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Ji Min Lee

Ji Min Lee

When Wells first sat down to write The War of the Worlds in the late nineteenth century, he certainly could not have imagined that it would remain popular for over a century thereafter. With the advancement of science and the advent of NASA, we have long discovered the Mars is not and was likely never a home for intelligent life. And yet, published find that millions today are still captivated by H.G. Wells' shockingly realistic science fiction novel. We can only explain out fascination by analyzing the truths which lie resplendent in the novel, infection curious and eager minds, young and old. These truths spoke to the men and women of the bygone horse-and-buggy era but, like all truths, refused to die with the passing of humanity's epochs. Even now, in the year 2010, Wells appeals to a vast audience and doesn't fail to address a few surprisingly modern issues. In addition to the thrill of an alien invasion, The War of the Worlds contains penetrating comments on science and methods of warfare, all of which can be applied to the modern era.

Wells' descriptions of the scientifically advanced Martians apply particularly well to science today. The weapon and tools used by the Martians are significantly more effective then those used by the humans, as evidenced by how the Heat-Rays and Black Smoke obliterate the Army in a matter of hours. Here Wells quite possibly might have been warning posterity of the dangers of creating weapons of mass destruction; in the Epilogue, he writes, "[T]he generator of the Heat-Rays remains a puzzle. The terrible disasters at the Ealing and South Kensington laboratories have disinclined analysts for further investigations…" (201). He then makes no further comment on that aspect of the invasion, preferring instead to spend a large majority of the rest of the novel on the possibility of another Martian attack. Given this lack of prolific or laudatory observation and the destruction caused by these weapons throughout the novel, Wells Is clearly not a proponent of the Heat-Ray. Unfortunately, modern society has already created a weapon that far surpasses the Martians' in its destructive power: the atomic bomb. We can infer that Wells, had he been alive, would have adamantly opposed the creation of the bomb, which is still a real threat in the Middle East and North Korea today. While we may not be able to turn back the clock and prevent the creation of the atom bomb, modern scientists and politicians would do well to heed Wells' disapproval of its use.

Beyond weaponry, the anatomy of the Martians themselves warns of a possible evolutionary tendency, natural or man-made, towards, "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" (3). Regarding the Martians'' nonexistent body and large brain, Wells says that "[w]ithout the body the brain would, of course, become a more selfish intelligence, without any of the emotional substratum of the human being" (143). His statement suggests that emotion is an important factor in distinguishing the humans from the Martians, and tat any meddling with the brain may alter the more sympathetic side of humanity insofar as driving people to kill indiscriminately, as the Martians do. While humans cannot do much to deter a natural evolution to this state of being, people can and do work to prod the genome in a decidedly unnatural direction. Wells displays in his statement a prophetic disapproval of the genetic manufacturing of the brain, an aspect of science which continues to interest the modern scientific community. His surprisingly prescient remarks on both alien and human intelligence compel us to acknowledge the possible dangers of such tinkering.

Wells often integrates descriptions of the Martians' scientific advancements with emphasis on the methods of warfare used by the aliens throughout the novel. The barbaric nature of the Martian invasion and the cool inhumanity of the aliens' habits, especially in devouring humans, show up frequently. The crimes committed by the Martians against the humans seem, of course, inconceivably barbaric form the human point of view, and this gap between the human and alien demonstrates the classic "us" and "them mentality rampant in modern wars such as the Vietnam War and the War on Terror. The apparent disparity in aesthetics between the Martians and the humans only serves to underscore this chasm. Tough the Martians are the persecutors in the novel, Wells seems to warn people of all times against the brutality that so often emerges from the dehumanization of an enemy during war. European nations in particular would do well to "promote the conception of the commonwealth of mankind," as British imperialism and United States atrocities during the Vietnam War have not yet been forgotten by the rest of the world (203). Modern readers will likely recognize the importance of Wells' call for temperance in warfare today.

Despite his warning for and misgivings toward humanity, Wells' overall attitude regarding the survival of civilization is hopeful; his descriptions of a future of interplanetary travel and colonization attest to his confidence in intelligent civilization's ongoing success. Wells, however, cannot be called a blind optimist, for his narrator confesses that "the stress and danger of the [Martian Invasion] have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in [his] mind" (204). Wells, it seems, understood that it was still to early to claim a prognosis for the fate of humanity. In many ways, this is an appropriate stance to take. As all students of Zen know, the true master lives in the present, learns from the mistakes of the past and, occasionally, dreams of the future. Wells, it is safe to say, not only does all three but also influences his readers to do the same.

 

Work Cited
Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. New York: Signet Classics, 1986. Print.

For information on the 2009-2010 Signet Classics Essay Contest, click here.


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