War of the Worlds is such a journalistic novel that a radio adaptation convinced the people of New Jersey to flee their homes, commit suicide or die by a Martian Heat-Ray. I snatched a copy already convinced that this is the greatest science fiction novel of all time. But the journalistic style that made it famous proved to be a downer in novel form; the narrator did little to appeal to the senses and was not a master of the show-not-tell rule.
The Martians first appear nonthreatening; they are blobs that can barely move due to Earth’s higher gravity. (remind you of someone?) Their physical description is so plausible that I would like to ask Wells how he managed to design them with the little astrological knowledge of the 1890s. They kill all humans who go near them by sending out an invisible, instant ray of heat. They later overcome their gravitational difficulties by building 4-legged machines far superior to the horse drawn carriages of well’s time. The narrator compares the Martians to humans as humans are to ants, and slightly less obviously, as Europeans are to the Native Americans.
The protagonist, the Writer, is an anti-hero that does little to move the plot. He is more of a narrator than character in the way he travels England and tells you of his brother’s experiences. Although he does not meet the Martians in person, the Brother is more of a plot mover by taking charge of his situation and does what he has to do to get out of London.
The minor characters are symbolic representations of common human reactions to seemingly impossible situations. The Curate is a religious example of parasitic people who do nothing about their situation and look to scientists, or a god, to solve their problems. The Artilleryman is a prime example of how most people react to climate change; he sits in his hideout surrounded by luxury, always plotting a very good plot to rid themselves of the Martians by using their Heat-rays against them, yet is content to stay comfortable.
A good thesis for this book would compare the Martian colonization to modern climate change. Along with the mass migration that occurs in both the book and with climate change refugees, there is a humbling effect, a realization that “We cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure and abiding place for man.” (p.203)
I would like to ask Wells if he considered writing from the perspective of a Martian instead of a human. Would it not be easier and more effective to write from the symbol of humankind than from the animals they subjugate? Or was the idea not to look down in shame but up as an ant in an anthill about to be crushed? If the latter, why so little appeal to the senses?