Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: Thoughts on War of the Worlds

  1. #1
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    2,201

    Thoughts on War of the Worlds

    I think the book must have been explosive when it first appeared, but somehow I did not find it very gripping. I suppose this is the book we can trace back from all those tedious alien invasion films. It is slightly interesting to me because I am somewhat familiar with the west of London towns mentioned in the book. The late C19th seemed to be an interesting period for literature. The earlier great Victorian novelists were dead. Shorter books were becoming popular. The newer novelists were strikingly different. In technology, they had the telegraph but not radio. They had steam engines, but still relied on horses for personal transport. These are some of my thoughts I noted down while reading the book.

    Ch 1 - The narrator assumes Mars was warmer in the past and that life was there when Earth was molten, but that it had cooled. It had cooled because it was smaller than the Earth, as if he thought the planets' surface heat came from the planets' molten cores - wrong.

    The narrator thinks that Earth will cool and be like Mars one day. Well the Earth's seas will evaporate and life start to die off, but that would be due to increasing heat from the sun.

    The narrator refers to the persecution to extinction of other animals, and inferior races, in particular, the Tasmanian Aborigines. This is interesting, so British persecution of the Tasmanian Aborigines was known about. Note, a modern author would never dare call another race inferior, though.

    Ch 5 - The heat ray could be an infra-red laser.

    Ch 8 - The narrator refers to an ultimatum made to Germany. I've read before there was a climate of militarism in Europe in the 1890s.

    Seems unbelievable that the events of that days would not have spread more panic, even without radio.

    Green smoke - what could that be, chlorine?

    The narrator refers to a Martian element with 4 lines, unknown on Earth. It sounds like they put it through a spectrum analyser. Scientists had discovered most of the naturally occurring elements by 1898, but there were a few gaps in the Periodic Table.

    The black smoke used by the Martians put me in mind of the gas warfare of WW1, and also the fear of it at the start of WW2, when Britons were issued with gas masks.

    How many Martians were there, and did they only land in the south of England? It seems that there were not very many of them. I think there were ten pods with a few Martians per pod. Britain was the greatest superpower at the time and London was the biggest city in the world, so maybe the Martians decided to tackle it first.

    One ship, Thunderchild, got lucky and destroyed two Martians before getting destroyed itself. The Royal Navy was vast then. Mightn't they have put up a bigger fight?

    If the Martians landed today, I doubt they'd have it all their own way. The soldiers managed to destroy one with their field guns. Modern targeting systems are much more effective.

    The refugee stream is reminiscent of Dunkirk.

    It was a bit unlucky for the narrator to be in the house right next to where a Martian pod landed.

    Part 2 Ch 2
    It becomes increasingly obvious that the Martian invasion failed. Interesting narrative device.

    Did the pods slow down at all before hitting the Earth? That's a lot of kinetic energy.

    Why wouldn't Martian technology include wheels? Does that mean Martian machinery did not have gears, shafts or other rotating bits?

    Ch 8
    The narrator says there are no microbes on Mars. Seems odd. Today scientists would look for life in the form of microbes where conditions are too tough for higher forms of life to exist.

    Ch 10
    The narrator says the secret of flying was discovered from the Martian flying machine. Surely it was just an engineering problem by then. They knew about aerofoils. It was just a question of putting a light but powerful engine on a frame with some wings and away you go. Difficult to do with a steam engine I imagine, but internal combustion engines were around by then. The Wright Brothers' first flight took place about five years after the book was published.

    The narrator refers again to the unknown element. What equipment was used to analyse it: mass spectrometer, chromatography, spectrum analyser? Each element has a signature spectrum response. An electron in a lower shell absorbs light above a certain frequency to jump to a higher shell. When the electron drops back to a lower shell, it emits light at a certain frequency. I think it's something like that anyway. I think there were still a few gaps in the Periodic Table in 1898, but why would these elements be more abundant on Mars than on Earth? He says this element was combined with Argon. Argon is a Noble gas that barely reacts with anything, so that does not sound likely.

    The narrator says the Martians may have tried landing on Venus. Venus is more inhospitable to life than Mars, so that does not sound likely.

