H. G. Wells Module Week 4: The War of the Worlds (1898)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

* Serialised in 1897, published in book form in 1898.
* Humanity scrutinised by "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic".
* The realism of Wells's style: concept of Mars owes much to the astronomer Percival Lowell (1896) who inspired other visions of Mars (eg Edgar Rice Burroughs). Also touches like "English readers heard of it [the light on Mars in 1894] in the issue of Nature dated August 2nd", "Lavelle of Java" observing the "outbreak of incandescent gas" on Mars also observed by "Ogilvy" who is a character of the novel: the move from possible fact to obvious fictionality strengthens the believability of the fiction. (I, 1)
* Struggle for survival.
* Parallel noted with the extermination of the Tasmanians.
* The destruction of modern warfare: "future war" tradition from "The Battle of Dorking" (1871). The refugees. (Ch 4, "The Exodus from London")
* The "certain speculative writer" whose forecasts of the Martian bodily shape are playfully referred to (II, 2): "recursive sf".
* The Artilleryman's visions: humanity as pets, "tame" humans hunting down "wild" ones. Dreams of resistance, and a new society arising from the wreckage of the old. Survival of the fittest: the useless have to die. (II, 7) Note the failure of the artilleryman: all talk. This scenario appears in much subsequent sf (see, eg William Tenn, Of Men and Monsters (1968)), but in Wells it leads to his Utopian visions and the "Samurai".

The cosmic vision of the beginning and end few pages.

A scenario which can be used time and again with different emphases: see, eg the Marvel Comics "Killraven" series, "based on H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds", Stapledon's echoes of the Martians, or Christopher Priest's The Space Machine.

Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (1930)

* "To romance of the far future, then, is to attempt to see the human race in its cosmic setting." (Preface)
* "... it is not prophecy; it is myth, or an essay in myth" (Preface) We aspire to Utopia, but we must admit the possibility that we will fail and our civilisation may collapse.
* Note framework of story: it is inserted by a far-future human in his brain of a 20th-century human (Stapledon).
* Invasion from Mars: a Wellsian echo of the Martian civilisation on a dying world. But within the "symphony" of the epic future-history, a transition between the Second and Third men.

Stapledon's influence probably second only to Wells. He shared Wells's concern with evolution, social and political progress, and biological change, but expanded on these ideas to suggest separate species of humanity, the rise and fall of entire civilisations on different worlds.

Unlike Wells, Stapledon focuses on Mars and the motives for the invasion.
* In particular, the psychology of the Martians is examined.

Essayist rather than dramatist. The focus is almost always on the race or civilisation rather than the individual.

John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoo (1957)

An invasion, but unlike that of the Martians, it is non-violent and -- apparently -- not an attempted conquest.

The alien invasion is as mysterious at the end of the book at as the beginning. The probability of a spacecraft landing but from where? We do not even know the true shapes of the "aliens".

See Wyndham's version of social Darwinism. "You cannot afford not to kill us, for if you don't, you are finished." See also the The Chrysalids: "In loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our rise. In loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction." The only "motive" the aliens have for invading is simple survival.

Wyndham's sense of Wells as a touchstone for science fiction. Unlike Wells and Stapledon, Wyndham spent his early career in the pulps: his post-War fiction, though, turns away from space opera and "gadget" sf.

Cold War and Post-war anxieties in Wyndham, compared to the Pre-Great War tensions which Wells's The War of the Worlds may be part of.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...