The War of the Worlds

By Maggie Tan

The War of the Worlds. H. G. Wells. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd, 1898. 192 pp. ISBN: 9780375759239

H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, is one of the first stories to depict an extraterrestrial invasion of planet Earth. Despite being overlooked by its more well-known radio and movie adaptations, H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds proves to be a beautiful piece of writing, that has helped to lay the foundation for countless other works.

The novel is made up of two parts, Book One: The Coming of the Martians and Book Two: Earth under the Martians. Book One deals with the arrival of the Martians on Earth, or more specifically, in England. As it becomes increasingly clear to the anonymous narrator that the Martians have set out to destroy mankind and take over planet Earth, the protagonist tries to survive the apocalypse, all the while struggling to reunite with his wife. Book One also discusses the experience of the narrator’s unnamed younger brother in London, who manages to escape the Martians by the skin of his teeth. Book Two continues with the adventures of the narrator.

The novel feels disturbingly realistic, because the protagonist presents the story as a factual account, describing events he witnessed in retrospect. As a result, however, his matter-of-fact tone makes some of his situations unintentionally humorous. For example, when the narrator came across a body, he felt repulsed as he had never touched a corpse before, but he turned it over anyway to feel his heart, and reported that the body was in fact “quite dead”. However, this does not take away the overall sense of realism in this novel.

Although The War of the Worlds was written well over a century ago, the novel feels far from outdated. The concept of the Martians, their advanced weaponry, and the way in which they wipe out humanity is well thought out. The story is not only ahead of its time, but also convincing due to how the facts are put together. Moreover, the novel touches upon many ideas and questions one still has about extraterrestrial life. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise why this novel continues to exert great influence on movies, (comic) books, video games and such.

The War of the Worlds is a classic science-fiction novel that is worth picking up. Original, highly imaginative and endlessly imitated. The War of the Worlds is a novel that still manages to hold its own today.

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