Revisiting War of the Worlds

HG Wells is often overlooked by science fiction fans. A lot of fans tend to praise Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark, Heinlein, Herbert–a lot of great writers who I adore as well. However, people forget that HG Wells and Jules Verne are in many respects pioneers in the genre back when it was in its infancy.  (Arguably, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is the first science-fiction novel, but everyone talks about Frankenstein).

Recently, a few coworkers of mine decided to throw together a book club of sorts. First book suggested? War of the Worlds. So I sat down and reread the book for the first time since high school.

For me, one of the fascinating things in this book was how Wells tries to describe terms that are now commonplace in sci-fi. At the time, ideas like lasers and space craft were original concepts. Him describing the destruction and obliteration the Tripods wrought is a different experience. It’s less direct than a lot of modern writers, but it fills the reader with  greater sense of awe. Every event carries weight.

In many senses, I cared less about the plot and characters, and more about the prose. For anyone hoping to write science fiction, read Wells. His literary style is just superb.

His characters, well….I remember what they did.

His characters are observers of the action, not the other way around. There is little that they actually do in the plot. This is one of the reasons I feel the book has never really been adapted well on screen. It’s a story where people watch and record the invasion of earth. It’s not a story about people fighting evil or saving the world.

It’s the prototype of the alien invasion story, but it’s far from the greatest. Childhood’s End is a superior alien invasion story, and movies like Alien present far more threatening aliens. It’s certainly a beautifully written novel, but it’s hardly the nightmare fuel it once was.

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