The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.


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3 thoughts on “Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

  1. Great to see classic SF books being reviewed.
    Yes, the style is dated and, like the Time Machine, the social musings seem slightly ante-diluvian (ah!) and squarely set in Victorian stiff-upper lip times. But when one thinks of those books as big SF ideas which are still being milked by contemporary writers 120 year later, they are worth reading to wonder if there is anythingnew under the sun. The evolutionary/biological underpinings (the death of the Martians in the War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr Moreau) were pretty audacious for the public of that time, too.
    Just avoid The First Men in the Moon. That one is painful to read. Jules Verne’s earlier version is much more fun and plausible (for the times).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I didn’t really comment too much on the insights the Wells books have in terms of social issues, the fields of thought, and what science was discussing at the time. It is very clear that Wells was immersing himself in the big ideas of the time.

      I also thought the idea of our diseases and bacteria being the Achilles Heel of the invaders was a brilliant idea. Even the reasoning about why the Martians invaded was better thought out than most of the more modern invasion stories.

      It’s ironic that you would suggest not reading The First Men in the Moon today…. I just posted my review for it. I wasn’t a fan either.


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