No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…
I had never read H. G. Well’s The War of the Worlds before, but to say that I wasn’t familiar with its opening sentence would be completely wrong.
Celebrated as the quintessential and original science-fiction story, The War of the Worlds is not only a story that is well known, but has also been adapted into numerous films, radio programmes and even a musical (definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it before) along with various spin-offs and sequels. Wells’ work defined a genre and yet, to my regret, I hadn’t ever spent the time to sit down and actually read it.
Set in the nineteenth century – Wells’ time – the story follows an unnamed narrator, a journalist who recounts his personal experiences of an invasion from several Martian capsules that land in Surrey and start to move towards London. Written from the narrator’s perspective, the reader is treated to first hand accounts of how the first capsule landed, the local buzz that it generated and the terrifying slaughter that occurred once the Martians were ready to attack.
He also, with a little help by recounting his city-dwelling brother’s experiences, is able to give a very detailed account of what life is like fleeing these beasts as well as life under their occupation.
As a piece of literature it was unique for its time and it isn’t hard to see how it influenced writers who followed.
However, as a piece of written work, the story is quite difficult to read – particularly if you are already fairly abreast of all the intricacies of the story. As it is written from the point of view of a journalist, the story is told – in many ways – like a newspaper report. There is very little dialogue and Wells opts to interrupt his own narrative on various occasions to explain things that – whilst interesting – are not necessarily pertinent to the dramatic events at hand.
That being said, the story does have wonderful moments that make it well worth a read. The descriptions of the Martians and their fighting machines, as well as the desolation of the English towns that our narrator comes across, are so immaculately detailed that the imagination can run wild. The scenes where panicking civilians are running from the Martians are written with such authority that the chaos of the moment practically jumps off the page. And, although I do have a problem with the sparsity of the dialogue, there are moments of pure brilliance – particularly during the interchanges between our narrator and an artilleryman as the latter attempts to explain his plan to live in the sewers rather than fight the Martians.
Generally speaking, I couldn’t say that I enjoyed this book – it’s not really the kind of book that you can enjoy unless you really enjoy your science-fiction – but I had to admire the way it was constructed.
For that reason, I would rate it as a 3/5 – definitely worth a read, but not the most engaging book I’ve ever read.
The Book Review Rankings
Although not a mystery/crime/thriller read, The War of the Worlds does bear many of the hallmarks of what I find interesting in a story. Aside from the actual invasion itself and the effects thereof, Wells makes a clear point of talking about the selfish panic that grips each individual that our narrator encounters as well as the reasons that the Martians themselves have for invading Earth – something that is often overlooked in the numerous adaptions.
For those reasons, The War of the Worlds is eligible to be included on my book review rankings. However, on this occasion, it didn’t quite make the top ten, slotting in between The House of Silk and The Private Patient to make number 13.
As such, the top ten stays the same:
- The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth
- Time and Time Again – Ben Elton
- The Cinderella Murder – Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
- And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
- The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons
- The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
- The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
- A Cool Head – Ian Rankin
- The Slaughter Man – Tony Parsons
- You – Caroline Kepnes
If you have a suggestion for books that might make my Top Ten Mystery/Crime/Thriller reads, please feel free to comment below or use the contact page and I will see what takes my fancy…