The War of the Worlds
H. G. Wells
At long last, I’ve got round to reading The War of the Worlds. I had really low expectations of H G Wells’ novel about a martian invasion of Surrey during the late nineteenth century and I think this is because that I already knew the story so well. As a child, Jeff Wayne’s prog rock version of War of the Worlds was compulsory listening for long car journeys, and I think that made me believe that I didn’t need to actually read the book.
I was very wrong – it’s probably the novel I have most enjoyed reading this year. H G Wells’ interest in science, astronomy and philosophy feed into the novel and make it more than just an adventure story. Although, the plot moves along at an exciting pace and is very entertaining in itself. I particularly enjoyed reading about places I know, such as Richmond and Putney, and imagining them overwhelmed by red weed from outer space. In fact, it is so geographically specific, that it would be interesting to plot the journey of H G Wells’ nameless narrator on a map and do a ‘War of the Worlds’ walking tour. (I’m sure some nerdy person must have already done this!).
I mentioned in a previous blog post about The Intellectuals and the Masses that John Carey thought that Wells had a loathing of suburbanites and fantasised about them being wiped out. I don’t get that impression at all from reading War of the Worlds – in fact, in some ways it seems like a precursor of Michel Faber’s novel Under the Skin, in its examination of how mankind has dominated the natural world and what would happen if we were to be toppled from our pinnacle at the top of the food chain by a more intelligent and sophisticated predator.
War of the Worlds has been so influential on literature and cinema, that I can now see its blueprint in many of my favourite books and films. The paranoia of being part of a surveillance society without one’s knowledge, the destruction of famous landmarks and the shock of what is familiar being obliterated, the existential threat from a colonising enemy; all have been recurring themes in science fiction since Wells’ tripods first menaced Victorian London.