Scott's Reviews > The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
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's review
Mar 21, 11

bookshelves: 1890s, sci-fi, victorian, london
Read from March 19 to 21, 2011, read count: 3

Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together.... this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede -- a stampede gigantic and terrible -- without order and without goal, six million people, unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.

Panic on the streets of London ... what a fitting introduction to the Twentieth century. The War of the Worlds (1898) augured the possibility of wholly mechanized warfare, the use of poison gas as a weapon, and the corralling and eventual mass extinction of large civilian populations. As it turned out, the enemy wasn't blood sucking slugs from Mars. This is just Well's considerable imagination at work. The enemy, of course, was us. Within some forty years of this story's publication, the displacement of a mere six million people before alien invaders would fall far short of the enormous toll of misery and confusion that humans managed to inflict on themselves. Wells had a good idea of what was coming, he just couldn't grasp the scale.

Like the many other invasion scare fantasists of the late 19th century, Wells keeps his finger on the panic button all the time. The result is a fast-paced, exciting, very readable tale of survival and adventure. You can easily race through it in a day or two. Your attention won't be tried by tedious passages caught up in revealing complex character, elaborating relationships, or erecting enigmatic dialogues. In the aftermath of the Martian invasion, Wells' world has gone brute, and most of the characters you'll meet are reduced to an unexpected level of unsophisticated, vacuous savagery. They speak with their fists or a horsewhip. More gentle conversation is contracted to the panicked and oft repeated cry, "Way! Way! The Martians are coming!"

The plot too, like the world it portrays, is a jumbled mess in parts: the narrator breaks off the story of his flight from the Martians to insert several chapters recording every blessed thing that happened to his brother, who then disappears over the waves, never to be heard from again. When the narrator's tale resumes, we are led on a detailed and sometimes bewildering odyssey through London's southwestern suburbs. If you're familiar with greater London's topography, the considerable detail in this part of the story can make the narrative all that more realistic. But if you're a little less than a Cockney, the thick lather of placenames may send you scurrying for a fairly detailed map of the home counties.

But these flaws aside, The War of the Worlds is a very entertaining, albeit foreboding, read. I give it an extra star for being as exciting for a younger reader as for an adult. I suppose I was about 10 when I first greedily gobbled up, and I've read it about once a decade since then, enjoying its pace, clear language, and adventure each time just as much as the first.
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