The War of the Worlds (1897)

Creators

H. G. Wells (writer).

Extent

Read in English in my early teens.

Categorization

Paradigmatic science fiction.

Commentary

Brilliant. The premise of an intellectually superior species, grounded in a detailed biology, showcases the essence of good science fiction: The Martians are entirely physical (substance monism, philosophically elegant) and independent of human existence, while also neatly intersecting human interests, adding excitement. The basic driving forces of the plot are ecological: The Martians are starving at home, go to Earth to feed, and are repelled by microbiological forces they did not anticipate, somehow not having them at home.

The opening paragraph foreshadows this, even mentioning the “infusoria”. Wells clearly demonstrates the (real) foolishness of rating lifeforms solely by their intellectual capacity, while also questioning human intellect. He was way ahead of his time in combining both of these lines of questioning, rational concerns which undermine natural human chauvinism.

The ending–“it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future”–is everything good about H. P. Lovecraft without Lovecraft’s paralytic fear of life. Granted, it is not plausible that the Martians would be able to feed as vampires directly on human blood. That is merely the sort of phobic speculation Lovecraft would engage in, but it could easily have been rectified by the addition of some adapter for chemical composition.

On top of all of this, Wells writes beautifully and concisely (“disturbed by dogs”), he anticipates the gas attacks and other impersonal horrors of WW1 and the human herding of WW2 (or contemporary capitalism), as a metaphor the novel maps pretty well onto late-Victorian capitalism, industrialism and colonialism, and it’s a mecha spectacle too! The only major flaw of the work is its Cartesian false dichotomy of reason vs. emotion. The idea that the Martians are unemotional neither makes sense nor is it carefully implemented, given that they are described as jealous, hungry etc.

References here: The Sands of Mars (1951), Ringworld (1970), First Men in the Moon (1964), Urusei Yatsura (1981).

fiction mecha text

Adaptation:

War of the Worlds (2005) IMDb

Commentary

The hopelessness of the first two thirds or so, and Ray’s refusal to fight, are great. The pre-existence of the machines, the harvesting, the victory, the preservation of the microbiological ending, the family plot, and super-cute phobic Fanning, not so much.

fiction moving picture

Adaptation history:

“War of the Worlds” (2013) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Commentary

The fake contemporary talking head interviews are a foolish ploy and take up too much time here. Other than that, it’s fine.

moving picture non-fiction