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On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles terrified American radio listeners by describing a Martian invasion of Earth in a broadcast that became legendary. Forty years earlier, H. G. Wells had first penned the story: The War of the Worlds, a science-fiction classic that endures in our collective subconscious.
Deeply concerned with the welfare of contemporary society, Wells wrote his novel of interplanetary conflict in anticipation of war in Europe, and in it he predicted the technological savagery of twentieth century warfare. Playing expertly on worldwide security fears, The War of the Worlds grips readers with its conviction that invasion can happen anytime, anywhere—even in our own backyard.
Alfred Mac Adam teaches literature at Barnard College-Columbia University. He is a translator and art critic. He also wrote the notes and introduction to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Wells’s The Time Machine and The Invisible Man.
The Martians also reflect Wells himself. Just as the bicycle liberated Wells from the limitations of a weak body, the machines used by the Martians, who are weighed down because the pull of gravity is stronger on Earth than it is on Mars, enable them to move swiftly and attack without warning. The machine is an extension of a body, a kind of prosthetic device that supplies an ability the body lacks. The Martian sitting on top of a huge, three-legged fighting machine striding across Surrey toward London resembles nothing so much as Wells piloting his bicycle around the countryside. And the Martians, like Wells, tend to work alone. That is, while they are involved in a collective activity—the invasion and conquest of England, which is, by extension, the world—they work alone in their fighting machines or their aluminum manufacturing devices. Except for their time in the space capsule, they are rarely together.
Wells's first problem was to decide how to tell such a tale. He could use an external, omniscient narrator, but that would cut down on the immediacy of the action and make it seem much more like history. A single first-person narrator would be possible, but that person would have to travel long distances at almost superhuman speed in order to see everything involved in the Martian invasion. Wells opts for a device Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) uses in Treasure Island (1883), having a first-person narrative become two first-person narratives by introducing a second character who tells us about what happened elsewhere. This is, admittedly, an awkward device because the two characters—brothers in The War of the Worlds—are not in communication with each other. Their separate stories become a single story because the primary narrator takes control of his brother's tale, treating him in the same way an omniscient narrator would treat a character.
The primary narrator, then, is both witness and author, a modification of the narrator of The Time Machine, who transcribes the story of the Time Traveller. The personality of this narrator is a vexing matter, and it is here Wells departs from traditional novelistic practice. Wells clearly had many options in this situation: He could make his nondescript, suburban science writer into a hero by having him either subdue the Martians or lay the foundations for an organized defense. That solution does not suit Wells's hidden intention, which is to warn those people capable of understanding that their world is rotten and will fall at the first blow from an outside force.
Wells does what in both human and novelistic terms makes the most sense: He makes his narrator a man of science, but a conventional thinker and not a man in the line of the Time Traveller. He is not a leader, not a warrior, but a man imbued with curiosity. He wants to understand the Martians, wants to observe their machines, and wants to survive to tell the tale. His psychological depth is slight: He loves his wife, detests the mad clergyman who almost manages to deliver him to the Martians, feels guilt about being responsible for the man's death, and has a nervous breakdown after learning that the Martians all die because of Earth's bacteria. The second central figure, the narrator's brother, is no more developed than the narrator. He is a "medical student, working for an imminent examination", but that is all we know of him. When, in the final chapter of book one, Wells feels he no longer needs the brother, he simply has him board a ship, witness a navy vessel ram two Martian fighting machines, and sail to Europe. We then return to the adventures of our primary narrator.
This sacrifice of character depth to action explains the success of The War of the Worlds. If Wells had transformed his narrator into a preachy precursor of his New Republicans, the reader would probably begin to cheer for the Martians. Instead, he uses both brothers as innocent points of view, reporters telling us what they saw. That they have emotions is merely incidental to their role as informants.
Wells relegates his ideas to the minor characters, carefully linking them to human imperfections so that the novel does not degenerate into sermon or essay. Probably the most interesting example of this is the artilleryman. In book one, chapter 11, the narrator, hiding inside his Woking house, sees a man trying to escape the Martians. He invites the man in and learns he is a soldier, "a driver in the artillery" whose unit has been wiped out by the Martians. The two separate in chapter 12, and we think we've seen the last of the artilleryman until suddenly in book two, chapter 7, he reappears, and now it is he who extends hospitality to the narrator.
Posted June 2, 2010
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What many of these reviewers are forgetting is that this book is a science fiction piece. To say that this novel lacked facts or reality is exactly what fiction is about. If this book were in fact based on actual events, I highly doubt we would be able to even speak of it at this point. When reviewing this novel, people should keep in mind that this book is supposed to get that part of the brain going that excites us and makes us want more. Sci-fi writers such as Wells and Bradbury want two things out of reading their stories: they want you to be astounded and most importantly they want you to think. As an avid reader of this genre, I have to say that there is always a deeper meaning than what the story is about. There is a lesson and there is also a meaning. Take these points into consideration before reviewing this novel and trying to slander the well put together writings of H.G. Wells.
73 out of 81 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2010
This book is a work of art. The descriptions of the Martians and the battle for survival of the human created by H.G. Wells is exciting and worth reading. The narrator's journey to reeunite with his wife in the mist of the Martians arrival on Earth is extremely interesting to read. Also, the Martians themselves are new and different than anything that most have heard, or read, of before. The only downside of this wonderful novel is the author of the endnotes. He gives away the ending of the book in the first few endnotes, and I would've rather found out for myself the ending at the end of the book. Other than that, it is a must-read for any sci-fi fan.
