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The International Writers Magazine: Sci Fi

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
Stephen Doyle

The War of the Worlds is the forerunner of that science-fiction staple, the ‘Alien Invasion’ story. Independence Day and dozens of other movies, books, and TV programmes pay homage to this original tale, and The War of the Worlds has itself been adapted in one way or another dozens of times. Most recently there was the 2006 film starring Tom Cruise that reinterpreted the story for a modern audience, and more well known is the musical version by Jeff Wayne. So if this original story is over a hundred years old now, then what is the appeal that always has people coming back read it?
Invaders and invasion are always themes that appeal to people. Obviously we now live in a more ‘knowledgeable’ age it could be said, where some of the original ideas of Wells novel are outdated. For example, we have a much greater understanding of Mars and the planets of the Solar System, and we know that Mars is not home to Martians. And we also know the composition of its atmosphere, soil, and so on. Likewise, some of the science of his book regarding biology, chemistry, and engineering and materials also can sometimes seem outdated in comparison to the furious pace of development over the last century and the advances made.

Nonetheless, the most recent film adaptation, while skipping on some of the more charming details of the book, such as the defiant warship Thunderchild striking a blow for humanity and lifting our hearts, and the vast isolation and loneliness the unnamed protagonist feels in the second half of the book, still works as a telling of the same story.
This could be because of the sheer alien nature of the invaders (I will not say Martians for references to this film, since they aren’t touted as coming from Mars), and the lack of effort to see things from their point of view, further isolating them from humanity. Something that is presented in the original text as well – a lack of understanding and common ground with the implacable Martians, making them truly alien and thus to be feared.

Perhaps this is the core of what makes The War of the Worlds so appealing to any generation, whether it is the 1890’s novel, the 1953 film, the 1978 musical or the 2005 Steven Spielberg film – the sense that something alien and unknown is attacking and destroying what we (humanity) know, and sweeping it aside so easily.

This could also be another message of the book, that civilisation can be destroyed and devastated, and that all of our human works and endeavours can be reduced to nothing and are subject to forces beyond our control. The Martians could be compared to an earthquake or natural disaster in that regard perhaps, that they are unstoppable and uncaring. On the other hand however, it is their greatly advanced technology that makes them unable to be stopped in their destruction, no matter how great humanity’s technology is against them – this is something that is shown in every adaptation of the story, and is perhaps the real message – that people should not become complacent despite the advances it has made. Especially when the simplest thing fells the Martians (in all versions of the story) bacteria and microbes, that brings the Martians to their knees despite all of their fantastic technology.

The War of the Worlds is then, like much science fiction now, a cautionary tale and one that has, and will, stand the test of time, as the message and warning it carries can always be applied.
© Stephen Doyle November 2007
Author: Brian Keaney
Stephen Doyle review

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