The War Of The Worlds – H G Wells – Book Review

The War Of The Worlds - H G Wells - Book Review

This is, of course, an old chestnut and there are a lot of reviews of this book, so I am not going to do a full write-up, just a personal note on what it means to me.  The photo at the head of this article is the inside cover of my 1960 Heinemann/New Windmill Edition and I can not count the times I have thumbed through it over the years.

It is one of the books that people think they’ve read, or haven’t bothered to read as there are many many many adaptations; 2 films from 1953 and 2005, the amazingly effective radio show, the musical versions and a TV series, plus a massive amount of pop-culture references.  The reality is, of course, very different.  Written in 1895 and published in 1897 as a magazine serial, the book is a sparse, haunting, fatalistic account of the invasion.

The War Of The Worlds - H G Wells - Book Review
The War Of The Worlds – H G Wells – Book Review

I believe you have to take into account the time a book was written, this was late Victorian England, twenty years before the First World War, life expectancy was 48 in the UK, the motor car was only 10 years old, Britannia’s empire stretched across the globe and the English in particular had optimism about continuing good times ahead.  Against this background, Wells’ book takes a dark look at the futility of fighting the more technically advanced Martians.

So, the language is archaic to the modern reader, the references are out of date, but the story really is timeless.  When the first cylinders land, the initial reaction is curiosity and not fear, after all Woking and Chobham are Middle -England, prosperous areas.  People have time to have a look and see what’s happening.  “It seemed so safe and tranquil“, which of course does not continue for long.  I love that an “enterprising sweet-stuff dealer in the Chobham Road had sent up his son with a barrow-load of green apples and ginger-beer“.  Today, this would be a hot-dog van, mobile bar and, before long, social media selfies.  This is insular, the newspaper comes out that evening, already out of date.

The later adaptations do get the futility part of the situation right, which is just as well as its really the point of the book.  When the first Martian attacks the crowd surrounding the pit by using the “heat ray”, which gets its own introductory chapter, our narrator says simply “Had that death swept through a full circle, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise“.  The point I am trying, inexpertly, to make is that to the modern reader, the language flows beautifully and almost meanders across the story.  Measure this against the popular adaptations, even the radio show and it is glacial in progressing the story.  The entire book is only 55,000 words, just beautifully crafted.  Most popular Science Fiction has fast language, excitement or awe on every page, this one really does not.

Instead, fear.  It cycles through curiosity, analysis, futility and finishes with bewilderment.  Take a moment and read (or re-read) this book, I said at the start of this ramble that I would say what this book means to me and here it is.  Context.  Great Science Fiction reflects the times, especially its insecurities.  I love the old 1930’s to 1950s Golden Age Science Fiction where the future was exciting, the 1970s where external threats were on people’s minds, the 1980s were positive again, and so on.  War of the Worlds is the earliest Sci-Fi I have come across that starts in that frame.  England had it all in 1895, empire, technology, unrivalled military strength and above all, complacency.

The idea of this proud nation being defenceless against superior forces must have been shocking at the time and that’s what I get from it.  Horse drawn artillery being applauded by crowds lining the streets turns into complete destruction of the same by the end of the day.  That must have been revolutionary, shocking to a public used to winning.  Measure this against the impact the first viewing of Alien or Independence Day, or the first reading of the Martian Chronicles or the Dangerous Visions anthology and it fits right in.

Its relevant today, while the original is set in home-counties England, it is fitting that the adaptations are set  largely in the USA, the current superpower questioning its supremacy.  Thats where we are…

You can buy this book on amazon at

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

I just had to add this beautiful view in Plymouth, one of its’ best kept secrets.  Royal William Yard is a redevelopment of the original Naval Base at the end of Durnford Street in Stonehouse.  It has restaurants, bars, a local ferry dock and great views from all of the perimeter.

I am always amazed how many people have not heard of this, but who visit RWY or Devils Point which runs past the site.  True, it’s tucked away and not signposted, but its just inside the gates and is so worth a visit.  I have taken a few people there and, without exception, they’ve been entranced.  It looks out over Firestone Bay and covers Drakes Island and Plymouth Sound.

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

So, how to find this little wonder?  Once you have entered RWY via the main gates, there is a reception building on the left, turn left at the end of this building and you’ll see the arch at the end.

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

Wander down past the china cow…  They do like a few oddities at RWY!

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

You’ll start to be able see the view through the arch from here.

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

Go through the arch and you’ll be rewarded with this amazing view.

Royal William Yard and the Hole In The Wall

You can see the full view in the video at the top of this page.  Id love to get some feedback on this one, or other views as good as this!  Let me know in the comments section!

