Book Review: ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells

by on September 7, 2011

in book reviews, Entertainment

This is a book review by Bruce E. Simmons of the classic title, “War of the Worlds,” written by H.G. Wells.  Yea…  I’m not exactly covering a trending book title, but hear me out and see why I was pleasantly surprised by this classic 1898 science fiction novel.

'War of the Worlds' Kindle Book CoverWhen I picked up the free Kindle version of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells from Amazon, it was to satisfy an inner curiosity.  We’ve seen so many different renditions of War of the Worlds that has spanned the ages, first from that radio broadcast in 1938 that sent the population into a tizzy, to the different movies that have come out in both movie theaters and the TV screen.

Not to mention the theme itself is a time-tested one of humanity and its potential conflict with that of an invading alien species.

A Bit On The Franchise

'War of the Worlds' original movie still

To date, we have a 1953 War of the Worlds movie, starring Gene Barry as Dr. Clayton Forrester.  There was the 1988 TV series that starred Jared Martin, where humanity had to deal with a new wave of aliens after the first wave had gone into hibernation back in the 50s.  It was good enough to last two seasons actually.

In 2005 we had another War of the Worlds that, despite being produced by The Asylum production company, and it was accidentally not a horrid* Syfy channel movie.  It starred C. Thomas Howell. It was directed, written and edited by David Michael Latt (2012: Ice Age, Titanic II). (*I didn’t say it was good… just not horrid.  It did sell 100k DVDs.)

Of course, the Asylum version was a mockbuster (blatant rip-off) of a big screen version that was coming out in 2005, that was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures.  It starred couch-jumper Tom Cruise, scream-fest mini-queen, Dakota Fanning*, Tim Robbins in a movie directed by the man himself, Steven Spielberg (Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 3, Super 8, True Grit…  ) off a screenplay by Josh Friedman, the man behind the great TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  (*Fanning screams a lot. I wonder if she’s really one of the X-Men?)

Then in 2008, there was another Syfy TV movie, War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave.  Again, with C. Thomas Howell and from The Asylum production company. (No comment on this… project.)

On With The Book Review of War of the Worlds

All this time, I’ve always held that original movie I saw, with the floating triangular disks as the version to hold near and dear to my heart and though I enjoyed the 2005 Spielberg version, I had always thought, “How quaint, he changed it up a bit to make it unique.”

What I didn’t realize was that Friedman and Spielberg were following the novel much more closely than I would have ever expected!  (I guess it helps if I read a few books now and again!)

The original novel documents two men, brothers, and their experiences with the Martian alien invasion.  The main character is a philosophical writer, that whom with we mainly follow, but we do then take a bit of a diversion and follow the tribulations of his brother for a bit.  Of note, we never learn the primary character’s name.

It’s a mildly slow start to the novel as at first, we experience humanity, as it was back in 1898, where news traveled via telegraph, messenger boy and trusted word-of-mouth.  We read about how scientists were watching what looked like atmospheric disturbances on the surface of Mars.  Yet, not knowing that each event they were watching, were harbingers of doom for humanity, the launching of the pods.

War of the Worlds Original Cover, per Wikipedia CommonsThen the Martians land like meteors, impacting the land at Horsell Common, a location southwest of London, near our main character’s home in Woking, Surrey.  The impacts make craters and the cylinders just sit there for a period of time.  Then suddenly there’s funny noises, green smoke and the aliens come out from a hatch that unscrews itself open from the inside.  But with Earth’s gravity being much greater than it is on Mars, they’re barely able to function here.

It’s early on when we get descriptions of the aliens and see them for what they are, bear-sized things with tentacles like octopus.

Then the masses gather around this thing and as a man accidentally falls in, he apparently gets snatched.  Our main character decides to take his wife to a nearby town until it’s later deemed safe.  While he was gone, a contingent of humans approach the aliens with a white flag, but they find themselves vaporized by a heat ray of sorts.

'War of the Worlds' Woking statue from Wikipedia Commons

When our main narrator returns to the site of the first landing, he sees that the aliens were permitted to build 100-foot tall creations that sport this devastating heat-ray and later, we discover, a secondary weapon that spouts black smoke, which kills everything it touches.

The invasion is on, but remarkably, the aliens are not impervious to our attacks.  For lack of a better term, they’re advanced steampunk invaders who catch on quickly and just have superior tactics up against a slow reacting military presence.  We also discover after a time that the aliens use humans as a food source, sucking the blood from their victims to feed.

After the first cylinder lands, others follow.  In fact, just as many cylinders as there were flashes in the Martian atmosphere were landing.  Whether humans are being smite and conquered, or rounded up for a food source, well, it depends on the moment, but needless to say, humanity is changed forever as the attack moves forward.

I’ve been tainted by the 1953 and 2005 movie, where the Martians are invulnerable to our attacks.  In this novel, they’re not invulnerable at all.  The first attack on one is a very successful attack, but then the Martians adapt, learn to understand our tactics and get ahead of the game on us, keeping us from ever getting another tactical foothold.  It’s after the first attack that the aliens stop using their heat ray as their primary weapon and deploy a black, insidious smoke that, like a thick fog, is unstoppable and deadly.

Throughout the entire novel, despite the horrors being announced upon humanity, you kept hoping, because the first one was brought down.  But the hope never formulates.  They have the upper hand and the speed of which we respond is much slower than it should be.  I mean, seriously, no cell phones folks.  Telegraphs and word-of-mouth by those who travel by train.

No, the Martians had it good.

We experience familiar scenes from past movies, from our primary narrator being holed up in a wrecked house, forced to endure living next one of these cratered machines as it builds itself up… to the crazy religious man, whom reminded me of Tim Robbins portrayal, when I read this part.

We even have the familiar scene of birds circling the machines, but it’s not because their shields are down, but rather, that they’re dead and the birds are feeding on them.

Like I said, I see so many familiar and yet different scenes in this novel that sparked the alien invasion story mythos.

The book was actually a fun read, seeing how things were done differently at the time of the writing and how back then, how far the imagination of H.G. Wells stretched to encompass an advanced alien species technology, whom today, we would call steampunk.  It was also unique in that it took place around the region of London and we got a piece of that lifestyle.

And through it all, the book felt original and kept you guessing.  Odd as that may sound!

As a classic of classics, this is a great read and a fun time to be had, if you’re curious or into recapturing the originals of our literature.  So yes I’d recommend making some quality down-time and reading the original “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells.

Thanks for checking out my book review.

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PS:  The Woking, Surrey statue image is that of a sculpture created by Michael Condron.  It was erected in 1998.

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