War of the Worlds

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One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is that it helped defined a new genre of Science Fiction.  In War of the Worlds, HG Wells introduces us to the alien weapon of mass destruction – the Heat Ray – as well as intergalactic warfare.  When reading this book, it’s hard to not take it for granted that the concept of “men from mars” wasn’t a common theme at the time – Wells really brought it to life.

A brief history of this story:  In 1938 a radio adaptation of the book was read by Orson Wells, and was presented in the format of news broadcasts suggesting an actual alien invasion (why, we’ll never know).  Evidently, people took this seriously and wide-spread panic ensued – it is rumored that people were so terrified at the thought of alien invasion that they jumped out of windows to their death.  That’s the power of words, I guess.

From Wiki, I got this account from right here in good old WA state:  “While the broadcast was heard around the country, it made a deep impact in Concrete, Washington. At the point [in the broadcast] where the Martians were invading towns and the countryside with flashes of light and poison gases and the lights were going down, there was a loud explosion and a power failure plunged almost the entire town of 1,000 into darkness. Some listeners fainted while others grabbed their families to head into the mountains. Others headed for the hills to guard their moonshine stills. One was said to have jumped up out of his chair and, in bare feet, run two miles to the center of town. Some men grabbed their guns, and one Catholic businessman got his wife into the car, drove to the nearest service station and demanded gasoline. Without paying the attendant, he rushed to Bellingham, WA (50 miles away) to see his priest for a last-minute absolution of sins. He reportedly told the gas-station attendant that paying for the gas ‘[wouldn’t] make any difference, everyone is going to die!'”

War of the Worlds and the panic that it caused have become examples of mass hysteria and the delusions of crowds.  Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the broadcast was a test in psychological warfare.

As for the book itself, it was very focused on the psychological impact an alien invasion might have.  It was far less action based as it was emotionally charged, and described what it might be like in the first couple of days after an “alien pod” lands on earth.  The author painted a grim picture of a community’s mindset if they were faced with extinction.  He was a little apologetic when the main character resorted to violence, but I would expect that from the era in which it was written.

The story ends beautifully, with the main plot twist being revealed only ten pages from the end of the book.  I won’t ruin it for you, but it really speaks to the natural order of things, the beauty of nature.  That’s all I’ll say.

Buy the book 

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