16 March 2010

The War of the Worlds (Annotation 5)

The War of the Worlds... written by H.G. Wells... published (this edition) by New York Review Books... 1898/1960.

This book is clearly a classic, and for good reason; it set a standard for many followers. The story contained within is interesting, but the words were laid down over 100 years ago, so readers will notice some differences in the language. 100 years, however, is not so much time to make a huge difference, and the book is certainly readable by modern audiences, as long as they give themselves a bit of time to get used to the style in which it is written. Aside from the book's age, there is the matter of it being written by an Englishman, so there are some differences there, concerning the language. Also, despite the grand scale of the story, it is told in a way which is quite intimate. This may be a challenge to some readers who, being familiar with the filmed versions, may be expecting something a bit larger and "action packed."

Something that surprised me is the fact that the protagonist is never named. The book is written very nearly like an extended journal, so I am guessing that Wells intended the reader to accept the book as being written in his voice, as if this had really happened, to the world and to him personally. Having read this now, it is interesting to note that this is similar to what Orson Welles did with his radio version in 1938, being presented as if it was really happening.

I would guess that most people know the basic story here, but I'll give a brief synopsis just in case. The story takes place in England, in and around London. The narrator and an astronomer friend have witnessed ten "somethings" being launched from Mars over the course of ten days. At first, they did not know what they were or that they were "somethings" headed for Earth. Some time later the first "cylinder" lands in a field near the home of the narrator. It is very soon discovered, and people begin studying the huge cylinder. Attempts are made to open it, but eventually it unscrews itself. The Martians begin to come out. They are somewhat octopus-like in nature, with bulbous heads and tentacles. They operated large mechanical, tripod devices; and these are their means of transportation... and destruction. These tripods have what Wells calls a "heat-ray," which is apparently similar to a modern laser, though seemingly a larger beam than normally thought of by modern audiences. The Martians used this device in reaction to the immediate onlookers. At first, some people think that the Martians may have been frightened or misunderstood. Soon, though, more cylinders land on Earth and the Martians begin a full attack on the English cities.

The narrator, along with many others, flees his city, but he decides to go back to his home to observe the Martians. When he gets back home to find his town in shambles, he changes his mind again, and decides to go back to where he sent his wife. This is essentially how the rest of the book is told, with the narrator trying to survive his quest back to his wife. The story is written in a very introspective and journal-like manner. This may seem tedious at first, but after the reader gets used to it, it starts moving along at an easier pace. Wells gives various descriptions of the Martians within the tripod machines, their manner of feeding, and how they busy themselves with the building of their machines. He also tells in great detail of a plant, called here "the Red Weed," that the Martians (purposefully or not) brought with them. The Red Weed begins to grow on earth, and actually grows out of control. This phenomena is pretty interesting, not only to the narrator, but to the reader (me) as well. The weed eventually loses its footing, and the Martians themselves begin to be affected by their stay on our planet. You may know the ending, or you may be able to guess it... otherwise, I'll leave it for you discover on your own.

This is an interesting read that I would recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in science-fiction. As I said, it is a classic, and it is worth the time to have read it at least once. Some books of this age are written in a rather dry fashion, and even though they are considered classics may not be of interest to many readers. Wells does write with an intriguing style once the reader becomes accustomed to it, and there are certainly some beautiful passages.