    The narrator says the sun is getting cooler. No it's not. It's getting hotter.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  2. #2
    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    5,070
    Re. Venus:. It wasn't discovered until the late 1960 and 1970's just how incredibly hostile atmospheric and surface conditions are on Venus. Based on knowledge to that point, SF writers often portrayed it as a life-friendly tropical world of jungles and swamps or planet-spanning oceans.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

  3. #3
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    6,132
    I just read The War of the Worlds. I liked it better than Kev did, perhaps because I wasn't expecting as much. But I see what you mean when you say the writing is a little flat. I attributed that to Wells' nerdy proto Socialist rationalism. His narrator may claim to be a psychological philosopher but with only two exceptions (the curate and the artilleryman) there is little characterization and not even much dialogue in this novel. His wife is a phantom and his younger brother, the central character in four chapters, is no character at all--he's just a stand in for the narrator. So also for Professor Ogilvy, the first cylinder's discoverer (who at least gets a name).

    Which brings me to the novel's other fault: its perspective. Either the narrator needs to be present at scenes he describes or else those who were there need to be doing the narrating. That could have been achieved (a la Dracula) with diary entries --but who has time for things when running from heat rays? The best solution would have been a collection of post war recollections from various witnesses. Of course, Wells could have used a third person omniscient narrator, but I think would have detracted from the personal and solipsistic loneliness at the heart of this story.

    But those things said, I found The War of the Worlds a good read. I had concerns at first about Wells' descriptive powers. Its images seemed to be silhouetted and viewed from a distance. There were red glares on the horizon, green flashes, and ever encroaching darknesses. It was sometimes hard to see what he was describing. But eventually the odd beauty of this landscape won me over. I imagined thick billows of "black smoke" (the Martian version of mustard gas) slowly rising and falling over London. When the red creeping plant began to climb from the pits and over the ruins, I could see it clearly--like the opposite of a Turner landscape: dark, brooding, and burning with hellfire. It was a nightmare.

    The most vivid chapter, also the most believable and prophetic, was The Exodus from London. The desperation of refugees, their vulnerability, and their violence toward one another, is older than Sennacherib (to whom the Martians are briefly compared). Wells' genius was to imagine what that hellish chaos would look like on a historically unprecedented scale (although it would be exceeded in the lifetime of some of Wells' readers). In this chapter alone, The War of the World seemed like a contemporary novel. And it didn't seem to be about Martians at all.

    Another oddly prophetic vignette turns up in a later chapter when the narrator emerges from the ruins of a house to find an abandoned crater piled high with the skeletons (presumably desiccated corpses would have been too upsetting to mention) of the prisoners whose blood the Martians had been feeding on. Really, in its own way, it's Bergen-Belsen--although the name would have meant nothing to Wells.

    I'll now address comments of yours (still talking to Kev) if I think I have anything to add.

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    The narrator refers to the persecution to extinction of other animals, and inferior races, in particular, the Tasmanian Aborigines. This is interesting, so British persecution of the Tasmanian Aborigines was known about. Note, a modern author would never dare call another race inferior, though.
    Darwin discusses the destruction of the native Tasmanians in The Descent of Man. Wells is all about Darwin.

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    How many Martians were there, and did they only land in the south of England? It seems that there were not very many of them. I think there were ten pods with a few Martians per pod.
    I think there were 50 Martians (one of whom was killed by a shell) and ten or eleven cylinders. It would have been like Pizarro's handful of Castilians riding into ancient Peru.

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    One ship, Thunderchild, got lucky and destroyed two Martians before getting destroyed itself. The Royal Navy was vast then. Mightn't they have put up a bigger fight?
    Ah, not when that ol' black smoke starts blowin' your way. The interesting thing about this scene is that the Martians hesitate at the approach of the Thunder Child, not quite what it is or how to fight it. That's why the tripods go down. It's not entirely clear, but it seems like the Martian response is to go to their next level of military technology, the flying machine--just as black smoke was held back until they learned they were vulnerable to the humans' artillery. This is consistent with the idea of their preserving as many humans as possible so they could be used after the war as a food supply.

