The Chances of Anything Coming from Mars: Thoughts on War of the Worlds

Do you “believe” in life on other planets? I don’t but only because – in this case – “belief” is irrelevant. People used to believe that this planet was the centre of the solar system. The fact that this hypothesis was violently enforced does not make it true. What matters is the evidence and the logical deductions. Granted, we have limited evidence about life on other planets and what evidence we do have is disputed.

Referring back to a much older post where I discussed the Hubble Deep Field Image, in that small piece of space Hubble identified over 3000 galaxies. Each of these galaxies contains billions and billions of stars. To quote the late Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, if we are alone in the universe that is an awful waste of space. My logical deduction then is that life on other planets is highly probable.

wikimedia.org

From the point of view of fiction writing, “alien encounters” is perhaps the most prolific sub-genre and it all began with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

Despite his faults as a person, Herbert George Wells was a remarkable visionary. The ‘Heat Ray’ that is the primary weapon of the tripods can be compared in function to lasers. Giant guns are used to fire the cylinders out of the Martian atmosphere and toward Earth. Though it is said that such a method could not work, Robert H. Goddard who invented the first rocket was inspired by Wells’ concept. The black smoke, a poisonous gas spread by rockets fired by the tripods, describes what we now understand to be chemical weapons, something not seen until nearly 30 years after publication. The Martian vehicles do not have wheels, they move almost organically… something that robotics engineers are working on today.

Neither must we overlook the social messages of the novel. In the early years of Darwinian thought, it is probably the first novel to have at its core the evolutionary ideology of survival of the fittest and evolution by natural selection. The Martians, as the dominant and older species are asserting their technological and intellectual supremacy of an Earth yet to think about the space race as anything approaching a possibility. Wells clearly believes that we could have overcome our invaders, the artillery man advocates stealing Martian weapons, figuring out how they work and turning them on the invaders.

Wells also seems to understand the dangers of invasive natural species. The Red Weed, introduced by the Martians, kills everything in its path. We are only just beginning to realise the dangers of invasive species and the impact they have on indigenous flora and fauna: grey squirrels and North American crayfish and Japanese knotweed in Europe, rabbits in Australasia, yellowstar thistle in North America are all problematic and forcing out native species in some cases, destroying ecologies.

It is arguable whether this was a literal ecological warning fuelled by his understanding of evolution, or an analogy for the conquests of technologically primitive peoples by the British Empire under Queen Victoria. After all, this was a time at the end of the Industrial Revolution; we were seeing the rise of social liberalism and Marxism that emerged as a result of the abuses of the powers that be. Wells was a Marxist through most of his life, a member of The Fabian Society and was a cautious supporter of Stalin (until he met the man many years later). We see his political theme also in The Time Machine where he sees the human race splitting genetically between the decadent upper classes and the lower intelligent workers of the lower classes/

Whatever Wells was trying to convey, The War of the Worlds is one of the iconic science fiction novels that sparked several film adaptations and a highly successful musical. I find it remarkable that we can take so much from it over a century since publication.

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7 thoughts on “The Chances of Anything Coming from Mars: Thoughts on War of the Worlds

  1. There is a theory floating around now that the current conditions on Mars are the fallout of a million year old nuclear armageddon on the planet. This theory is to explain the red dust (leftover iron and steel that was vaporized), the odd structures, and the weird magnetic readings. Instead of war of the worlds, it was more like war long ago on that world.

    1. That’s some pretty far out theory, usually presented by those on the far fringes like Graham Hancock.

      As interesting and as fanciful as they are, people like Hancock are not to be taken seriously until they can come up with something solid.

  2. Great article.
    I’ve always assumed that the concept of the Martians came from him requiring a more technological enemy to defeat the, at the time, unassailable Victorian might. Britain was pretty much the only Superpower on Earth when he wrote it (at least as far as Englishmen were concerned) and in order to terrify Britain a foe would have to be advanced. I believe he got the idea to use Martians because of the press coverage of Mars at the time, with the freshly ‘discovered’ canals, and so on, and it distanced him from other authors who suggested the Germans or the French would be the problem.