Saltram House – Well, the walk from the Ride anyway.

Saltram Walk 2

Saltram House is a National Trust property on the River Plym.  I use it for a one hour fast walk three or four times a week, just to blow the cobwebs away, get some air and some short exercise.  As I have been doing this since March, its been great to watch the season change, the plants change colour and most recently (its now October) the land thinning out, the leaves changing and the tracks getting clearer.  Its really a beautiful walk all year round, my route takes in 3.2 miles and takes between 50 minutes and an hour to complete.

I start in the car park at the Ride, this is next to the Recycling centre and is free parking.

Walk up the side of the Embankment to the end, which has a little beach.  The Embankment has a really fierce tide, going from completely full to completely empty in about two hours.  If you catch it at the right time, you can watch the birds feeding on the worms, or the water creeping across the mud, or fish swimming around, all from the same place.

Turn right, walk up to the house, circle it to the right, then follow the path back to the beach, past the Birdwatching Hide and the Roman looking Folly.

On any normal day, you’ll come across squirrels and rabbits, plus its a favourite dog walking route so there’ll be a lot of those too.

Ill add some more photos of the route the next time im there.  If you are into the National Trust experience, the House is lovely, plus there is an NT shop, toilets, and a café which does a great Carrot Cake.

More information to be added…

The walk looks like this on Strava, a lovely way to stretch your legs, get some air and see some genuinely pretty urban landscapes.

 

 

Philip K Dick – A Scanner Darkly – Book Review

Philip K Dick - A Scanner Darkly - Cover

Verdict – This is genuinely a really affecting book, read it in as close to one hit as you can.  Highly recommended.

I admit it, I put off reading Philip K Dick books for many many years due to thinking he was a pulp writer.  I was wrong.  A Scanner Darkly relates the darkness surrounding drug addiction, hopelessness and focus that Dick experienced in his young-adulthood.  He was an amphetamine addict for many years, although he maintains that this was the first novel he wrote while not on something.

His was a life of turmoil, 5 marriages, 5 divorces, periods of homelessness, depression, paranoia, suicide attempts (once crashing a car on purpose with a wife as a passenger), plus delusions.  The work that comes out of this is, to say the least, unstable.

You can buy this book at amazon from this link.  I have added some links at the end of this page to more information about the author and the book.



A Scanner Darkly is wonderful, an immersive look at life as an addict of Substance D (otherwise known as Death), and large portions of the book are devoted to Bob Arctur’s search for new supplies of tabs.  Substance D is incredibly addictive and over time, overuse will damage the link between the two halves of the brain.  We follow Bob’s journey through slowly succumbing to this impairment, knowing its happening, but being addicted and unable to stop.  There are some heartbreaking sections where friends and acquaintances succumb along the way, plus of course, we can see Bob’s descent as it happens.

Alongside this, Bob is also an undercover policeman (Fred), running surveillance on both himself and his housemates.  There are several routes through which this conflict manifests itself.  His superiors take precautions about limiting his addiction, although he never does receive any actual help, as they need him to be an addict to protect his cover.

With this being a Philip K Dick novel, there are of course various background themes that complicate and confuse the people in the narrative.  As a policeman, Fred has a clinical view of the house and his actions in it.  As his brain deteriorates, he becomes less able to identify himself as being on both sides of the surveillance cameras.  There are a cast of people who pass through the house during the book and while Bob the addict genuinely reacts to events as they happen, the policeman watching the same events manages to come up with unrelated interpretations based on the same information.

Where this book wins for me is the speed with which Bob and Fred part ways and the believable mental processes both go through during their decline.  It is bleak and funny, harsh and loving, life and death, often in the same page.  There are monologues recounting the effects of addiction and an Afterword/Author’s Note listing real people that Dick lost during his early 1960s/70s addiction.

I love this book, Dick predicts entire communities ravaged by addiction and takes the opportunity to explain, although not excuse, the same addiction.  He makes it seem like a logical place to be, assuming Substance D is a choice that its OK to make.

The film adaptation in 2006 is either loved or hated, but very much worth a look.  A lot of the criticism of it is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, which if the reviewer has not read the book, is probably right.  The sense of dislocation, paranoia, bleakness faithfully comes across and the rotoscoping (look it up, great effect) shows off the down-played, flat colour performances of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Wynona Ryder, plus other celebrities in cameos.  It’s a page by page performance of the book with a great cast and while it lost money, you can tell its a labour of love by the Director, Richard Linklater.

More information about Philip K Dick can be found here, and the Wikipedia entry for the book here.