Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and others

H. G. Wells's classic novel is wedded to Orson Welles's classic radio broadcast in this two-for-one book. The book has the complete script of Welles's show and a CD with the show and some clips of Orson Welles commenting on the show (including a meeting between Wells and Welles!). The complete Wells novel includes the art that accompanied the serialization of the novel in Pearson's magazine back in 1897.

Both are well worth revisiting. H. G. Wells's story of an invasion from Mars at the end of the 19th century in England is an exciting tale of one man fleeing from the attack. He describes what he sees of the Martians, and more interestingly, what he sees of the locals' reactions. At first, people are mildly curious if not completely aloof. Once the Martians make it out of their crater and start causing mayhem, people flee and civilization starts to break down. A lot of time is spent describing people trying to escape from the trouble. The main character reflects on the superiority of the Martians and how humans are to them like ants are to us--easy to squash and in no way equals. He also hints that the British are a bit like the Martians in their attitudes towards the conquered. The science is outdated but is not the main point of the story anyway.

Welles's broadcast was more an experiment in entertainment that turned into a panic. The broadcast starts with a music program that is interrupted by news bulletins of the aliens invading New Jersey. Listeners took it seriously and many fled their homes. It's easy to say from nearly a hundred years later that it sounds too implausible to be believed, but even today people are falling for fake journalism that is much less well-intentioned. And this book chronicles many other subsequent imitation broadcasts in America and abroad, some of which did inspire local panics. This also is still relevant today.


The H. G. Wells novel is discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast #188.

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