RED Book 30: The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

Martians, Heat Ray, End of the World etcA while back (maybe a year or two?) I bought an anthology of H.G. Wells books for a couple of quid. 38 novels, polemical works and short story collections all in one handy kindle ebook.

Except not so handy. What they’d done was put all the books together in a single file without a proper Table of Contents (TOC) and no individual chapter breaks. So recently I’ve been fixing that. I split the books into separate files, tidied up the formatting, added covers, a TOC and chapter breaks. It was tedious, repetative but ultimately satisfying work. After all that I figured I should read at least one of those books. So I picked War of the Worlds – which I had in paperback – so I read that copy!

There’s obviously not a lot new I can say about this book. So I don’t intend to post a regular review of it, just a few impressions of this time reading it. If you really want a synopsis click on the image for a link to the Goodreads page.

First thing to say is that it’s hard to read this, well the first chapter specifically without hearing the deep warm tones of Richard Burton, and it’s true that through most of it I was humming Forever Autumn. And I think this is relevant because I think my memory of the story – and I have read the book before – owes more to the concept album than the book itself.

The second thing I noticed was how primitive the human technology was. I know that they were supposed to be out-classed but the fact that this book was written before there were even airplanes, when the main mode of transport was horse-drawn really brings out that difference in weapons tech. It also meant it felt a lot less like a “SciFi” novel because most of the action was at the human level, from the human point of view.

The next thing was how parochial it was. The devastation wreaked by the Martians is swift, extreme and pretty near total – but it covers an area of a few miles between where they landed and London. Even in the book this is acknowledged to some extent. There’s talk of escaping to France and of cities like Manchester and Edinburgh sending help when London needs rebuilding at the end of the book. I presume that this too was deliberate and that if they hadn’t been defeated (spoiler!) then the Martians would have sent further cylinders to build on their beach-head in the UK and spread outwards.

I think the thing that comes out really strongly, and was still a theme in the 2005 Spielberg adaptation, is the effect that the invasion has on an ordinary man and what he is forced to witness, and do, to survive. This stuff is still powerful.

Things I hadn’t remembered were the physical descriptions of the Martians, the way they fed – I knew that they consumed human blood but I hadn’t realised it was directly infused into their veins.

So anyway, a few impressions after re-reading this classic. I definitely enjoyed it but it left a slightly different taste to the one I’d expected.

7/10 – “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one”


About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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