Saturday, March 31, 2012

Books: War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds
By H. G. Wells
Radio Play by Orsen Wells

It has been a long time since I read this book. I ran across an audio of the 1938 radio drama by Orsen Wells in the library the other day, and I snatched it up.

The story tells how big machines from Mars attack the world and begin to take over the planet. They have a heat ray gun and some kind of dark gas that destroys people. However, just like the native tribes in North America 400 years ago, the Martians have no immunity to our various diseases. These plagues save the world from annihilation and/or enslavement.

The radio dramatization was put on by Mercury Broadcast Theatre and the Columbia Broadcasting System. The first 2/3 of the play take place in the form of news broadcasts, supposedly interrupting symphony play.

The last third is from the point of view of an astronomer, Richard Pierson, who visited the first landing site and somehow survived the initial blasts and gassings.

Reportedly, during and after the original broadcast (which took place on Halloween), some people believed it to be real and thought aliens really were invading the United States. There was a public outcry about this alleged hoax.

It is important to remember the time period. This was a few years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor; World War II had not yet broken out but tensions were high.

Listening to this radio drama reminded me of two things. The first was September 11, 2001. I do not know why this reminded me of the attacks on the Twin Towers, but it did.

The second was an incident that occurred in 1933 here in Botetourt County. Around Christmas that year, the county allegedly came under a series of "mad gasser" attacks.

Local newspapers wrote many stories about these attacks, and my great-aunt remembered one of them happening just down the road from her home. The gas emitted by the Martians reminded me of this odd bit of history.

I am sure I listened to this radio dramatization when I was in school, but it was interesting listening to it in the 21st century. It remains surprisingly current.

1 comment:

  1. I was terrified by this book when I first read it. It was so coldly and clinically realistic. I didn't know the original landscape where it was set - south of London - but I knew London and could so easily visualise what was being described. Later I understood its subtext as well - it's a vivid and utterly rational condemnation of Britain's imperialism. At a time when we were oppressing and slaughtering millions of "savages" (or haughtily imposing our "civilisation" on them), Wells portrayed the British faced by coldly superior aliens who regarded them as nothing more than vermin or food, and whose terror weapons easily swept aside our most sophisticated military technology. (Back then that was the Royal Navy's Dreadnought battleships, the way by which we projected British power worldwide.) I agree that it is still startlingly fresh and revelant. The last time I read it, the US was pounding Fallujah to rubble. Now that you have called it to my mind again, drones are killing people all round the world as operators thousands of miles away press buttons. To recall another great SF writer, Ray Bradbury, "We are the Martians now."


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