Book Review: The War of the World by H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds

This is the third book I’ve read by H.G. Wells, following The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man. His writing is this strange mixture of Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, and Jules Verne. I feel like this book is perhaps his most famous and yet for some reason I knew pretty much nothing about it going in. I do know that the Orson Welles radio broadcast of this story in 1938 terrified people so much as they thought it was real (or at least the newspapers reported so). I know there are several movie adaptations. And yet, despite that, I have never heard or watched a single adaptation. In fact, all I knew going into this book was that the story is about aliens trying to take over the world and it’s rather a popular book…not a lot to go on, honestly.

Release: 1898

Page Count: 192

Format: Audiobook

Synopsis: The invasion of earth has begun, as mysterious Martians land on Earth in England and begin obliterating the English countryside. The book is considered a classic science fiction novel which has inspired numerous books and defined a genre.

Review

On one hand, I loved the unique feeling of this book, so different than reading a modern sci-fi novel. The details of the “Martians” and their abilities were fascinating, and yet the characters felt very human and ordinary, which I appreciated. Wells draws on many scientific theories of the time like evolution to create a truly interesting journey. It relies more on science than quick action scenes. The one thing that I was not expecting was the story being so personal, as opposed to epic, following only an unnamed protagonist and his brother. We don’t see the big picture of what is happening outside of England, and only hear the specific witnesses.

There are quite a few interesting themes this book contains, but two are my favorite. The first is that humanity seems so powerful and yet compared to the power of the world and the unknown, we are honestly extremely powerless.

Even the ending shows this. Big SPOILER ALERT! Second, humanity doesn’t destroy the aliens that were invading them. No, it is bacteria, the infections which humanity has build up immunity to which actually kills the aliens, stopping the invasion. On one hand, it felt a little anti-climatic in the sense that most alien invasion stories end with a grand battle and defeat. However, is also feels much more realistic. I’m reminded of the case in history of the Spanish coming into South America. They actually killed very few of the natives, instead bringing with them bacteria and diseases which destroyed the civilization.

The book also makes an interesting case for the stupidity due to fear…or lack of wisdom. When we hear the protagonist’s brother’s story, we see people frantically escaping London from the invasion, but using one road and trampling people. They are mad, a mob without intelligence. Fear of the unknown causes people to stop thinking rationally.

It is oddly familiar to me now, as I sit during Covid-19 quarantine, where people act crazy out of fear of the unknown.

One thing this book does best, outside of the examination of humanity, are the martians themselves. They are described as being tentacle-type creatures, who possibly communicate telepathically. They are both more evolved and less evolved than humans (or at least they evolved differently). They come from Mars, and have a greater ability to adapt to changes in density and gravity, despite Mars having different gravity than Earth. They move in these massive, three-legged metal machines which cast a fiery laser of light, starting everything on fire that it touches. I don’t know about you, but that sounds so cool to me! Minus the whole weird tentacle thing…

To summarize my thoughts, I enjoyed this book, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It was also written earlier than I thought it was. Perhaps because it became so popular during the 1930’s, I thought it was written then, so I was a little surprised to see carriages and not cars. It’s also interesting to think how much technology has changed since that time, how if we had a similar invasion now, the aliens wouldn’t stand a chance. I would recommend this book, especially as it’s a pretty quick read, and I look forward to reading more of Wells’s writing.

Have you read this book or anything by Wells? Have you seen any of the many adaptations? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The War of the World by H.G. Wells

  1. I read this book last year but I haven’t seen any of the adaptations. I really, really liked it actually. The ending was my favorite to be honest. Just like you said, usually these books end with a BANG. This one was like no,no, let’s be real here ( though it’s a book about alien invasions?) and we’re gonna have this other thing kill them. It was unexpected!
    Also, thinking it was published in 1898, it has my respect.

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  2. If you really want to dive into the War of the Worlds, Peter J. Beck’s The War of the Worlds is a “biography” of the book from how Wells conceived it to all its many iterations in movies, tv, and music.

    Stephen J. Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind is one of many sequels to Wells’ novel and does some interesting things in questioning the character and reliability of Wells’ narrator.

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