by HG Wells
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
HG Wells and a cover for the 1910 edition
Published in 1898, 'The War of the Worlds' immediately established Herbert George 'HG' Wells as the leading science fiction writer. He said that the story originated in a remark made to him by his brother: "How would it be if some creatures of a vastly superior power suddenly came down upon us and behaved like a drunken man-of-war's crew let loose among some gentle savages?"
Abridged by the original author, HG Wells.
For more by HG Wells, see The Index
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. For in those days no one gave a thought to the outer worlds of space as sources of human danger. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to them-selves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space minds, that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts that perish, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
The first star was seen early in the morning rushing over Winchester eastward, high in the atmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it for an ordinary falling star. No one seems to have troubled to look for the fallen thing that night. But early in the morning it was found, almost entirely buried in the sand, among the scattered splinters of a fir-tree on the common between Horsell, Woking and Ottershaw.
The uncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over, and its outline softened by a thick, scaly, dun-coloured incrustation. It had a diameter of about thirty yards. A stirring noise within the cylinder was ascribed at first to the unequal cooling of its surface, for at that time it did not occur to anyone that it might be hollow. When, about sunset, I joined the crowd at the edge of the pit the thing had dug by its impact with the soil, the end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within. Nearly two feet of shining screw projected.
Somebody blundered against me, and I narrowly missed being pitched on the top of the screw. As I turned to avoid the fall the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion. For a moment the cavity seemed perfectly black, for I had the sunset in my eyes. I think everyone expected to see a man emerge-possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow-greyish, billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disks like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking-stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle and wriggled in the air towards me, and then another. A big, greyish, rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather. Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. It was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted and dropped saliva. The body heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.
Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of their appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedge-like lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement, due to the greater gravitational energy-above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes-culminated in an effect akin to nausea. There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of its tedious movements unspeakably terrible.
Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread. Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder, and fallen into the pit with a thud like the fall of a great mass of leather. I heard it give a peculiar thick cry, and forthwith another of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of the aperture. At that my rigour of terror passed away. I turned and, running madly, made for the first group of trees, perhaps a hundred yards away; but I ran, slanting and stumbling, for I could not avert my face from these things. There, among some young pine trees and furze bushes, I stopped, panting, and waited further developments.
Once a leash of thin black whips, like the arms of an octopus, flashed across the sunset, and was immediately withdrawn, and afterwards a thin rod rose up, joint by joint, bearing at its apex a circular disk that spun with a wobbling motion. Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smoke came out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after the, other, straight into the still air. At the same time a faint hissing sound became audible. Beyond the pit stood a little wedge of people, a little knot of small vertical black shapes upon the black ground. As the green smoke rose, their faces flashed out pallid green, and faded again as it vanished.
Then slowly the hissing passed into humming, into a long, loud droning noise. Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it.
Forthwith, flashes of actual flame a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group Of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged - upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.
Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, their supporters running off. I stood staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant crowd.
An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fell headlong and lay still, and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pine trees burst into fire and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud a mass of flames.
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition-much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details.
However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter-heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch; lead runs like water, it softens iron' cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.
That night nearly forty people lay under the starlight about the pit, charred and distorted beyond recognition, and all night long the common from Horsell to Maybury was deserted, and brightly ablaze.
It was in a storm that I first saw the Martians at large, on the night of the third falling star. A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heath, articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder.
A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly, as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking-stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.
Seen nearer, the thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way.
Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long flexible glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about it. Behind the main body was a huge thing of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me.
All that night the creatures were busy -communicating, I suppose, and maturing their plans. It was not until the next morning that our resistance began.
The fighting I saw took place at Shepperton Wey, where a crowd of fugitives were waiting for the ferry. Suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puff of smoke that jerked up into the air, and hung; and forthwith the ground heaved under foot, and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.
Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armoured Martians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flat meadows that stretch towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedly towards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, going with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds. Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth.
Their armoured bodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon the guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One on the extreme left-the remotest, that is-flourished a huge case high in the air, and the ghostly terrible heat-ray I had already seen on Friday night smote towards Chertsey, and struck the town. "Get under water!" I shouted unheeded.
And, as the first Martian towered overhead scarcely a couple of hundred feet away, I flung myself under the surface. When I raised my head, it was on the bank, and, in a stride, wading half-way across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the further bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepperton.
Forthwith the six guns, which had been hidden behind the out-skirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussions, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump.
The monster was already raising the case generating the heat-ray as the first shell burst six yards above the hood. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell.
The shell burst clean in the face of the thing. The hood bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh and glittering metal. "Hit!" shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.
