- H.G. Wells
The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common in London. At first, naïve locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag – only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray, as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilisation is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.
I had never read War of the Worlds before, but I knew the story from the various films made over the years (including most recently the Tom Cruise one), the Orson Welles radio broadcast and Jeff Wayne’s stage show/concert that I treated my parents to a few years ago. As such what surprised me most while reading this Sci-fi classic is just how surprising it is. This is the original alien invasion story that all others are based on. Without this story we wouldn’t have Independence Day or numerous other alien invasion stories. And despite similar plotlines being used a thousand times in the last one-hundred years, War of the Worlds is still pretty much perfect.
Set in the closing years of the 19th century some mysterious explosions on Mars lead to cylinders crashing into Woking common. Slowly, these aliens emerge and with their superior technology soon have humanity on the run. The aliens are creepy, they eat people and are not humanised at all which only makes them scarier. However, it is the humans’ reaction that is perhaps the most frightening part of this story. The casual arrogance at first that these Martians will be defeated easily, and then the fear and panic, followed by the defeatism and guerrilla warfare plans. What would you do to survive? Would you sacrifice your family, friends, acquaintance, strangers? And despite this examining of what it means to be human, there is plenty of action and adventure as the power and intelligence of the Martian slowly becomes clear.
I felt extra glimmers of affection with the recognition of various places named – Weybridge, Byfleet and of course London, which gave me an added advantage of being able to picture the authors escape route. But even without that knowledge it’s fascinating to see read a book that is little more than 200 pages, but has rightly become such an important part of 21st century culture, having influenced so many stories since it was first published. In short, it’s an easy read and compelling even after all this time.
Recommended for fans of blockbuster films! 9 out of 10.