Here’s one there’s a really good chance you’ve read (in opposition to, say, The Night Land): War of the Worlds. It’s H. G. Wells time again here in the WW, and now we’re dealing with horrible aliens from outer space. Neat!
The unnamed narrator of the novel is a writer of some sort, who’s working on a treatise about the future of humankind when the aliens land. You know, like you do, Sunday afternoon, plot the entire future of humankind. What, you don’t? Anyway, you know this part. He runs out to see the fallen ship and barely escapes when the laser pops out and burns people up. So that’s lucky. In the chaos he sends his wife and kid packing away, but returns to his town to make one last survey. They get separated. Then shit gets weird.
You can likely imagine the violence he survives. The Martians boil a river with him in it, blast buildings, and generally kill folk. Good times. But weirder still is the cavalcade of weirdos he meets up with. There’s the usual cast of frightened people, men, women, and children, whoever, everyone, running, scared, so on. But he ends up traveling with a vicar who’s convinced God is punishing the world and actually refuses to do anything to save himself. The narrator ends up trapped in a blasted house with the vicar for weeks. They nearly lose their minds, and the vicar actually assaults the narrator when the narrator tries to figure out a way to escape. The narrator watches as the Martians explore the house with a probe and whisk the vicar away.
Then there’s the dude who wants to be Mad Max and Dr. Strangelove. He wanders around and scavenges, sometimes actually stealing from other refugees, and talks about remaking human society out in the hills where they can hide from the Martians. He steals and scavenges all the equipment he might need and fires the narrator’s imagination – he having nearly given up hope by this time. Except it turns out this dude is that guy you know who talks about all the great things he’ll do when he gets around to it. He picks up a shovel, digs a few inches of the foundations of their fortress, then goes and gets drunk. Every day. So that doesn’t work out too well either.
The narrator switches at one point – a good deal of the story is actually the first narrator’s brother, who lives and works around London. So it’s a chance to see what the city was like. He’s the one who quotes all the newspapers that panicked about the attacks, sees all the landmarks of London destroyed, all that good post-apocalypse stuff. He meets a young woman, rescues her from brigands, and eventually gets her family and himself onto a boat heading out to safer waters. We don’t really hear from him after that, but if you’re worried we can assume he lived. He wrote the account for his brother, right?
Back to the first narrator! Confused yet? We don’t need names, why would names be useful? C’mon. He nearly loses his mind again and decides he should probably be dead. Because he has ample evidence his wife is dead. And by “ample” I mean “none.” So he runs out in front of a Martian death machine mech and basically says, “Right in the chest, yes sir, just shoot me now.” Death by enormous-head-no-body-Martian-cop I suppose.
And nothing happens. Yes, we might ask, wondering if we’ll get a less crazy narrator if this one dies. Yes, go ahead, fire please? Nope. Whyever would the Martian do that, being dead? You know this part too: the Martians aren’t evolved to our ecology and our native bacteria lay waste to them, like boars in Australia or kudzu in America or whichever comparison you like best. So the narrator faints. Like a petticoated woman (what, we’re in the Victorian era, that joke’s OK). He wakes up in an infirmary, makes his way home so he can be depressed about his wife’s death really close in relative comfort, and finds his wife at home waiting on him, having experienced very little danger at all. So, good. That’s happy news, hurray. The narrator makes a crack about how his manuscript about the future of humankind is still on his desk, but useless now in the face of what we’ve been shown, and the book’s over.
Well, the novel part is over. There’s an epilogue that deals with some of the social and scientific ramifications. It’s not as dull as it sounds. The narrator’s shitty luck has made him one of the best eyewitnesses about the invasion, the biology of the Martians, and what needs to be done. Hence the book.
Read this book. Do it. You know it’s a classic, and I can tell you it’s well-written, has a great pace, and it’ll make you wonder what you’d do if you were trapped in a house with a mad vicar and nothing to eat. After you wonder that, you won’t really stop. You’ll just take breaks to consider unimportant things, like voiding your bowels and sleeping while the mad vicar watches you.
I should hint, at least, at the thematic stuff of the book before I relinquish my little corner of the internet and your attention for another week. There’s the famous imperialism, of course – the Martians are to Englishmen as Englishmen are to Africans/Indians/Chinese. They make imperialist Englishpeople question their “right” to supremacy, make them wonder if really it was just because they had better guns.
There’s also some juicy evolution stuff in there. Wells was a student of Huxley and knew what he was talking about. The aliens may have been similar to us, long ago, but their increased time has pushed them forward – possibly, just like the Time Machine hints, into a place we will eventually reach. They’re all head, no body at all, including no digestion. They take nutrition by draining victims of blood and injecting the blood directly into themselves. That’s some creepy shit there. It’s the vampire with nozzles instead of fangs.