Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

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Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 199 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
'For countless centuries Mars has been the star of war'
The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common near London. At first, naive locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag - only to be quickly killed by an all-destroying heat-ray as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge. Soon the whole of human civilization is under threat, as powerful Martians build gigantic killing machines, destroy all in their path with black gas and burning rays, and feast on the warm blood of trapped, still-living human prey. The forces of the Earth, however, may prove harder to beat than they at first appear.
The first modern tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds remains one of the most influential of all science-fiction works. Part of a brand-new Penguin series of H.G. Wells's works, this edition includes a newly established text, a full biographical essay on Wells, a further reading list and detailed notes. The introduction, by Brian Aldiss, considers the novel's view of religion and society.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

As a science fiction fan, I have always been interested in reading The War of the Worlds, since it's the first of its kind. The modern movie with Tom Cruise put me off a little bit, even though I know it was vastly different than the novel. However, I finally got around to reading it and thought it was pretty good.

Told mostly in first-person narrative, the novel starts off with cylinders landing on Earth. The Martians look like sickly, ungainly creatures barely able to survive on Earth, but then prove otherwise, using their heat rays and gigantic killing machines to wreak havoc on England.

If you're looking for story with a lot of character development, look elsewhere. This is a novel solely focused on its plot. The narrator is basically the same person from beginning to end, just a little bit more jaded from war near the end. However, the plot is fantastic and moves along at a brisk pace. Wells does an excellent job in painting a picture of terror and war. I really enjoyed the suspense and thriller aspects of the novels. Also, it's simply interesting to see how this novel has influenced modern interpretations of science fiction and alien invasions.

There are a lot of moments in this story that seemed convenient or forced; of course the main character would be trapped in a room with a peep hole so that he can observe the Martians and describe them; of course had a brother in London who lived to be able to relate those events, etc. This slightly bothered me, but it did further the story and provide a better picture of what was going on. Though I wish Wells would have used some other methods of conveying this information, I can see the dilemma of wanting to provide a seemingly-real firsthand account while also being able to provide all the details.

Also, the narrator bothered me. He always seemed to know best and know more than everyone else, and I didn't really see justification for those thoughts. But, that's more of a personal issue.

I do think this is best enjoyed when you have some knowledge of the historical context in which its written. It is imbued with the scientific thoughts of its time, as well as political and social ideas. (Namely, the idea of colonialism.) Understanding all of that makes The War of the Worlds a much better and more interesting story.

Overall, I liked this novel. It's interesting to see how our ideas of aliens and alien invasion stories have developed, and it's simply an entertaining, dramatic story -- there were times where I held my breath in anticipation for what would happen next. I would recommend this for fans of science fiction and classics lovers.