    I have to take a moment as someone who enjoys the far-fringes of pseudoscience (and it appears my sins have come back to haunt me here but I’ll get to that) to say the Nuked Mars theory is hardly one Graham Hancock would endorse, David Ike possibly, Von Däniken perhaps, Georgio Tsoukalos maybe, but not Hancock, he is far from the “far-fringe”, more like the close fringe (perhaps just the bleeding edge with regard to his work on the flooded cities off the Indian coast). His theories centre on ancient ‘advanced’ human civilizations (megalithic cultures with coastal cities, and wooden boats, not jet plane, or ufo, flying modern or super civilzations) that fell and were flooded at the end of the ice-age, as well as the some archaeoastronomy theories about the pyramids that are usually dismissed because we draw maps the other way up… (and for little other reason if Horizon can be believed). Although he did have a daliance with Crustal displacement theory when it had legs, he has now rather abandonned that concept for a catastrophic ice-age ending instead, due to an asteroid impact (because current geo-science kind of backs that up).
    The real far-fringes exist only on the internet (and maybe cable TV), where you find all sorts of half-baked buffoonery competing with the slightly odd take at the data that people like Hancock have. As well as people like me, who like making them up, for the lolz and actually this one is one of mine… Or at least, one I heavily contributed to, back when I was a lowly web-monkey with no sci-fi writing career. I used to write posts on fortean mesage boards, cryptozoolgy sites and the like…

    The Nuked Mars theory is fun, but has a few problems, that I ignored when I talked it up many years ago, firstly biological processes fixed the iron on earth, (well actually to liberate the oxygen, probably through cyano-bacteria) so that we could have plants and animals; the rocks that predate life on Earth are also high in ferrous oxides, and have a similar deep red colour, unless they suggest a lost pre-life nuclear disaster civilization on Earth too… Which rather indicates we are unlikely to find signs of complex life on Mars, even in fossil form.
    Secondly weird magnetic readings are to be expected in any iron rich planet without an active core. We see magnetic anomalies in Earth’s crust, the largest one created by our active core lets a compass point (mostly) north… The moon has similar magnetic anomalies, and so does Venus, as do most mettalic asteroids. This is mostly because some scientists use the word anomaly where they actually mean significant reading above background.
    Strange rock formations are usually a product of natural processes (even on Earth, there are more natural simulacra and pyramid shaped hills than actual carved rocks or pyramids), which on another planet we would expect to produce things that look odd to earthly eyes, and like the giant’s causeways are far more fun mythologised than scientifically explained.

    So sorry to anyone who bought into Nuked Mars theory but it is guaranteed purest, sci-fi writer hogwash… Unless the ancient lizard masters simply chose me as their vessel to reveal the truth…

    1. Thanks for that explanation. I did read The Mars Mystery many years ago and found it fanciful even before I did my archaeology degree. In that one, he suggests an advanced civilisation that built pyramids and the “face” monument on Cydonia was wiped out by a massive asteroid.

      On WotW, I agree the anti-imperialism message is there and I touch on it in my review a couple of years back. https://sweattearsanddigitalink.com/2012/01/28/book-review-war-of-the-worlds-by-h-g-wells/

      1. The Mars Mystery is not one of ‘his’ books I have read (or in fact knew existed so apologies) – actually looking at it now, I’m not sure how much was Hancock and how much Robert Bauval & John Grigsby. Bauval seems to believe more archaeoastronomy stuff than Hancock (although not generally to the space brothers/ancient aliens extent) and how Grigsby got involved and why, or what, he would have contributed I have no idea.
        Whoops, oh well. I guess Hancock might believe in the aliens after all… Oh I hope one of them didn’t get Nuked Mars off the internet in the 90s.
        Although, considering Nasa have since confirmed Mars was once water rich since he published the book, its not as fantastic as it might have appeared then. Martian Pyramids and Sphinxes aside (which really are utter bunk, unless we get there and find archaeology, of course).

      2. Cool, glad we could clarify that. I think The Mars Mystery was one of his earlier books so it’s understandable he has since changed his mind. I know Alan F. Alford spent his life writing about ancient aliens. Gods of the New Millennium was a cracking read if incredibly fanciful and within two years he had retracted everything he believed while writing it. So, it does happen

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