The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
There have been several science fiction novels written in the late nineteenth century. However, only a handful of them stood out for providing fuel for both drama as well as science. The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells is a highly debatable novel as it has been one of the pioneers in signalling the subtle concepts of the use of superior technology to win wars. One of the major reasons for the novel as well as the film to be extremely popular is its unique concept of using science fiction to portray the upcoming wars, including the World Wars and the Cold War. The author had thought of the unimaginable through this novel and appalled its readers with the innate portrayal of doom, destruction and annihilation with superior technology (Gilbert, 326). The novel can be viewed in several manners including a political fantasy, apocalypse or a horror story. Some have also interpreted it as a warning to England, which at that period was revelling under the Jubilee celebrations of the then Queen Victoria. In other words, the dissolution and decadence of a modern society highlighting the after effects of the British Imperialism due to the usage of superior technology is a related subtext of this novel.
Despite this, one of the foremost portrayal is that of evolution and superior technology. The manner in which human beings struggle to survive and face the attacks of superior technology by a superior race is aptly reflected. The struggle for survival, the environmental stimuli that brings about a change in the Martians, the imminent threat of extinction of human beings are the underlying expressions of anxiety portrayed in this novel.
The onset of the war is hinted in the first chapter of the novel “The attack came six years ago” (2). The same paragraph also maintains the attitude of human beings to consider the Martians to be inferior to them. This is because, the newspapers failed to declare the onset of the war to the public and the world was totally unaware of the imminent danger lurking in the near future.
The War of the Worlds and the scientific worldview
The study of scientific worldview displayed by Wells in The War of the Worlds is reminiscent of the manner in which the people in Tasmania were treated during the times of British colonization. The Martians with their superior technology cleared the barricades and proceeded to continue with their attack to annihilate the human civilization. The phrase “And we also learned that the Martians were so mechanically clever that they did not need to use their bodies very much” (13). There is heightened debate on the imminent subtext of Great Britain being a victim of the very superior technologies that the country had created. The War of the Worlds allusions to the imperialistic practices by the British by using superior technology has been thoroughly debated by academics. Scholars have viewed this novel to depict diverse expressions of Darwinism, ironic anti-imperialistic views, guilt feeling on the disasters of imperialism, a feeling of a superior race due to the use of superior technology and humiliating pride for imperialistic practices.
There is considerable debate as to whether the novel depicts the anxieties of probable extinction due to superior technology to be used as an expression of fear or a criticism of the imperialistic practices in the then Britain. This is because the novel presents an apprehension of war and fear at an otherwise peaceful Britain which was facing the imminent decline due to the imperialistic practices. The penultimate years of the nineteenth century depicted the vulnerability of Great Britain as it was engulfed in anxieties. There were apprehensions about a probable war from Germany, the rise of allied powers from foreign nations and the expressions of a probably phase of decline that Britain was experiencing helped to contribute to a situation of instability. This confidence has been portrayed with complacent views in the War of the Worlds when human beings “fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise” (5). The depiction of utter confidence of the human kind is further portrayed when the first cylinder falls near the house of the narrator. The preliminary Martian attack failed to destroy the false self-confidence of the people. This can be viewed as the narrator tells “the people in the town [are] quite secure again in the presence of the military” (37). The novel challenges the very confidence of the people. The people of Great Britain think them to be more superior to other nations. The sources of false hopes of safety is shown when the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere when the first Martian cylinder comes down to Earth. This serenity is linked with the Victorian sense of safety portrayed by its railway, which is symbolic of the country’s ingenuity, mobility and progress. The phrase, “From the distant railway station came the sound of the trains. The world seemed so sate and peaceful” (10). This confidence and pride of being superior is shattered when the Martians destroy the railway lines and railway stations, thereby preventing human beings to move elsewhere. The efficiency and regularity is disturbed and this signals the first signs of anxiety to the people staying in London. The phrase “vague feeling of alarm” (70) portrays the underlying expressions of anxiety and fear.
The establishment of the Martians being superior to human beings have been depicted in the manner several trains have been destroyed in the course of the story. The novel shows the power of the Martians to damage and destroy the mere symbols that led to the progress of Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria.
The narrator himself refused to acknowledge the apparent destruction as is shown by the phrase “The light upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a black heap and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellow oblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore part smashed and on fire, the hinder carriages still upon the rails (48).
This sentence portrays the underlying expressions of fear and anxiety as the apparent British technology is destroyed by superior Martian technology. The further inability of the military to fight with the superior Martian war machines is symbolic with the destruction of the Victorian steam engines.
The Martians regarded themselves superior to the human kind and wanted to annihilate the entire human race. The novel depicts the actions of the Martians to be brutal and horrific as they took place in Britain, the seat of imperialistic power in the Victorian era.
The narrator points out this fact “And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit? (3).
The Tasmanians have been classified to be inferior as compared with superior Europeans. The apparent colonization and the brutal attacks on Tasmania by Britain has been criticized in this novel. The manner in which the narrator describes the horror of the blood sucking Martians is analogous to the remarks of “carnivorous habits” of human beings to appear to be “repulsive” to “intelligent habits” (Wells, 119). This phrase innately compares the manner in which the British imperialism with the use of superior technology eats on the inferior colonies so as to survive.
The novel ends with the anxiety with the portrayal of hope and aspiration hinting dynamism and progress. The speculation of a future attack “we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding place  this invasion  has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future” (170) by the narrator, simply reminds the reader that complacency may not reign in the near future. This is reminiscent of the subsequent World Wars, the Cold War and the development of atomic and nuclear devises of destruction. There has been serious debate with the apparent development of superior technology with that of human nature, destruction of the environment and the need to revisit human values and ideals (Seed, 33).
Gilbert, James B. Wars of the Worlds. The Journal of Popular Culture, X.2(1976): 326 – 336. Print.
Seed, David. H.G. Wells and the liberating atom. Science Fiction Studies, 30.1(2003): 33 – 48. Print.
Wells, Herbert George, The War Of The Worlds. London: Heinemann, 1976. Print.