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    If the Martians landed today, I doubt they'd have it all their own way. The soldiers managed to destroy one with their field guns. Modern targeting systems are much more effective.
    Aw hell, if they tried it here we'd take 'em out with tomahawk missiles--nine o'clock, Monday morning. ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    Did the pods slow down at all before hitting the Earth? That's a lot of kinetic energy.
    Yes, I know. The impact alone would probably have destroyed the Home Counties. That would have saved some wear and tear on the heat rays (assuming the cylinders survived).

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    The narrator says there are no microbes on Mars. Seems odd. Today scientists would look for life in the form of microbes where conditions are too tough for higher forms of life to exist.
    Yes, it's a somewhat creaky plot device that allows Wells to make his main point(s): that Darwin's vision of natural selection is heroic and that our own natural history is one to glory in--even part of a divine/deistic design:

    By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the Earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

    But for that to work, it's not enough for the Martians simply to have no immunity to earth's pathogens. They have to have no immune systems at all due to their being no microbes on Mars. Otherwise they would have brought germs to earth with them, against which humans had no immunity. We all would have been equally screwed. So the Darwinian scenario isn't quite as rosy as Wells paints it.

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    The narrator says the secret of flying was discovered from the Martian flying machine. Surely it was just an engineering problem by then. They knew about aerofoils. It was just a question of putting a light but powerful engine on a frame with some wings and away you go. Difficult to do with a steam engine I imagine, but internal combustion engines were around by then. The Wright Brothers' first flight took place about five years after the book was published.
    Well, perhaps it was a helicopter. You want to come in low and slow with that black smoke, otherwise it will drift off your target. ;-)

    My only remaining observations have to do with the two fleshed out characters, the curate and the artilleryman. I think they represent opposite extremes of this middle way Wells' middle way Wells wants us to walk. The curate is probably the easier of the two to understand. He is something like Nietzsche's pale criminal. Wells says, "...he was one of those weak creatures, void of pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves." In Social Darwinian terms he is a dangerous weakling whose elimination could only be beneficial. The narrator is explicit about hating him and has a violent (but not technically murderous) role in his death.

    The artilleryman represents another dangerous extreme--in fact, he seems to foreshadow National Socialism fairly well. He proposes to the narrator (who briefly entertains the idea) that they build a purified race of "able-bodied" and "clean-minded" men and women to live under an authoritarian regime in the London sewers until the fit are able to acquire enough military technology to launch a cataclysmic war of their own. The weak will not be tolerated:

    Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. Itís a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race.

    Notably, in the radio play (performed after the rise of the Nazis but about a year before the invasion of Poland), Orson Wells' character rejects these ideas in disgust. The novel's narrator has some scruples, too, but giving up on them mostly because he doubts the leader is fit for the role:

    I seemed a traitor to my wife and to my kind; I was filled with remorse. I resolved to leave this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony.

    Drink and gluttony may be an allusion to tyrants like Nero. The idea is less "No, that would be wrong" than "No, that would end horribly." To be fair to Wells, there were no Nazis in 1898. So who was he talking about? Nietzsche? Huxley? Spencer? I don't know. Perhaps he was just rejecting extremism. I think Wells wanted Social Darwinism to be prettier than it actually is.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  4. #4
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    2,201
    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    I just read The War of the Worlds. I liked it better than Kev did, perhaps because I wasn't expecting as much. But I see what you mean when you say the writing is a little flat. I attributed that to Wells' nerdy proto Socialist rationalism. His narrator may claim to be a psychological philosopher but with only two exceptions (the curate and the artilleryman) there is little characterization and not even much dialogue in this novel. His wife is a phantom and his younger brother, the central character in four chapters, is no character at all--he's just a stand in for the narrator. So also for Professor Ogilvy, the first cylinder's discoverer (who at least gets a name).

    Which brings me to the novel's other fault: its perspective. Either the narrator needs to be present at scenes he describes or else those who were there need to be doing the narrating. That could have been achieved (a la Dracula) with diary entries --but who has time for things when running from heat rays? The best solution would have been a collection of post war recollections from various witnesses. Of course, Wells could have used a third person omniscient narrator, but I think would have detracted from the personal and solipsistic loneliness at the heart of this story.

