Friday, November 28, 2014

Audio Book Reviews: War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Book Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Audiobook Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: One of the all-time great works of the genre that delivers a great science fiction tale with an important message at its core.

Pretty much every science fiction fan will instantly recognize War of the Worlds as the seminal alien invasion novel penned by H.G. Wells at the end of the nineteenth century. The events of the story have since become lore for the genre, but they are worth a brief recount for those few unfamiliar with the book or who have not encountered it in years. In the novel, explosions are observed on the surface of Mars by astronomers which many believe to be meteorites striking that planet. A few weeks later, a large object falls out of the sky and crashes to Earth in England, which again is explained as a meteorite. But in short order, Martians emerge from this object (and more that arrive) in large, mechanical tripods and begin an all-out attack on the human race using a powerful heat ray which destroys all in its path and an ominous, inky black gas that suffocates all that come into contact with it. The British army, considered one of the greatest fighting forces in the world, tries to repel the attack but quickly succumbs to the superior technology of the Martians. It appears that the human race stands no chance of stopping these alien invaders until (SPOILER ALERT...if that’s possible with this book) the Martians succumb to the bacteria of our planet and their conquest meets an abrupt end.

War of the Worlds delivers the quintessential Science Fiction novel and for me competes with other notable titles such as Frank Herbert’s Dune and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven as my all-time favorite in the genre. The book presents a story backed by scientific plausibility based on the knowledge of the time (and some of the science still stands up today) as Wells presents a credible speculation of why and how the Martians would invade Earth, driven to flee from their own dying, depleted planet. They launch themselves from Mars using cannon-like projectiles (a la Vernes’ From the Earth to the Moon) and deal with the higher gravity of Earth through their machines and technology. They then proceed to exterminate the primary vermin that populate the planet (that would be the human race) just like we would root out an infestation of ants. And they begin to terraform Earth to resemble their Martian atmosphere. Wells even postulates that these invaders have evolved to a point that rely mostly on their intellectual capacity and very little on physical activity. And all of the concepts he proposes, including being susceptible to micro-organisms in our atmosphere, have their scientific roots supported by the knowledge and theories of that time.

But Wells also uses his story to make a social statement. England was one of the most powerful empires of the late nineteenth century and its people had developed a complacency and arrogance that dominated their lives and culture. But Wells took that society that had come to see itself as invincible and destined to rule and turned it on its head. England, which had spread its reach throughout much of the world and invaded many “inferior” countries, now faced invasion within its own borders and felt as helpless as many of those poor souls subjected to its yoke. In the opening paragraphs of the book, Wells comments on how the Martians see us as a lesser species: “And we men . . . must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us.” He also notes that their invasion of Earth is hardly different than the human race’s very of encroachments on others they deemed inferior:

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?

These points are repeated throughout the book and emphasize the themes of humanity (particularly the British Empire) receiving its own comeuppance.

And it’s the combination of the scientific elements and social statements that make War of the Worlds so important to the science fiction genre as well as a relevant piece of literature. Wells did not simply sprinkle the book with scientific terms to give it a faux sense of legitimacy. He also did not resort to a more juvenile approach for the story (quite common with the early sci fi works of the time). Instead, as I have already mentioned, his science is almost immaculate for its day, and his story is well developed and gripping and still resonates over a century after its first publication. One could easily make an argument for nominating War of the Worlds as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Those who have only encountered it through one of its film adaptations should definitely go back and experience the original book. Because only there will you encounter the full depth and power of the story that Wells crafted.

War of the Worlds has had several audio book adaptations, but I chose to listen to the LibriVox recording to see what that service has to offer as that site provides free audio adaptations of works currently in the public domain. It is fully volunteer supported and each book typically has multiple readers voicing the various chapters. Because of that, the readers lack the polish of professional voice-over talents, but for the most part the LibriVox recording of War of the Worlds was quite listenable. Most of the readers did a decent job and even those who fell a bit short were not unlistenable. Of the narrators for this book, I liked Stephan Möbius and Peter Yearsley the most, and fortunately they read the majority of the chapters. Yearsley actually sounds a whole lot like Boris Karloff, a voice that at first did not seem to fit with the book, but which grew on me. And I believe that he has a bright career in front of him narrating horror works if he chooses to pursue that option. LibriVox actually has quite a number of early science fiction works available in their catalog including other titles by Wells as well as classics from Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. They even have works going into the mid-20th century (mostly short stories) by authors such as Philip K. Dick, Lester del, James Blish, Ben Bova and others. These recordings are available for free (though donations are appreciated), so it’s an easy and cheap way to get started with audio books.  And War of the Worlds is the perfect launching point for science fiction fans.

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The Plight of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks

Ever wondered why your favorite science fiction and/or fantasy show disappeared from the television schedule, never to deliver anymore new episodes? The reason why, most likely, is that it was cancelled because its ratings were low. And this book looks at those many cancelled sci fi/fantasy shows as well as the Neilsen ratings and television networks that dictate their fates. Available now for only $2.99 on Kindle from

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