Monday, August 13, 2012

The Martians are coming!

After finishing up The Importance of Being Earnest I needed another plane read. And I wanted to read something else that would count towards my challenges. And I wanted it to be free. So I went with H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. I didn't know much about the story other than the whole Orson Welles radio-broadcast thing. Also I already own a copy of this book that was my dad's. One of the reasons it was important when I was downloading this book that it be free.

I see how this was done as a radio news story. It sort of reads like a news report even though it's a first person narrative of an alien invasion. It's a pretty straight description of what this guy saw when Martians landed in England. There isn't a lot of narrative to get in the way of "just the facts".

I wish there was more emotion in the story. But it's more like "these aliens came and then they SHOT EVERYONE WITH HEAT RAY LASER BEAMS *PEW PEW*. Then there's some quiet time while we walk somewhere else and OH NO, THE ALIENS ARE BACK AND NOW THEY CANISTERS OF BLACK DEATH SMOKE *WHOOSH*". OK, maybe emotion is the wrong way to describe it. There's not a lot of character development I'm saying. Especially given this is a first person story and I know the characters as "main guy" "main guy's wife" and "main guy's brother". There are a couple other characters and Wells may have even given them names but I don't remember them cos the characters aren't really that important. They could be anyone.

It's one of the original alien invasion stories although I can't say I've read too many other alien invasion stories. I have, however, seen Independence Day, so I'm pretty much an expert on the genre.* There is the first strange landing, where people are curious about this cylinder from space. Then there's the violence as the aliens attack. Things seem impossible for humans, who are no match for the superior alien weapons until suddenly the tides turn.

*This next part has some spoilers. Kinda. You're prob fine to read this, but in case you want to go into this knowing nothing, skip ahead*
My favorite part of the book happened when the narrator and a curate were trapped when one of the Martian cylinders mostly buried the house they were hiding in. They can't escape because the only way out would require them to go right by the aliens. There's dwindling food and the curate slowly starts to go mad. Especially when they seem the alien feeding, which involves sucking the blood out of a living human. Maybe because this was on of the first times in the book the narrator slowed down and instead of describing the havoc the aliens were inflicting we got to see what this invasion actually does to an individual. Even then, there are still scenes that would have been nice to see but were mostly skipped over. Like the narrator knocking the curate unconscious to keep him from alerting the aliens that they're there. Instead of hearing the narrator's growing desperation as he tries to keep the man quiet, we get this:
As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration so intensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loathed doing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows.
Days are going by as they're both trapped in this prison, not knowing if they'll be found or starve to death and our narrator is trying to stay sane and keep the guy quite but eventually he knocks the guy out. There is this day long struggle about this and instead, we get one sentence about how he punched the guy so hard he quit making noise.
*Spoilers contained. Though really, you're probably fine to read it*

Another detail that was lost on me, a bunch of English cities were stepped on but unless you have a map handy (or you know, are from there) all this city listing will be sort of meaningless. Probably because I'm a self-centered American. Maybe if they were American cities/towns I would have cared more. I would have at least had a an idea of where they were. And yes I realize I could have checked a map. I also could fluently learn another language or take up heli-skiing but those things don't seem to be happening either.

One last detail, Wells mentioned bunnies a lot. My Kindle says there are 6 separate mentions of rabbit which I guess isn't that much but more than I expected to see. And not mentions like "and then the Tripod stepped on a rabbit." They're references that essentially equate people with rabbits. Or else how would a rabbit view humans. For example
The bare idea of this [alien feeding tactics] is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.
I'm not smart enough/too lazy to examine what the bunny/people references could mean so instead I'll just giggle at the picture of intelligent rabbits. Like Alice's white rabbit. But disgusted at people eating meat and also running from an alien invasion.

This book counts as my 19th Century read for the Classics Challenge. Making my way through!
*As usual, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Watch that not stop me from going on

Title quote from page 66, location 1356

Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. Tibeca Books. Originally published 1898