The lazy suburbs of London are disrupted by the unforeseen arrival of an extraterrestrial cylinder containing a live creature from Mars. The object attracts a large amount of attention from the inhabitants of the neighbouring streets, including a resident scientist, who observed the fall of the object from his observatory. The story follows the journey of this scientist, our protagonist, as he witnesses the appearance of the alien, the destruction of his fellow onlookers by an enormous heat-ray, and the gradual destruction of the city of London. As reinforcements from Mars arrive and a great extermination of the population of England begins, the characters in the book struggle to survive against the relentlessness of these killing machines.
The War of the Worlds is certainly a gripping, page-turning novel. It is short, compact and thrilling, yet at the same time extremely well written. I enjoyed the style of the writing; slightly in the fashion of a journalist or reporter, the narrator focuses on the events, rather than his emotions, allowing the reader to create their own response. There is a boldness to Wells’ writing, backed up by his extensive knowledge of science (he was the apprentice of the renowned biologist Thomas Huxley), which makes the plot seem almost believable. This is, however, dampened a little by the cheerful tone of the novel, which, although seemingly morbid, is simply a reflection on Wells’ opinions about society at the time. He used the destruction of London to hint at his dislike for Capitalism, perhaps symbolising his belief that the structure of English society in the 1890s was destined to collapse. This would certainly explain the relish with which he eradicates the political structure and social politeness of England, through the device of the aliens. Perhaps the most curious thing about the novel is the fact that H.G Wells himself never takes sides. Though we automatically feel sympathy for the narrator and animosity towards the aliens, there is not a moment in the novel where Wells speaks of the injustice of the situation; neither does he portray the Martians as doing anything morally wrong. He encourages us to look on the events of the novel in a non-biased, impartial manner, allowing him to hint at mankind’s insignificance, and at the ruthlessness of natural selection. The underlying messages beneath the action of the novel are what makes H.G Wells’ work so readable; the book is so easy to absorb because of the simplicity of the storyline, but it is the way that he conveys his views in such a subtle, delicate way which makes it a great piece of literature.