like The Lord of the Rings, but it does have similarities. Difficult to read in parts, with many old-style references and even more older and more ambiguous words, but stick with it. The plot is easy to follow, and the characters easy to bond with. It's a very enjoyable, dark and a sometimes deep tale, but really hits the mark on realism for me. Certainly, it's more believable and engaging than a lot of other, and newer books of a similar ilk.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Summary: A terrific classic that gave so much the the Science Fiction we enjoy today.