Things then progress from a series of seemingly mundane reports about odd atmospheric disturbances taking place on Mars to the arrival of Martians just outside of London. At first, the Martians seem laughable, hardly able to move in Earth's comparatively heavy gravity, even enough to raise themselves out of the pit created when their spaceship landed. But soon the Martians reveal their true nature as death machines 100 feet tall rise up from the pit and begin laying waste to the surrounding land. Wells quickly moves the story from the countryside to the evacuation of London itself and the loss of all hope as England's military suffers defeat after defeat.
With horror, the narrator describes how the Martians suck the blood from living humans for sustenance and how it's clear that man is not being conquered so much as corralled.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted with links at Fantasy Literature.
“It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.”
H.G. Wells’ earliest novels had a major impact on science fiction. The War of the Worlds, first serialized in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897 and published in novel form in 1898, is one of our earliest examples of the First Contact theme. In Wells’ story several spaceships from Mars land in England, creating vast craters. At first the English are either amused or indifferent until Martians pop out and start terrorizing them with heat rays, “fighting machines,” “black smoke” and a Martian plant that begins spreading across England. The English are not prepared to fight this kind of war and, because it’s the late nineteenth century, are unable to communicate their situation quickly enough to the outside world. By the time the Martians make their way to London, it looks like the entire human race is doomed.
The story is related in the first person by an unnamed narrator, a writer who lives in Surrey and observes the landing of one of the Martian ships, the building of their fighting machines, and the mass slaughter of his countrymen. He has a wife who he sends to a relative’s house, though it isn’t long before he realizes that she’s probably not safe there either. We also hear from our narrator’s brother and another character who let us know what’s going on in other parts of England where the Martians have landed. At one point our narrator and another man are trapped together in a partly destroyed house at the edge of one of the craters. For two weeks they must try to get along with each other, sharing very little food and water. During this time they are able to observe the Martians’ activity, which is horrifying, but they must stay hidden and silent so the Martians don’t notice them. This is not a favorable situation for maintaining one’s sanity.
The plot of The War of the Worlds is exciting but the best part of the novel is its imagery and language. The tall fighting machines which walk on long jointed legs and have tentacles that grab people are horrifying, as is the image of the craters and the intrusive red weed that grows wild and threatens to overrun our planet. Even the domestic scene at the beginning of the story is eerie and foreboding:
… I remember that dinner table with extraordinary vividness even now. My dear wife’s sweet anxious face peering at me from under the pink lamp shade, the white cloth with its silver and glass table furniture — for in those days even philosophical writers had many little luxuries — the crimson-purple wine in my glass, are photographically distinct. At the end of it I sat, tempering nuts with a cigarette, regretting Ogilvy’s rashness, and denouncing the shortsighted timidity of the Martians.
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food. “We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear.” I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for very many strange and terrible days.
Or this one in which he vividly contrasts the glory and the humility of man:
Since the night of my return from Leatherhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, had prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place — a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity — pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion.
H.G. Wells’ interest in Darwin’s ideas about natural selection are obvious and he seemed particularly interested in the evolution of intelligence (this was also a major theme in his novel The Time Machine).
Wells also doesn’t miss opportunities to mock the personalities and social customs of some of his fellow Englishmen. There is some of this when he’s trapped with the man in the house, but my favorite example is when he meets a man who has grandiose plans for kicking the Martians off Earth and recruits our narrator to join up. This part is just funny.
There’s so much for the modern science fiction reader to enjoy in The War of the Worlds. It’s a classic which has never been out of print and its story has inspired not only sequels and pastiches but also movies, dramatizations, music, and comics. If you’re only familiar with it from one of those secondary sources, I highly recommend reading Wells’ original. It’s in the public domain so it’s easily found for free, but I recommend the audio version narrated by Simon Vance who is one of the top narrators in the business. You can get this superb version for only 99¢ if you use the Wispersync deal from Amazon and Audible. (Purchase the Kindle version for free and then purchase the audio version (by Simon Vance!) for 99¢.)
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
What an imaginative, objective, gripping, bracing, and humbling novel H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds is! The story is well-known: Martians land on earth, in Woking in Southern England, and quickly set about destroying the British infrastructure and military defenses and crisping via heat ray the humans they don't capture to use as handy blood sources, all as detachedly and efficiently as humans would deal with a colony of ants or wasps. The first person narrator relates all this in a compellingly honest and passionate way. His relationship with the curate is more provocative and terrible than that between Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins in the 2005 movie version by Spielberg. For that matter, the novel, depicting the narrator's attempts to survive and to find his wife, is sparer and cleaner than the film, clotted by Spielberg's corny additions of a little daughter and teenage son into his divorced protagonist's life. Wells' imaginings of the Martian tripod war machines with their terrible heat-ray and poison gas weapons and of their spider-like handling-machines (with their uncanny animation and dexterity) and of the red creeping Martian weeds and of how panicked masses of people would behave are all vivid and morbidly fascinating. Via his Martians, Wells forces us to look again at our actions towards the ???inferior??? species and aboriginal peoples on our own world and also at our ???right??? to survive in an uncaring universe.
Simon Vance does his usual fine job of reading, everything being just right except perhaps that his female voices may verge on the artificially feminine. But all in all this is a great audiobook.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
Since scifi is not my preferred genre, I’m rarely tempted to use a valuable credit for space invasions. But the Daily Deal encouraged my curiosity about this classic and I was very well rewarded.
