Published on November 7th, 2012 | by Michaela Buckley0
Proto Science Fiction and War of the Worlds
Years ago, I was terrified by the thought of aliens and especially, an alien invasion. It wasn’t my biggest fear – that was IT crawling into me when I go to the toilet. But it was something I spent most of my childhood thinking about, that and avoiding plumbing outlets.
I was raised by Sci-Fi geeks so was exposed to plenty of scary alien films like Forbidden Planet. But still I remember vividly the Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds tape playing and me curling up on the sofa when the machines’ Heat Ray sounded. ULLA! Upon listening again over recent years it’s all too clear that the noise is just a bunch of men shouting ULLA! and not some electronic alien.
Lately I have been reading all sorts of classic novels in hopes to educate myself better on the development of literature over the course of history, and even though Sci-Fi books are my favourite, I realised that I had never read any of the original Science Fiction books or “Proto Sci-Fi” as it is often called.
Proto Sci-Fi’s invention is mostly credited to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, however there are many elements of SF in lots of earlier myths and legends from around the world. One such is from the “Mahabharata” an Indian epic, a story about a king who is taken to heaven to meet Brahma and when he returns to Earth, discovers that hundreds of years have gone by, this story is really similar to another story from Japan called Urashima Taro where a fisherman visits a Dragon God in an underwater castle and when he comes back 300 years have passed.
A Japanese Playstation game called Policenauts was inspired by this latter story and is really worth checking out if you are into Metal Gear Solid. I’m really bad at staying on-topic.
H.G. Wells & Jules Verne are known as the pioneers of the Proto SF genre, both used progressive ideas as a drive for discovery and speculation. H.G. Wells had a background as a teacher and often referred to himself as a journalist, which is the profession of the protagonist of War of the Worlds, he was inspired from much older sources of fiction than his SF predecessors, from Greek adventures such as the Iliad and the Odyssey to Thomas More’s Utopia. This paved the way for the future of science fiction as this style of writing is still used today, unlike Shelley’s gothic horror themes.
Back to War of the Worlds.
Late 1800’s, England, Martians invade. I’ll just assume you know the premise to War of the Worlds so we can just get on with this. If you really don’t know, then there are far bigger issues in your life than my not explaining this!
Unlike what one might usually expect, that awful 2005 Spielberg film is the most canonically correct rendition of this story, it includes much of the aspects of the book unlike previous attempts and it also has the most accurate looking martians.
I include here an artist’s impression of what a martian machine might look like. By artist I mean me, using MS Paint.
The book strangely feels more modern and scientific than any of it’s other appearances make out, the character has some good knowledge of Biology and it appears that astronomical information wasn’t completely absent at the time of writing. The book plays as more of a post-apocalyptic tale towards the second half and is a fantastic commentary on human psychology. I couldn’t help but feel like Wells’ pacifistic views were apparent as the 2 characters that the journalist spurns and derides are both artillerymen.
The red weed, humans as sustenance and the disease are all included in the book, however there are many more concepts that don’t appear quite so prominently in the films or the musical, for example there is mention of the martians machines learning to fly and the martians themselves make quite a bit of an appearance.
The main character is an exact example of how to write first person. Books should be about events and offer up thoughts on them using the protagonist, it always comes across humourous if you make it focus on the character themselves while not offering much in the way of opinion, something Starship Troopers didn’t seem to understand. The Journalist here is the voice of the many and we experience everything as he does, and he reflects the reader too. He answers and asks the questions we want to ask and he guides us through the story. Any moment where he is “lacking” in emotion is always a crucial part of his character and the hell he is experiencing.
The book is pretty heavy on its geographical locations, you can plot the entire book by map, so it was quite interesting to follow along the survival with the journalist, planning out his food and how far he has traveled. There are few mentions of the area I live in the book, unlike Douglas Adams, Wells doesn’t crucify us Essexians, so that was quite nice I s’pose.
The book has aged brilliantly, which is unusual for a Sci-Fi, this feels as relevant now as it did then, this is probably because there is little focus on the tell-tale parts of the times and more focus on the Martians, their destruction of the Earth and escaping them. There is a lighter tone of the “romantics” in the book, (it has “antics” in it, that’s the joke there) which was surprising, as at the time the book was marketed as a “Scientific-romance”. Whatever the fuck that is. I would have liked to have seen how that played out amongst women when they read it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this title, it felt so vibrant and fresh, especially compared to the overwrought “Starship Troopers”. The ideas are much more intelligently extolled than you might think and genuinely leaves you with a lot of perplexing ideas. The whole book is consistent and fast-paced, even during breaks away from the main character, the language is a little less decorated however the mechanical descriptions of the aliens were stylishly simple without being vague.
The whole experience was rather short at about 120 pages but is very satisfying, I am feeling very inspired from reading this and am now starting on 20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. He’s got a lot to live up to.