28 out of 34 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2012
YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK! THIS IS THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION BOOK EVER. IF YOU LIKE THIS BOOK TRY THE TIME MACHINE IT'S BY THE SAME AUTHOR BY THE WAY.
18 out of 25 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2009
I thought this book was fantastic! It really engaged me and was suspenseful. It takes place in England, where an alien invasion from Mars begins. It is seen through the eyes of a man who is escaping from the invasion's spread. I liked this book a lot and highly recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction.
18 out of 26 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2009
i loved this book! it was one of the best books i have ever read in my entire life. its vocabulary was astounding it used big long words i have never heard of before it was a challenge but i love challenges. the descriptive sentences was amazing they painted a mental image in your head.this book was very upbeat it kept you on your toes the whole time. the one bad thing about this book was that it was sometimes to descriptive which made it annoying and boring. i would deffinatley reccomend this book for any sci-fi lovers. or anyone who is in for a good thrill. it was a very thrilling book.
15 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2012
Posted June 20, 2012
Posted June 19, 2012
This book is so suspensful and interesrting. This is actually the first book I got on my Nook, and I'm glad it was. It is a great book.
9 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2012
Wow, this book is amazing! I like how it reads like a modern day action novel, but written in 1898. The copy is terrible or else it would be five stars. Random letters and sentences. Disjointed paragraphs and one page that is illegibal. Conclusion, great book, but pay for the better publishings.
9 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 31, 2012
Posted January 28, 2011
War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells is a classic. Any book that has been interpreted in different mediums throughout the decades should be read. Being familiar with the story it was intriguing to see what elements of the book have never been dramatized in any of the other medium versions (i.e. the black smoke). It's also interesting to see what elements remain. There were some parts of Speilberg's movie that I didn't understand that were clarified in the book. So from that standpoint it was enjoyable.
The problems I had with the book is the geopgraphy and the words. I've never been much of a geography student, but it's good to knwo the English towns and hamlets since our hero travels far and wide to find his wife after the Martians attack. There are so many names thrown out that it was hard for me to follow. Likewise there were lots of words I had to take time to look up. I learned soem new words (some specific to the English culture) but the flipside is that many times the flow of the book was interupted with these new words.
No matter I think this is required reading especially if you are a sci-fi fan. Even today the story has relevance and the science in the science fiction isn't dated. Even if you have an idea of the story this is one quick read that you shouldn't ignore.
7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2012
Posted January 18, 2010
The classical novel by H. G Wells written in 1898 War of the Worlds is more then just a science fiction story. Besides being a highly creative novel about enormous machines that come from an outside planet to earth, it is an allegory of England's colonization that was taking place at the time.
During the 20th century the United Kingdom was spreading widely throughout Europe, Asia, and even Africa, threatening the entire world. The novel War of the Worlds is set in England with the purpose of making the British people feel and imagine how their ravishing island would look if other countries joined forces and did what they were doing to other.
The novel is written from the unnamed main characters point of view. This thrilling story begins on what seemed to be an ordinary day for the scientific article writer. He was on his way to meet Ogilvy, a well known astronomer who had invited him to an observatory in Ottershaw, there he witness an explosion in Mars. Ironically, not long after what was believed to be a meteor, landed very near to were he lived. The protagonist was one of the first to find out that this huge 'meteor' was actually an artificial cylinder send from Mars. While enduring the Martians' violence towards Southern English counties, he struggles to meet again with his wife. Wells created his own style of Martian space invaders, ones that had an advanced intelligence power which gave them the ability to create powerful weapons like heat ray guns, tripods and even flying machines which in 1898, when this classical novel was first written, were beyond human technology.
Once the first attacks had passed, he was fortuitously reunited with his wife. They both traveled to Leatherhead seeking for safety, their plan didn't last for long however when they discovered that three more cylinders have been send. As they eye-witness the stunning power of this massive machine they become astonished. There cities had been destroyed, millions of people had dead, and their military forces were of no noticeable use. This doesn't stop them however and through spine-chilling adventure they fought for survival.
This is a truly fascinating novel I would recommend to anyone interested in sub natural sciences. Even though this novel was written in the last century it still retains some of the wildest ideas ever. The book is filled with edgy and stimulated character beyond the remarkable.
6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2011
The story was great. The text is messed up from the transcription process (misspellings, characters in place of letters, and other distracting mistakes), which makes it a little difficult to read at times.
4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 23, 2011
This is a true sci-fi classic. I read this in English class, and thoroughly loved it. It is about how aliens come to Earth because their planet of Mars is dying, and how the narrator experiences it, being a scientist himself. The main theme is that humanity considers itself the most intellectual creatures in the universe, but it may not be. There is symbolism throughout the book, but it is not nessessary to understand the symbols to enjoy the novel. Read carefully, though, because some parts can become rather confusing if you merely skim over it. It served as an inspiration to many future novels, plays, and movies. There is the originial radio broadcast (which served a lot of panic, you can look it up on wiki), a play, and two movies (one of which has Tom Cruise in it =>)
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 24, 2013
The descriptions depicted in H.G Wells War of the Worlds are phenominal, and frightening for its time, very far sighted and rich imagination!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2013
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Posted July 14, 2012