    But those things said, I found The War of the Worlds a good read. I had concerns at first about Wells' descriptive powers. Its images seemed to be silhouetted and viewed from a distance. There were red glares on the horizon, green flashes, and ever encroaching darknesses. It was sometimes hard to see what he was describing. But eventually the odd beauty of this landscape won me over. I imagined thick billows of "black smoke" (the Martian version of mustard gas) slowly rising and falling over London. When the red creeping plant began to climb from the pits and over the ruins, I could see it clearly--like the opposite of a Turner landscape: dark, brooding, and burning with hellfire. It was a nightmare.
    Good imagery. Though I say it myself, the English countryside is beautiful. The gas reminded me of mustard gas too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    The most vivid chapter, also the most believable and prophetic, was The Exodus from London. The desperation of refugees, their vulnerability, and their violence toward one another, is older than Sennacherib (to whom the Martians are briefly compared). Wells' genius was to imagine what that hellish chaos would look like on a historically unprecedented scale (although it would be exceeded in the lifetime of some of Wells' readers). In this chapter alone, The War of the World seemed like a contemporary novel. And it didn't seem to be about Martians at all.

    Another oddly prophetic vignette turns up in a later chapter when the narrator emerges from the ruins of a house to find an abandoned crater piled high with the skeletons (presumably desiccated corpses would have been too upsetting to mention) of the prisoners whose blood the Martians had been feeding on. Really, in its own way, it's Bergen-Belsen--although the name would have meant nothing to Wells.
    That hadn't occurred to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    I'll now address comments of yours (still talking to Kev) if I think I have anything to add.



    Darwin discusses the destruction of the native Tasmanians in The Descent of Man. Wells is all about Darwin.
    I don't want to be too mean about the Tasmanian Aborigines, but I read they were about the least technologically advanced culture on Earth. They had even forgot about technology they used to know, like how to make fire and how to make throwing sticks. Do they have flints in Tasmania? If they knap flint tools, they will generate sparks. Surely it's not a great leap to reinventing fire. I wonder if they were just a bit thick. Not that that's an excuse for persecuting them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    I think there were 50 Martians (one of whom was killed by a shell) and ten or eleven cylinders. It would have been like Pizarro's handful of Castilians riding into ancient Peru.
    Interesting, I had not thought of that. Pizarro's men had horses, guns and metal weaponry. The Peruvians had none of this stuff. It's like HG Wells had read Jared Diamond's Steel, Germs and Guns.


    Ah, not when that ol' black smoke starts blowin' your way. The interesting thing about this scene is that the Martians hesitate at the approach of the Thunder Child, not quite what it is or how to fight it. That's why the tripods go down. It's not entirely clear, but it seems like the Martian response is to go to their next level of military technology, the flying machine--just as black smoke was held back until they learned they were vulnerable to the humans' artillery. This is consistent with the idea of their preserving as many humans as possible so they could be used after the war as a food supply.



    Aw hell, if they tried it here we'd take 'em out with tomahawk missiles--nine o'clock, Monday morning. ;-)



    Yes, I know. The impact alone would probably have destroyed the Home Counties. That would have saved some wear and tear on the heat rays (assuming the cylinders survived).



    Yes, it's a somewhat creaky plot device that allows Wells to make his main point(s): that Darwin's vision of natural selection is heroic and that our own natural history is one to glory in--even part of a divine/deistic design:

    By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the Earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    But for that to work, it's not enough for the Martians simply to have no immunity to earth's pathogens. They have to have no immune systems at all due to their being no microbes on Mars. Otherwise they would have brought germs to earth with them, against which humans had no immunity. We all would have been equally screwed. So the Darwinian scenario isn't quite as rosy as Wells paints it.
    Again this reminds me of Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel, only it worked in reverse against the invaders. American Indians were wiped out by successive European diseases they had no immunity to. Diamond reckons it was because the American Indians did not have domesticated livestock to act as reservoirs of disease.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Well, perhaps it was a helicopter. You want to come in low and slow with that black smoke, otherwise it will drift off your target. ;-)

    My only remaining observations have to do with the two fleshed out characters, the curate and the artilleryman. I think they represent opposite extremes of this middle way Wells' middle way Wells wants us to walk. The curate is probably the easier of the two to understand. He is something like Nietzsche's pale criminal. Wells says, "...he was one of those weak creatures, void of pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves." In Social Darwinian terms he is a dangerous weakling whose elimination could only be beneficial. The narrator is explicit about hating him and has a violent (but not technically murderous) role in his death.

