kingshearte's Reviews > The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
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Feb 19, 10

bookshelves: 2010, fiction, sci-fi
Read from February 17 to 19, 2010

This was pretty good. Not as sensational as you would expect a book about alien invasion to be, and as I expect the movie is, but decent. It's a very human story, in that it's basically all told from one perspective (Well, two, since we get much of the narrator's brother's story as well, for some reason -- which Wells does explain, but I still think it's kind of weird), so anything inexplicable to the narrator was inexplicable for the reader as well. I always find that method of storytelling interesting, because it tends to make you think more about it. (For an excellent example of that, see I Who Have Never Known Men, by Jacqueline Harpmann. I read it at least fifteen years ago, and still think about it regularly.) I like that Wells compares the human experience in this crisis to what ants, rabbits, etc. must experience when humans show up on their turf every day. We take our dominion over everything else in the world so much for granted that it's nice to be reminded that there could still be someone superior to us, and that just because we may have a superior intellect, strength, thumbs, or whatever, doesn't actually make us better than the so-called "lower" lifeforms, and that their lives have value as well. The fact that most of the characters didn't have names serves to strengthen that parallel. You get to know the narrator, but you don't know who he is, and it doesn't matter. He's just one of those ants beneath your feet. I thought that was pretty effective. Sadly, however, I think his assertion that, "Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity -- pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion," is pretty much off-base. I realize this didn't actually happen, but I can't help but be cynical of the notion that even if it did, humanity would actually learn such a lesson. But it's charmingly earnest and optimistic of Mr. Wells to say so.

One thing I found really interesting is the way communication about the invasion happened. If it were to happen today, reports would be in cyberspace, and transmitted all around the world pretty much instantly. Sure, the Martians would figure out within a day or so how to cut off all the communications, but by that point, the whole world would know this was happening, what strategies were effective, and how to mount a defence that might almost be effective. When this novel is set, rapid communications consisted basically of telegrams, which, while much faster than a messenger on a horse, are still pretty damn slow compared to today's methods. And all it takes is one cut to the telegraph wire, and you've effectively cut off communication to a particular place. So it's interesting to watch the very slow progression of the news, and how the aliens continually caught people off-guard, even days after their arrival. The invasion lasted about a month, and I would suspect that, since it was basically confined to England, there were probably parts of the world that didn't even know it happened until sometime long after the fact. Could be an interesting book club discussion topic: how this book might have developed differently if it had been written today.

The way it was written, with an almost clinical detachment, makes it a little dry for modern tastes, I expect, but it still moved along at a pretty good clip, and you still got a good sense of what it was like. It maybe lacked the sheer terror that we'd probably all feel if this happened, but good terror really is hard to write on paper, I think. Being around when they did the radio show, though, that must have been a trip.

Ultimately, I don't know that I would necessarily call it the best science-fiction novel ever, but it's certainly not the worst, either. Worth the brief time it takes to read it.
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02/17/2010 page 30
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