Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The milking stools are coming!

Current book: War of the Worlds
Pages read: 1-99

I don't know if it's that this novel is just an extreme contrast with Joseph Conrad, but I'm getting a great deal of satisfaction out of reading it. It's such old-fashioned science fiction: straightforward and logical and actually, in some way, based on science. The narrator's voice is clear, concise, and reasoned, but with enough emotion to make him sympathetic. Also, everything happens in order, which is a glorious relief from Lord Jim and its horrible convolutions of plot.

It almost seems silly to relate the story, but it's possible somebody might not be familiar with it, so here goes. Our hero, who lives in a small town in England, is befuddled by foreign objects coming to Earth from Mars. At first, they seem like simple meteorites or possibly canisters holding messages, but soon Martians emerge. (I was not aware that we got to "see" the Martians right away in the book, but we do. They're described as sort of blob-like, with horrible ugly faces and profoundly intelligent eyes.) At first, they seem harmless and uncommunicative, but soon they start killing people with heat rays and building enormous, tripod-like vehicles to stalk across the countryside and eradicate everybody. Our hero, in the midst of the attacks, is separated from his wife and currently making his way cross-country in the company of a military officer to try to find her. (I have to admit that he's not trying as hard as I think he should be if he's really in love with her. I see why they played that up more in the films; he seems a little cold.) Anyway, that's the gist of it so far, except that we've learned that the narrator's brother lives in London, which is also about to be attacked.

Mostly Wells is playing up the chaos and confusion with which human nature responds to threats to its immediate existence. People are by turns savage, panicked, and crippled by indecision, and it seems like very few of them are coming out of it looking at all noble. There's an excellent moment when the narrator meets a priest and Wells makes an incisively clever point about religion:
"This must be the beginning of the end," he said, interrupting me. "The end!" The great and terrible day of the Lord..."

"Be a man," said I. "You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Weybridge? He is not an insurance agent." (83)
Well said, Herbert George. Well said, indeed.


  1. "human natures responds to threats to its immediate existence"?

    Grammar police works both ways, missy.

  2. Oy, what is it with you Mac people.

  3. I also had to smile at the idea of Orson Welles telling a priest to "man up".



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