Being the first book to count for my Zombie Apocalypse Month celebration, I naturally chose a classic alien invasion story full of action and bad science, but also great visions of the days to come after the end of the world. Wells did an excellent job to create a convincing fictional disaster sweeping England; so convincing in fact that the radio performance of the part of the novel back in 1938 sent some people running for their lives in hysterical panic. The book went on to entertain generations, and plant seeds for science fiction genre as we know it today. I have to admit that while I appreciated what Wells was trying to do in terms of social commentary and development of a great literary genre, I had more fun arguing with the book than just simply enjoying the ride. Let me elaborate.
I have mixed feelings about the Martians themselves as species. It is almost as if Wells believes that the advanced civilization is built upon the lack of emotions and giant brains unrestricted by other body parts. Obviously we have the science of yesterday to blame for these strange associations, but it was curious to see liver and intestines accused of causing imbalanced emotions that kept us from advancing into superior race. Also, I have to disagree with Wells’s theory about the necessity of appendage and organ atrophy to solicit extreme development of the brain. In human evolutionary history, what set us apart from other animals and what contributed to the increase of our cerebral volume were first and foremost upright stature and opposing thumb. The digression from these characteristics in Wells’s Martians, who basically look like giant octopi, might only indicate degradation as species. I cannot imagine these clumsy creatures wobbling around on their tentacles, trying to work their extremely precise mechanisms (far exceeding human inventions) with their limiting digits, nevermind building a machine capable of long-distance space travel and taking over mankind with all-powerful technology. There is a reason why squids do not fly on rockets.
The absence of such crucial group of organs like digestive system and Martians’ preference to stick to the diet of fresh blood again speaks volume about the nature of 19th century mindset. Long gone are the days when people associated regeneration of flesh with consumption of new blood. This sort of reminds me of Stocker’s Dracula and other relevant tales of vampirism (note the proximity of publications for both titles), where a superior being feeds on blood of its unsuspecting victims to prolong its own vitality and power. Now, modern medicine disregards these notions due to rejection of such injections by host’s immune system, but back in the day I guess such manipulations of basic anatomy were used to scare the reader senseless. What I did find exceptionally fascinating, is the brief description of the alien creatures the Martian invaders bring along as a snack. They are described as upright-standing, lean beings with round heads and large eyes, which immediately painted a picture of commonly accepted representation of little grey men from space in my head. Interesting!!
To step away from the science and to look at the politics, I confess to skimming past loosely veiled social criticism with bland indifference, until I stumbled upon a brilliant depiction of surviving mankind as described by the artillery man encountered by our protagonist. The soldier dreamt of rebuilding civilization by relocating selected few underground. He talked of sewers and subways that can be occupied safely away from the Martians by determined citizens like him, while the weak-minded folk can be left to be bred and fed like cattle. He imagined men of science collecting and spreading the knowledge to preserve it for the future, while strong-willed women took care of the dimmed tunnels and bore future rebels. He expelled upper crust men who considered themselves above eating scraps and contributing to society, and rejected silly women who rolled eyes and fainted in face of danger. He thought up plans of taking over alien technology to someday win the planet back. Not to say that I understand something in politics, but Wells comes off as rather Socialistic in his characterization of the artillery man.
Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the rich description of the aftermath of war and lessons learnt by the mankind. Wells suggests that we learnt flight from the invaders, who experimented with a flying machine as another means of hunting down humans. The fantastic technologies humans can inherit from the visitors from outer space fascinate us even today, as the government conspiracy theorist proclaim of interstellar experiments in secret laboratories. What I appreciate in Wells is his ability to look at things from different angles. He might be describing the exciting scientists dissecting alien bodies and machinery to find their inner workings for the benefit of science, but he never forgets to warn us about the little red planet that still hangs above us in the sky in silent menace. I love that in the end the world seems to go on, but his protagonist sees nothing but ghosts and phantoms from the past. There is this sad finality of things, and emotional dead ends that plague the man even when it seems that life moved on. What I learnt from this invasion is that if aliens do attack our little planet, all I need to do is hide until mother nature takes care of the invaders for me. Kind of a lazy man’s apocalypse, don’t you think?