Tuesday, May 27, 2008

War of the Worlds (1898) - By HG Wells

The world outside our planet has always fascinated us, even when we could not see what is out there. In addition to a quest with trying to finding out more of the mysteries of the Universe, there was always a few of the unknown. Suppose there is an alien race on other worlds, there is no reason to believe that they would be friendly towards humanity (in fact, given the ferocity with which humanity fights each other, it is very easy to assume that another race would find it easy to be hostile to us). And of course, if it is a race older than us, they would have a more advanced technology, more advanced weapons, and may be easily able to overcome us (and destroy humanity).
There has been a lot of movie and books coverage of the prospects of an alien invasion of earth, with movies such as Independence Day, Mars Attacks being the most recent. However, this book (by the futuristic science fiction writer HG Wells) is probable the earliest book that deals with this subject (leaving aside the tales of the pyramids and other such structures having been built by aliens), and also details a believable reason for why the attacks by a more technologically superior race would have stopped. In addition, Mars had already been believed to be the center of an advanced race when the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli (1835-1910), described some of the natural phenomenon existing on Mars, and these were wrongly translated into English as 'there are canals on Mars'.

The War of the Worlds by H G Wells

This novel had remained popular, but what made this novel extraordinarily popular, and at the same scared a large section of the population, was a radio broadcast on Halloween (October 30, 1938) by Orson Wells, where he made listeners panic, believing that the news stories of an actual invasion were true.
The book is about the proposed landing of a Martian ship (cylinder) in the town of Woking, England near the end of the 19th century. This is preceded by the observations of a series of explosions on Mars and the launching of a meteor towards Earth. This meteor lands on Earth, and strange looking Martians start emerging from the cylinder and start building up machinery. Approaching humans are killed by a death ray (a heat ray). The machine that the Martians have been building is a 3-legged fighting machine that uses the heat ray and also uses poison gas in the form of a black smoke.
Attacks on these army of attacking Martians are easily repelled, and they are soon taking control of vast sections of South England, with the populations of those areas evacuating. The narrator, the one who is explaining what is happening (and having been separated from his wife in one of the confusing moments during the attack) is able to watch the Martians from close quarters, including their use of human blood as food. And then suddenly the Martians vanish - they have been felled by the pathogens (bacteria / virus) found on Earth, and to which they are not immune.

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