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Written by Timothy Sexton
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.
The novel’s opening lines set the stage for the collision between science and fiction. The quote is also quite effective for its chilling presentation of a situation upon which it constructs its eventual horror. At the time it was written—and among more than a few today—the idea of the earth being under surveillance by creatures from beyond the stars was possible enough to be absolutely terrifying.
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
Here is the quote that gave birth to thousands of offspring. Every science fiction movie or TV show or play in which alien creatures compare their superiority to humans by comparing the superiority of humans to amoebas traces back to this quote right here. And when you add in the fact that those out there spying on us are exponentially advanced in terms of intelligence and innovation…the terror only gets ramped up.
By three, people were being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect.
At this point, the story is beginning to look like it may become the prototype for the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Monster are Due on Maple Street.” It is beginning to appear as though the Martians hardly need to engage any weapons or outright offensive assaults. Just show up, put on a show for a few hours and let human nature and the inherent sociopathy in law enforcement run its natural course.
"This isn’t a war… It never was a war, any more than there’s war between men and ants."
Once again, Wells is making the point that intelligence is evolutionary. At this point in time, the Martians are well advanced beyond humans in terms of knowledge, but that knowledge could not have blossomed fully intact. Darwinian evolution is the transcendence of man to superman. Within this realization that man can no longer be considered the most valuable creature in the universe are two important points: mankind can continue to evolve until they reach the state the Martians presently occupy (provided they survive the attack)…but that also means that the ants below could potentially evolve into a significantly higher elevated state of consciousness as well.
The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the strange and wonderful things that happened upon that Friday, was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of our social order with the first beginnings of the series of events that was to topple that social order headlong.
To a certain extent, this observation is what the book is really all about. The war taking place is less one between two different worlds than between the worlds of the best and the worst of the human race. The best of the human race is exhibited throughout the story in many small ways, each one of which falls apart in the face of panic and confusion. The social order can last only as long as the infrastructure of that order remains in place. Take away access to transportation, communication and food everything else is ultimately up for grabs by the most primal part of humanity.
Then – a familiar, reassuring note – I heard a train running towards Woking.
The train one of the most explicit symbols of order. Everything that is represents—technological innovation, transportation, conveyance of commerce all within the context of a rigidly structured schedule—becomes concretized as the ultimate symbol of civilization and the possibility of survival.
And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians – dead! – slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared.
This is the way novel ends…not with a bang, but a whimper. Just as so many of the most infamous criminals of all time have been captured not due to concerted investigative techniques, but by sheer luck as a result of their obliviousness to a broken taillight or a stop sign, so are the Martians conquered not through concerted military response but by their own ignorance of their lack of resistance to earthbound bacteria. Kind of anti-climactic in a way; kind of pure creative genius in another.
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