During the mid- to late-1890s, H. G. Wells was becoming a popular “scientific romance” fiction writer with several novels under his belt. Each posited scientific themes but quickly diverted readers into fantastic scenarios with extraordinary plot devices. Time travel, invisibility, interplanetary warfare, biological mutation–outrageous stuff for Victorian English readers (or even European or American audiences). But Wells was a social, political, and economic commentator. What later became classified as his science fiction work was originally intended to reflect existing (or developing) social, political, and economic problems at home and abroad.
There has been a return to “invasion sci-fi” in the last decade, including another movie remake of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898). Our book trailer summarizes the initial plot.
MPL Book Trailer #167
The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds allowed Wells to explore real-life issues such as escalating imperialism, increasingly destructive weapons of warfare, overpopulation, evolution, and social conflicts between the technologically-advanced nations against their would-be (or existing) colonial “primitive cultures.” ”Primitive” and “advanced” were always technologically-driven descriptions that wealthier European countries (like England) were keen to apply–”advanced” and “modern” to themselves, but “primitive” to those societies whose natural resources were ripe for exploitation by the wealthier, militant, technologically gifted states. That, in a nutshell, is the plot to War of the Worlds, except that Martians invade Earth to subjugate even its most “advanced” cultures. It is a metaphor for Wells’ commentary about social justice, governmental autonomy, and liberty.
What makes this book particularly remarkable is Wells’ powerfully descriptive prose. He takes pains to identify places in England affected by the invaders. You get a real sense of being where the action is. It is terrifying but strangely familiar, when counterpointed against geographically well-known territory (at least for Wells’ English readers of a century ago).
The narrative style of 19th century fiction, with its overly elaborate phrasings and quaint perspectives, may seem dated 114 years after the novel was first published. Still, Wells was a world-class wordsmith of the highest order, and the pages will simply fly past as you race to discover what happens next.
If you like classic science fiction, then Wells is a must-read. Jules Verne is another. You just can’t go wrong when such gifted, imaginative authors are at the helm.