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The War of the Worlds (1898)

by H. G. Wells

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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13,938256290 (3.75)665
As life on Mars becomes impossible, Martians and their terrifying machines invade the earth.
1890s (20)

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English (237)  French (5)  Spanish (5)  Danish (4)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (254)
Showing 1-5 of 237 (next | show all)
I was impressed that this book still felt so plausible given what we know now about Mars. ( )
  James_Maxey | Jun 29, 2020 |
This is my classic read pick for May 2020. It bears little resemblance to the 1950s movie version I so loved as a kid--pretty much only the heat ray and the twist ending. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. It's an intense read. Wells nailed the human psychological aspect in how people responded in different ways to the alien attack. I also enjoyed how steeped the book is in the Victorian era in which it was written. It adds a lot to the drama when you must rely on bicycles, horses, trains, ships, and telegraph wires. A classic still well worth reading over a century after it was written. ( )
  ladycato | May 15, 2020 |
This is a sci fi horror tale. ( )
  NAgis | May 6, 2020 |
"For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well." (pg. 144)

To read H. G. Wells is to read the father of science-fiction, perhaps rivalled only by Jules Verne, and if The War of the Worlds is to be read more out of respect than joy, it deserves a lot of respect. This is Genesis for sci-fi, the archetypal model of the genre: a short, speculative piece, low on characterization but bold on theme and ideas, rooted in what was known to science of the time but pushing that knowledge to its limits.

It's hard to appreciate just how original and inventive this piece must have been in 1898. Before space exploration, before even the Wright Brothers, Wells creates a scenario of invasion from another planet, convincing even if a modern reader necessarily notices some of the science has since proven to be in error. Wells anticipates societal breakdown long before the 'total war' of the Second World War, and poison gas sixteen years before the First (the passage on page 91 where Wells describes the people choking under the low, malignant cloud of 'Black Smoke' could, with very few changes, pass for an extract from Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front). Similarly, the armoured vehicles the Martians use on London could be seen as precursors to tanks. Wells has his Martians harvesting humans for food, turning southern England into their own personal Chinese wet market, before they succumb to bacteria, a point not lost on me as I read the book under coronavirus lockdown in 2020. He creates the Heat-Ray – anticipating lasers. The space gun which launches the Martian invaders from their planet to ours, though scientifically implausible, was an inspiration to Robert Goddard, who created the first feasible rockets and ushered in the Space Age that led to man's landing on the Moon and, perhaps, one day, Mars. The footprint of this slight book is enormous.

With that in mind, it pains me to admit that, as a story, The War of the Worlds is quite average. It reads quickly, because it is so short, and because it engages with such inventive ideas it is never dull. And yet, there is little in the way of plot, characterization or narrative flair. It follows a nameless man who witnesses the arrival of the first Martians, but the reaction and the lack of incredulity leave much to be desired. This surprise, public extra-terrestrial attack, in what was at the time the world's premier city and hub of empire, did "not make the sensation that an ultimatum to Germany would have done" (pg. 35). This seems dubious. "Anyone coming along the road from Chobham or Woking would have been amazed at the sight," the narrator tells us on page 22. Well, quite. His subsequent narration of his survival under the Martian-induced apocalypse is very dry, with all the vim of an after-action report.

There is a provincialism to the story that is very jarring, along with a low energy, and it makes it hard to buy into the threat of the Martians even as they butcher the London populace en masse. "So greatly had the strength of the Martians impressed me," our narrator writes on page 56, "that I had determined to take my wife to Newhaven, and go with her out of the country forthwith." Such lines, which are the norm, read like a polite but negative restaurant review, or, in their excessive reserve and settings like Chobham, Woking and Horsell, like a comedy that never breaks character. Speaking of character, neither the nameless narrator, nor his beloved nameless 'my wife', emerge as people for the reader to invest in. This is an ideas book, and nothing else.

Which is why it is the book's saving grace that it actually tries to say something valuable with its ideas. Even if the technology and ideas can seem old-hat nowadays, Wells – through his narrator – explicitly compares the Martians' curb-stomp of the heart of the British Empire to that empire's domination of other lands, asking difficult questions of the then-dominant imperialism of the West. "The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants… Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?" (pg. 9). It is a bold challenge, and Wells, admirably, goes even further, juxtaposing the Martians' treatment of humans (like ants – pg. 152) to man's often-cruel dominion over the animals. It is surely no coincidence that mankind's eventual victory – or, more accurately, reprieve – at the end of the book comes not from force of arms or human ingenuity, but from bacteria, the "microscopic allies" that share our world, slaying the invaders (pg. 168).

In such ways, Wells proves to be modern not only in his technological ideas, but also somewhat in his morality. He moves beyond the Victorian gentleman-adventures of his own time, however enjoyable they still are to read, and provides one of the first and most enduring commentaries on the modern world. Even if, as I said at the start of my review, the book is better read out of respect than for storytelling joy, that respect is unending. ( )
  Mike_F | Apr 9, 2020 |
This is the first time that I have ever read the War of the Worlds. I have been meaning to for a while now, but just never quite got around to it.

It is written as a narrative, from the perspective of one gentleman who lives very close to the landing site of the first Martian invader. He goes to see the landing site at Horsell sandpits, and is there when the first Martian attacks. Following more aggressive attacks from the invaders, he sends his wife of to Leatherhead to be with family, and he heads into London. He meets with various individuals, some of which he gets on with, and has to hide with a curate who he doesn't like much, as the Martians rampage across the south east.

It is quite forward looking for a Victorian / Edwardian science fiction book. He is trying to describe lasers and other devices, but he does not have the technological vocabulary to describe them as we would now. The dialogue is quite stilted, but given the time this was written and set, I would not expect anything different. What Wells does manage to convey is the terror that the population, and himself and his companions experience, and the despair and helplessness that he feels. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 237 (next | show all)
Mr. Wells's dramatic power is of the strongest, and through "The War of the Worlds" deals with death, destruction, and ruin, he has known how to manage a terrible topic in a clever and ingenuous way.

» Add other authors (122 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wells, H. G.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aldiss, Brian W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Asimov, IsaacAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barrett, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burnett, VirgilCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Card, Orson ScottIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clarke, Arthur C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crüwell, G. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Delgado, TeresaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fredrik, JohanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frost, Adam H.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gemme, Francis R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goble, WarwickIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gunn, JamesAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hurt, ChristopherNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Θωμόπουλος… Γιάννης Γ.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidd, TomIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parrinder, PatrickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Santos, DomingoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sawyer, AndyNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmölders, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spencer, AlexanderNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Targete, J.P.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ungermann, ArneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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But who shall dwell in these worlds if they be inhabited? ... Are we or they Lords of the World? ... And how are all things made for man?-- KEPLER (quoted in The Anatomy of Melancholy)
First words
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
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This is the main work for The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Please do not combine with any abridgements, adaptations, annotated editions, etc.
ISBN 1402552459 is an unabridged audio version of the novel
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Haiku summary
Mars attacks England.
Earth's defenses are no match,
But-- ah, ah, ACHOO!

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Penguin Australia

4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441038, 0451530659, 0141045418, 0141199040

NYRB Classics

An edition of this book was published by NYRB Classics.

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Tantor Media

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