    The artilleryman represents another dangerous extreme--in fact, he seems to foreshadow National Socialism fairly well. He proposes to the narrator (who briefly entertains the idea) that they build a purified race of "able-bodied" and "clean-minded" men and women to live under an authoritarian regime in the London sewers until the fit are able to acquire enough military technology to launch a cataclysmic war of their own. The weak will not be tolerated:
    I cannot remember the artilleryman very well, when the narrator meets him the second time around. On the Jeff Wayne concept album, both the curate and the artilleryman have expanded roles. The curate is just a weird, cowardly, religious nutter in the book. He's just reached the end of his tether (whatever a tether is). On the record, he has a wife and is some sort of unhinged, fire and brimstone nutter. I looked for the bit in the book where the artilleryman discusses building a world underground, but I can't remember reading it. In my opinion, the concept album is better than the book.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. Itís a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race.

    Notably, in the radio play (performed after the rise of the Nazis but about a year before the invasion of Poland), Orson Wells' character rejects these ideas in disgust. The novel's narrator has some scruples, too, but giving up on them mostly because he doubts the leader is fit for the role:

    I seemed a traitor to my wife and to my kind; I was filled with remorse. I resolved to leave this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony.

    Drink and gluttony may be an allusion to tyrants like Nero. The idea is less "No, that would be wrong" than "No, that would end horribly." To be fair to Wells, there were no Nazis in 1898. So who was he talking about? Nietzsche? Huxley? Spencer? I don't know. Perhaps he was just rejecting extremism. I think Wells wanted Social Darwinism to be prettier than it actually is.
    All and all, an interesting book, but more interesting to read about than to read.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  5. #5
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    2,201
    delete
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  6. #6
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    2,201
    delete
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  7. #7
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    6,132
    A tether is a length of rope (or chain), usually anchored to something, used to restrict the movement, say, of an animal. It can also be used as a verb. Don't the English have tetherball (the mystic martial art of punching a ball tethered to an aluminum pole)?

    I haven't read Diamond, but it makes sense that Europe and the Middle East's early Neolithic would have resulted in a greater cumulative exposure to animal-born diseases than in the New World. Presumably aboriginal Americans had more naive immune systems. I don't have enough biology to know if that actually holds up, but the one-way transmission of disease from Europe to the Americas (with the apparent exception of syphilis) is indeed striking.

    I liked The War of the Worlds more than I thought I would. I knew the plot from the radio play but wasn't expecting Wells to engage as much as he did with philosophical ideas of his day. The following (spoken by the artilleryman) is pure Nietzsche:

    "All these—the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way—they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them—no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other—Lord! What is he but funk and precautions?...Well, the Martians will just be a godsend to these. Nice roomy cages, fattening food, careful breeding, no worry. After a week or so chasing about the fields and lands on empty stomachs, they’ll come and be caught cheerful. They’ll be quite glad after a bit. They’ll wonder what people did before there were Martians to take care of them."

    It reminds me of Never Let Me Go, although in ways that Ishiguro never intended. But I guess that is another subject.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-05-2019 at 02:50 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

Similar Threads

  1. Worlds
    By MAND4 in forum Personal Poetry
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 12-27-2011, 11:59 AM
  2. Thoughts From Two Worlds(transcribed)
    By mechanic12 in forum Personal Poetry
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 01-12-2008, 11:15 AM
  3. War of the Worlds
    By EV Rider in forum The War of the Worlds
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 04-02-2006, 03:05 AM
  4. War Of The Worlds
    By jgosling in forum Wells, H.G.
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 09-27-2005, 06:10 PM
  5. War of the Worlds
    By Unregistered in forum The War of the Worlds
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 05-24-2005, 06:07 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •