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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells







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; that as
men busied themselves about their various concerns they were
scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a
microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and
multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to
and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their
assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the
infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to
the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of
them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or
improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of
those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be
other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to
welcome a missionary enterprise. 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. And
early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.


The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the
sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it
receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world.
It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our
world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its
surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one
seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling
to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water
and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.

Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer,
up to the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea that
intelligent life might have developed there far, or indeed at all,
beyond its earthly level. Nor was it generally understood that since
Mars is older than our earth, with scarcely a quarter of the
superficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily follows that
it is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer its end.

The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet has
already gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition is
still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial
region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest
winter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have
shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow
seasons change huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pole and
periodically inundate its temperate zones. That last stage of
exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a
present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate
pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their
powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with
instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of,
they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of
them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with
vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of
fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad
stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to them
at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. The
intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant
struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief
of the minds upon Mars. Their world is far gone in its cooling and
this world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they
regard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed,
their only escape from the destruction that, generation after
generation, creeps upon them.

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

The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with amazing
subtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess of
ours--and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh
perfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have
seen the gathering trouble far back in the nineteenth century. Men
like Schiaparelli watched the red planet--it is odd, by-the-bye, that
for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war--but failed to
interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped so
well. All that time the Martians must have been getting ready.

During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on the
illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then by
Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heard
of it first in the issue of _Nature_ dated August 2. I am inclined to
think that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, in
the vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were fired
at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site
of that outbreak during the next two oppositions.

The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approached
opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchange
palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of
incandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight of
the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted,
indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an
enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had become
invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal
puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "as
flaming gases rushed out of a gun."

A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day there
was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the _Daily
Telegraph_, and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravest
dangers that ever threatened the human race. I might not have heard of
the eruption at all had I not met Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer,
at Ottershaw. He was immensely excited at the news, and in the excess
of his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a
scrutiny of the red planet.

In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember that
vigil very distinctly: the black and silent observatory, the shadowed
lantern throwing a feeble glow upon the floor in the corner, the
steady ticking of the clockwork of the telescope, the little slit in
the roof--an oblong profundity with the stardust streaked across it.
Ogilvy moved about, invisible but audible. Looking through the
telescope, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planet
swimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and
small and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightly
flattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so silvery
warm--a pin's-head of light! It was as if it quivered, but really this
was the telescope vibrating with the activity of the clockwork that
kept the planet in view.

As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and to
advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Forty
millions of miles it was from us--more than forty millions of miles of
void. Few people realise the immensity of vacancy in which the dust
of the material universe swims.

Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light,
three telescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around it was the
unfathomable darkness of empty space. You know how that blackness
looks on a frosty starlight night. In a telescope it seems far
profounder. And invisible to me because it was so remote and small,
flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredible
distance, drawing nearer every minute by so many thousands of miles,
came the Thing they were sending us, the Thing that was to bring so
much struggle and calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed of
it then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring

That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the
distant planet. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest
projection of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight; and
at that I told Ogilvy and he took my place. The night was warm and I
was thirsty, and I went stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my way
in the darkness, to the little table where the siphon stood, while
Ogilvy exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

That night another invisible missile started on its way to the
earth from Mars, just a second or so under twenty-four hours after the
first one. I remember how I sat on the table there in the blackness,
with patches of green and crimson swimming before my eyes. I wished I
had a light to smoke by, little suspecting the meaning of the minute
gleam I had seen and all that it would presently bring me. Ogilvy
watched till one, and then gave it up; and we lit the lantern and
walked over to his house. Down below in the darkness were Ottershaw
and Chertsey and all their hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.

He was full of speculation that night about the condition of Mars,
and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its having inhabitants who were
signalling us. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in a
heavy shower upon the planet, or that a huge volcanic explosion was in
progress. He pointed out to me how unlikely it was that organic
evolution had taken the same direction in the two adjacent planets.

"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to
one," he said.

Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night after
about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a
flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one on
earth has attempted to explain. It may be the gases of the firing
caused the Martians inconvenience. Dense clouds of smoke or dust,
visible through a powerful telescope on earth as little grey,
fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the planet's
atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.

Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at last, and
popular notes appeared here, there, and everywhere concerning the
volcanoes upon Mars. The seriocomic periodical _Punch_, I remember,
made a happy use of it in the political cartoon. And, all
unsuspected, those missiles the Martians had fired at us drew
earthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through the
empty gulf of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer.
It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift
fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they
did. I remember how jubilant Markham was at securing a new photograph
of the planet for the illustrated paper he edited in those days.
People in these latter times scarcely realise the abundance and
enterprise of our nineteenth-century papers. For my own part, I was
much occupied in learning to ride the bicycle, and busy upon a series
of papers discussing the probable developments of moral ideas as
civilisation progressed.

One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been
10,000,000 miles away) I went for a walk with my wife. It was
starlight and I explained the Signs of the Zodiac to her, and pointed
out Mars, a bright dot of light creeping zenithward, towards which so
many telescopes were pointed. It was a warm night. Coming home, a
party of excursionists from Chertsey or Isleworth passed us singing
and playing music. There were lights in the upper windows of the
houses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the
distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling,
softened almost into melody by the distance. My wife pointed out to
me the brightness of the red, green, and yellow signal lights hanging
in a framework against the sky. It seemed so safe and tranquil.




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