1. In 1878 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli
used the most advanced telescope of his day to map the surface of
Mars. He discovered a number of dark, thin lines crisscrossing the
planet and assumed that they were water channels?in Italian,
canali. This was mistranslated into English as canals; as a result
of this subtle linguistic error, many people in Britain and America
believed these passages were man-made. It was in such an atmosphere
of misunderstanding and scientific speculation that Wells published
The War of the Worlds. Today, however, we know a great deal about
Mars and the possibility of life there. Does our scientific
knowledge of what is on Mars make the novel any less alarming? Why
or why not?
2. Isaac Asimov has argued that The War of the Worlds can be
read as an argument against British colonialism and the cold
expansion of the empire. ?H. G. Wells must have wanted to write his
book in such a way as to demonstrate the evils of [colonialism],?
Asimov writes. ?He must have tried to show his own countrymen what
they were doing to the world. The British had been in the forefront
of the imperialistic drive, and by the end of the 1800?s, the
British Empire included a quarter of the land area and the
population of the world. . . . It seemed only poetic justice then
that the Martian invasion in The War of the Worlds fell upon the
British.? Do you agree with Asimov?s reading?
3. Wells begins the book with the chilling image of alien life
watching over the earth. He describes the Martians as planning
their attacks on an unsuspecting man with ?intellects vast and cool
and unsympathetic.? How does this image resonate today?
4. Shortly before Wells died in 1946, he said, ?Reality has
taken a leaf from my book and set itself to supersede me.? What
does Wells mean by this?
5. When the Martians first land on earth, the people who
encounter them initially treat the incident lightly, as if the
aliens are a traveling amusement. Is this a realistic response?
What do you think Wells is trying to say by this?
6. How does Wells use language and narrative style to create
suspense and a sense of terror? Is the book frightening?
7. Many people consider The War of the Worlds the greatest
science fiction book of all time. Do you agree? Why or why not?
What other books are among the best? What defines a classic of