I’m sure everybody knows this story by now. If they haven’t seen any number of what seems like an unending supply of screen adaptations, then they know the musical or in some way, the basics of the plot so the recap here will be very brief: A male narrator writes in diary form, the events of an invasion of Earth by people from Mars and his attempts to avoid death or capture.
The beginning is very quaint.While the first arriving Martians are building their infernal tripods and spider machines, people still go about their daily business, regarding the first attack on the common with what at first seems like little more than mild irritation. In a way this is understandable. Written toward the end of Queen Victoria’s life, Britain was on top of the world as the only superpower. Invasion of this sceptred isle would have been so utterly alien when the last successful invasion had been over 800 years previously. But being kind to Wells, we have the benefit of another 112+ years of alien invasion books and films so this at the time possibly added a lot of tension.
And tense it is, there are some genuinely gripping moments. Witness the first attack on the common or when the narrator and the preacher are trapped in a house right next to a pit where the machines are being built.
The context of the book is blatantly anti-imperialism. The narrator remarks at one point that he now has an insight into how the indigenous populations of overseas British territories must have felt upon our arrival.
Most of the characters are pretty straightforward but I’m still not sure what to make of the artilleryman. Upon their second meeting, he proclaims the area to be “his land”. When he recognises the narrator, he immediately welcomes the man who had on their first meeting given him shelter and food. His plan to take back the planet through science and hard graft is reminiscent of the early socialism movement of progress and pulling together for the greater good. He could also be unhinged, determined as he is to steal a tripod and turn it on the attackers.
The end, when it comes, is hinted at from roughly halfway through so it is far less the deus ex machina of some of the adaptations. The red weed seems to die off almost as soon as it is established.
A truly superb novel that deserves to be on every sci fi fan’s bookshelf.
Afterthought: I must confess that I took some amusement when the narrator states that The Daily Mail was the first newspaper to go back into production. Of course they were always going to be first to complain about foreign invaders entering our country unannounced and trying to take over!