March 25, 2022

#08-197: The War of the Worlds

A Martian shooting a death ray

Note: Of his many books--in many genres--nothing by H. G. Wells has had a bigger impact than The War of the Worlds, for reasons that will become clear.

Get Ready: Does science fiction have any useful function, aside from entertainment? How can it be of some benefit to society?

English author H. G. Wells wrote many different types of books, including a history of the world, but he is now best remembered for his science fiction novels, among them The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man. But for reasons we shall see, nothing he wrote made a bigger splash than his 1897 novel The War of the Worlds.

The story is simple enough: aliens from Mars are running out of resources, so they plan an invasion of the earth. After astronomers observe explosions on the surface of Mars, a supposed meteor lands in England: it's actually a spaceship which disgorges aliens, each about the size of a bear. The book's narrator describes them as "vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous."

The invaders easily wipe out British Army units, and move out into the surrounding area. London is evacuated, and some people escape to the European continent.

But another "cylinder" arrives with more aliens, and they triumph. They begin collecting humans, apparently to live off of their blood. Although they seem invincible, it turns out they have one vulnerability: with no immunity, they are killed by earth's germs, and humanity survives.

As compelling as this story is, it made its biggest impact ever in 1938 when the American writer, actor, and director Orson Welles created a 60-minute radio broadcast of the invasion, set in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Starting out with a seemingly-normal radio program, he began "interrupting" it with news bulletins. The reality of it seems to have caused some people in the area to panic and run outside, but reports of the reaction have been greatly exaggerated. One suggestion is that the newspapers played up the panic in order to discredit the fairly-new medium of radio as a news source!

The original story by H. G. Wells has been produced many times in film and on television, notably the Steven Spielberg production starring Tom Cruise in 2005. It has also been updated, adapted, and even parodied many, many times. And, surprisingly, Orson Welles's broadcast has also been re-dramatized in audio and film versions.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. compelling
  2. discredit
  3. disgorges
  4. evacuated
  5. immunity
  6. invincible
  7. meteor
  8. splash
  9. the continent
  10. vulnerability

  1. removed; cleared out
  2. protection against disease
  3. empties out; ejects
  4. damage the reputation of
  5. impression; excitement
  6. captivating; fascinating
  7. unable to be beaten
  8. a large stone that comes to earth from space
  9. mainland Europe
  10. weak point

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 25, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. d; 3. c; 4. a; 5. b; 6. g; 7. h; 8. e; 9. i; 10. j