One of H. G. Wells's most entertaining science fiction novels, The War of the Worlds is still more thoughtful than most works in the genre. Don't let that scare you away—the classic tale of alien invaders in late-19th century England is exciting adventure fiction, filled with human vs. alien combat and scenes of human panic as whole cities evacuate in haste. Wells' prose is clipped and careful, evoking a familiar world confronted with an unimaginably foreign, destructive presence.
The plot is simple—the narrator observes the approaching spacecraft, the aliens land and begin their reign of terror, the narrator is separated from his wife and tries to survive. Laser guns appear for the first time in literature as death-rays on the aliens's roving war machines. The aliens are from Mars, and bring a rapidly-growing red plant that begins to turn Earth the same color as their home planet. Ultimately the Martians succumb to a tiny opponent in one of sci-fi's most famous endings.
Written 20 years before World War I, The War of the Worlds presages global conflict better than Wells himself understood. By imagining war as a fully mechanized and impersonal enterprise, he forecast the unprecedented expenditure of human life the First World War generated. What's ironic is that even with the unstoppable destruction-machines of the Martians, Wells's estimations of the ruin a world war could cause were dramatically more conservative than the actual carnage of the Great War itself.
This is a true literary milestone. It was the first novel to posit the existence of malevolent life on other planets, of its ability to approach and land on Earth, and of alien life possessing technical knowledge superior to ours. It was one of the first to suggest the possibility of intergalactic travel (previous stories were far more archaic and anachronistic), and it was basically the first great science fiction novel. That it's still widely read today is tribute both to its author's imagination, and to his storytelling skill.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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