I haven’t seen any of the movie adaptations, but I suspect that any updating of the story to modern times would take away one of the things that made this story so chilling to me, and that was the slow dawning of realization that came over the humans as they faced the unimaginable. Such an invasion today would be instantly blasted from phone to phone around the world in seconds. The tension builds as the understanding of the danger occurs to the residents of the English countryside – blooming from amused interest to disbelief, blustery bravado and finally outright panic as the impersonal ruthlessness of the tripod warriors destroys all hope of escape. The description of man wiping out ants was chillingly apt.
Well’s acute understanding of human nature comes through as he vividly describes the heroics and villainy of panicked mobs, the reliance on or loss of faith, and the strength of will and resourcefulness to survive. And for anyone who has tried to actually wipe out ants – it’s never been done. This human insight makes the story timeless though written well over a century ago. Vance’s reading made it all the more personal and wonderful.
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds is apparently one of those literary classics of Science Fiction that only seems to have gotten better with age. It's still bizarre and terrifying to listen to, and this is due in no small part to Simon Vance's incredible narration.
I'd read the book years back, and have seen both cinematic adaptations. I wasn't sure how it would hold-up, but I was completely hooked from the opening minutes. I'm impressed by how full of weird this book is - the Martians and their tripods are some of the most original aliens we are ever likely to read. And some of the scenes and characters - the curate in particular - seem more relevant and upsetting than they did to me when I initially read it.
Vance is an excellent reader in general, and his performance here brings a lot of emotion to this apocalyptic vision. His voice and tone are sobering, a man witnessing the destruction of his civilization, trying to come to grips with it and figure out what (if anything) he is to do next. Vance is really the ideal reader for this one, and he turns in great work here.
All in all, this is an excellent storytelling experience. Highly recommended if you want a dose of classic Science Fiction.
Nothing like this ever was ---- a novel published in 1897 that prefigured powered flight, space travel, poison gas, lasers, and alien invasion from outer space. This is a short, exciting novel vividly read by the great reader Simon Vance, and I recommend people listen to it rather than read it: Vance makes it much more exciting than one can do reading silently to oneself. Every detail of the story was interpreted in modern terms in the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds movie and it's a lot of fun to listen to this book and then watch the movie and consider the parallels: the fleeing population, the loud moaning tripod-machines, the blackbirds at the end. The movie vividly illustrates the Martian takeover exactly as the book describes it in all its living red color. I appreciate the respectful homage paid by Hollywood to this great pioneering scifi story.
Our hero is quietly reading his paper at breakfast when news comes of a big crater splashed into the nearby Common from something large falling out of the sky. Many people go to see, and watch as a large cylinder unscrews at the top and strange beings emerge. A deputation arrives to parley, but talk is not what the Martians are after. Very bad things start to happen to the people, the town, London, and the countryside. More and more cylinders fall to Earth from Mars. A few people survive, but only by chance and only temporarily. It is the planet Earth itself that rejects the invaders.
Science fiction as we know it today would not exist without H.G. Wells, and no science fiction reader's library would be complete without a copy of War of the Worlds. In this version read by the incomparable Simon Vance, Audible has produced a real treasure. The story is first of all a tale of alien invasion, and indeed is so terrifying that no movie version comes close to the feelings of suspense it creates (of course some people found the radio version created by Orson Welles pretty scary too). I can't think of any description concerning the fall of civilization that succeeds as well as that short passage describing the flight from London before the invading Martians. But it's a lot more than just another horror story. Wells offers enough commentary to let us know that the plot allowed for a way of looking at how the British empire treated its subject peoples at the time. It is also a good look at how human beings react under pressure and what coping mechanisms work - and which ones don't - when the unexpected happens. It has as good a description of PTSD as any you'd read in any modern book, and this was decades before the syndrome was even defined. Amazing that we find all this in a compact work that comes in at under 6 hours. As much as I love a good thick novel, I'm really impressed by the succinct style and humanity of H.G. Wells. There are several versions of this classic book, but I can't imagine a better reader than Simon Vance for War of the Worlds, so this is the version I'd recommend to the undecided.
Say something about yourself!
The narrator did a wonderful job. His voice is perfect for the narrator, aside from the obvious accent his tone carries with it a sense that this is an average man who has done well for himself and is intelligent but is not as stuffy as "high society". His tonal shift when reading as the dim-witted yet intuitive soldier just fits the character. You can believe that while he has valid points, he lacks necessary skill to carry out an otherwise decent plan, based solely on the tone and inflections.
I have never listened to any of Vance's other performances but based on what I heard here, I would not be opposed to hearing them.
This entire book is moving. It is easily one of the scariest novels I have ever read (and later listened to). The helplessness of humanity in the face of the Martian invaders is terrifying. The heat ray is a scary weapon and it isn't too hard to imagine that if an alien race wanted Earth, this is essentially how it would go down. There is not a lot of back story but the beginning does cover a motivation for the Martians to come and invade Earth. Just as it isn't too hard to imagine Martians doing this to Earth, perhaps one day mankind will reach a point where we would become the invaders.
I always think that text and audio combine beautifully, it makes the experience all the more chilling to have it read aloud.
The great use of tension in the readers voice, really set the mood.
I have not, but I really want to hear more of his work.
I did it over a few days, due to time constraints, but I could easily listen to it in one sitting.
Even though the time frame is generations ago this is a fantastic book. This comes from a big techno-file. It amazes me this came from so long ago.
Having never read "The War of the Worlds," I thought it was about time. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the narration.
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