Sunday, May 24, 2015

The War of the Worlds (1898)

I've been through the movie and radio theater versions of this ambitious tale according to Byron Haskin, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Welles, but never until now the source novel by H.G. Wells. I struggled some with the ponderous language—among other things, Wells appears to be at pains to shore up his scientific bona fides with a lot of jargon and abstruse theorizing. No real problems there as long as a dictionary is handy. A little more troublesome for me is the "stay calm and carry on" tone in the face of a full-on assault on the planet by hostile aliens from outer space. That said, and recalling that this novel appeared well before either of the world wars of the 20th century, it's remarkably vivid in its conception and execution. I like, for example, how Wells takes into account the effects of the different levels of gravitational force on Mars and Earth, with "the Martians" (so blithely referred to all the way) visibly struggling with and attempting to compensate for Earth's much greater gravity. (As a side not, and I suspect I'm one of the very few who thinks in these terms, I'm always surprised when I travel that gravity is the same wherever I go.) I also like the loathing that the narrator bears these creatures, although, again, he's altogether a little too calm to be believed. The famous resolution—you probably know it, but in case not I will leave it as a surprise (it's in every version I've encountered)—is a shrewd and clever stroke. Otherwise, with such elements as "the Heat-Ray" and "Black Smoke," it's typical fanciful science fiction (of the more or less "hard science" type), an opportunity to illustrate in fictional context technology that doesn't exist, but might. Lots of science sprinkled all through—biology mainly, but physics and chemistry and more, including the ostentatious, such as spectrum analysis. Worth chasing down for fans of science fiction with some tolerance for 19th-century language.

In case it's not at the library.

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