The War of the Worlds by H G Wells

1927 repring

1927 reprint: Amazing Stories

The War of the Worlds by H G Wells is my first book as part of Vintage Sci Fi being hosted by Little Red Reviewer.  I was really looking forward to this as I do love the Time Machine.  The TL:DR version of this is that this is a very intriguing novel, it explores a lot of themes, for the time it was written it has great imagination and it certainly helped to spawn a number of other works of sci fi, however, I must confess, that I didn’t enjoy this as much as the Time Machine.

The War of the Worlds is told by an unnamed narrator and recounts the tale from start to conclusion of the invasion of earth by martians from the planet Mars:

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.’

These alien creatures have basically been looking at the earth and their own planet being dry and barren have been coveting something else.  And so, using cylinders that are shot from their planet they descend upon our world and wreak havoc with their powerful weapons.  Ray guns that incinerate whatever they touch into oblivion and poisonous gases that shroud the countryside killing everyone they touch.

This is without doubt a fascinating story.  It is probably a reflection of the period where the threat of invasion was feared.  It’s interesting to read the narrator’s thoughts on the aliens themselves.  They have developed massively in intellect and consequently have become so intelligent that even compassion seems to have been eliminated.  They destroy without feeling, equally without malice, they simply intend to inhabit this world and in doing so will not only kill and obliterate everything that stands against them but also ultimately will use humans the way that humans use beasts of burden.

On the face of it though, and in spite of this novel being called The War of the Worlds, the action is quite confined and limited to London and its surrounding environs where utter destruction and death is inflicted upon the local populace.  Obviously the intention would have been to spread further afield and in fact the martians were building flying machines for that very purpose.

We follow in the footsteps of the narrator who along the way encounters a number of people and adventures.  Again the narrative takes a strong look at the way that civilisation crumbles very quickly in the wake of such disaster with the saying ‘every man for himself’ being particularly relevant.  The storyteller manages to retain a certain amount of self respect and still tries to help people along the way although he reaches a particularly dark period when he becomes thrown into close confines with another person, known as the Curate- who seems to be spiralling into madness.

The story is told in two halves.  The first being the invasion when people are trying to fight back or flee the martians.  The second half is where people apparently realise that this is a war that they’re not going to win and they start to focus on staying alive, foraging for food and staying under cover.

I did enjoy this book but think I perhaps would have enjoyed it more had I read this before The Time Machine.  As it is I think I expected a certain type of writing style which isn’t found here.  This is almost a coldly recounted story.  There is very little characterisation and the absence of this makes it difficult to feel any real fear or joy for the narrator.

I’m glad I read this though, it is a very compact and inventive story.  I was particularly interested to watch how news of the martians was very slow to spread and people even in neighbouring villages seemed to treat the rumours as mere trifles until real disaster struck.  We really do take our modern technology for granted I suppose with stories circling the globe in a matter of minutes.  It was really intriguing to witness these restrictions written at a time when they were the norm. I leave you with the following (although, be warned if you haven’t read this or seen the adaptations you might want to avoid as it is something of a spoiler):


‘By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the martians ten times as mighty as they are.’

20 Responses to “The War of the Worlds by H G Wells”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Great review! I don’t remember if I read this in the past, but it’s interesting to see how it set the pattern for any invasion and/or disaster story that came after, especially where human reactions are concerned. Food for thought, indeed….

    • @lynnsbooks

      I thought I had read it to be honest but I definitely hadn’t! There are a lot of themes for sure and it’s very interesting in that respect.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Michael

    One thing that fascinates me about War of the Worlds is how often the ending is mirrored in a lot of modern genre stories — the virus that can stop the aliens. It’s interesting to see it have its roots here.

    And I agree on the changes in communication! I’m reading Simak’s The Visitors and there are descriptions of teletype machines and people waiting for information when an alien ship shows up. So easy to forget how instant information and news can be these days!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, it’s really noticeable when you read a novel of this age and it makes the read quite fascinating.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Classic story, one I really should read! Great review of a book perfect for Vintage Sci-Fi month.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I definitely preferred The Time Machine by Wells but this is still good and it has some great quotes in – particularly, the start and end. I’m pleased I read it tbh.
      Lynn 😀

  4. jessicabookworm

    I really need to read something by H G Wells! I have this and The Time Machine on my Classics Club list so no excuse really 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I love the Time Machine – I’m glad I read this but of the two the TM is my favourite.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        Sounds like I should start with The Time Machine then 🙂

      • @lynnsbooks

        I think so – I suppose it depends if you want to save the best for last!
        Lynn 😀

  5. Vintage Goodies around the web-o-sphere | the Little Red Reviewer

    […] Haggard, Logan’s Run, The Stepford Wives,  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and a review of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Go let her know which cover arts are your […]

  6. Vintage Sci Fi: Book No.27 | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] a good book with some great quotes.  I personally preferred The Time Machine by Wells.  Review here.  Today let’s look at some cover […]

  7. Wendleberry

    I pretty much agree 100% 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Definitely not as good as The Time Machine. I wonder if I would have liked it more if I’d read it first but basically I can’t ‘unread’ what I’ve already read so it’s pointless thinking about it! I did love a couple of the quotes – they gave me the chills.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Rachel

    Interesting that you think Time Machine has more characterization than WoW. I just read both recently (I haven’t gotten around to reviewing this one yet), but I didn’t really notice all that much characterization in Time Machine, either. But now that I think about it, there is a little more, isn’t there?

    To me, Time Machine was unquestionably the most poignant of Well’s famous novels, though I’ve read some pretty powerful short stories by him. After reading WoW I also wasn’t left wondering “what did this mean to Wells?” like I did when I read Time Machine.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’ve not really been very articulate there. I think what I was probably looking for was personable or just easy to like. I found the narrator in WoW to be a bit cold. It felt like a news report rather than a personal account and I didn’t form any real attachment due to the lack of any real emotion in his tale. That’s probably just me tbh and I always think it would be interesting to see how these early reads would stack up if I tried them again now. Or more to the point would I have enjoyed WoW more if I’d read it when I was younger? Was I just more easily impressed then? Maybe. I certainly have fond memories of Time Machine. I should fine the time for a reread by way of an experiment.

  9. January: My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] War of the Worlds by H G Wells […]

  10. poseidons99

    Have to agree that Time Machine (or even The Inivisible Man) is better than The War of the Worlds

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I agree. It was okay but I think having read Time Machine first I probably had high expectations.
      Lynn 😀

  11. Mine eyes deceive me! | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] War of the Worlds by H G Wells […]

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