I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I could have leapt out of the water with that momentary exultation. The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant, but it did not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer heeding its steps, and with the camera that fired the heat-ray now rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton.
The living intelligence, the Martian within the hood, was slain and splashed to the four winds of heaven, and the thing was now but a mere intricate device of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight line, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of Shepperton Church, smashing it down as the impact of a battering-ram might have done, swerved aside, blundered on, and collapsed with a tremendous impact into the river.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the heat-ray hit the water, the latter had flashed into steam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore, but almost scalding hot, came sweeping round the bend up-stream. I saw people struggling shore-wards, and heard their screaming faintly above the' seething and roar of the Martian's collapse.
Then again I ducked, for the other Martians were advancing. When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the hair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling white fog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise was deafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of grey, magnified by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the ruins of their comrade.
The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps two hundred yards from me, the other towards Laleham. The generators of the heat-rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this way and that. The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict of noises, the clangorous din of the Martians, the crash of falling houses, the thud of trees, fences, sheds, flashing into flame, and the crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to mingle with the steam from the river, and as the heat-ray went to and fro over Weybridge, its impact was marked by flashes of incandescent white, 'that gave place at once to smoky lurid flames.
For a moment I stood there, breast-high in the almost boiling water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape. Through the reek I could see people scrambling out of the water through the reeds, like little frogs hurrying through grass from the advance of a man, or running to and fro in utter dismay on the towing-path.
Then suddenly, the white flashes of the heat-ray came leaping towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch and darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. It flickered up and the towing-path, licking off the people who ran this may and that, and came down to the water's edge not fifty yards from where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and the water in its track rose in a boiling wheal crested with steam. I turned shoreward.
In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point, had rushed upon me. I screamed aloud and, scalded, half-blinded, agonised, I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the shore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end.
I fell helplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, bare gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames. I expected nothing but death. I have a dim memory of the foot of a Martian coming down within a score of feet of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel, whirling it this way and that, and lifting again; of a long suspense, and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade between them, now clear, and then presently faint, through a veil of smoke, receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of river and meadow.
By a miracle I had escaped. But it was not on the heat-ray that the Martians chiefly relied in their march on London. The monsters I saw that evening as I fled were armed with tubes which they discharged like guns: There was no flash, no smoke, simply that loaded detonation. Every. minute I expected the fire of some hidden battery to spring upon them, but the evening calm was unbroken. Their figures grew smaller as they receded, and presently the gathering night had swallowed them up. Only towards Sunbury was a dark appearance, as though a conical hill had suddenly come into being there, and remoter across the river, towards Walton, I saw another such summit.
They grew lower and broader even as I stared. These, as I knew later, were the black smoke. It was heavy, this vapour, heavier than the densest smoke, so that, after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its impact, it sank down through the air and poured over the ground in a manner rather liquid than gaseous, abandoning the hills, and streaming into the valleys and ditches and watercourses, even as I have heard the carbonic acid gas that pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do.
And the touch of that vapour was death to all that breathes. One has to imagine the fate of those batteries towards Esher, waiting so tensely in the twilight, as well as one may. Survivors there were none. One may picture the orderly expectation, the officers alert and watchful; the gunners ready, the ammunition piled to hand, the limber gunners with their horses and waggons, the groups of civilian spectators standing as near as they were permitted, the evening stillness the ambulances and hospital tents; with the burnt and wounded from Weybridge; then the dull resonance of the shots the Martians fired, and the clumsy projectile whirling over the trees and houses, and smashing amidst the neighbouring fields.
One may picture, too, the sudden shifting of the attention, the swiftly spreading coils and bellyings of that blackness advancing headlong, towering heavenward, turning the twilight to a palpable darkness, a strange and horrible antagonist of vapour striding upon its victims, men and horses near it seen dimly running, shrieking, failing headlong, shouts of dismay, the guns suddenly abandoned, men Choking and writhing on the ground,. and the swift broadening out of the opaque cone of smoke. And then, night and extinction -nothing but a silent mass of impenetrable vapour hiding its dead.
So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the greatest city in the world just as Monday Was dawning, the stream of flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round the railway stations, a banked up into a horrible struggle about the shipping in the Thames, and hurrying by every available channel northward a and eastward. By ten o'clock the police organization, and by midday even the railway organizations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, gutering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body. All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-Eastern people at Cannon Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and trains were being filled, people were fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriages, even at two o'clock. By three, people were being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street; a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect.
And as the day advanced the engine-drivers and stokers refused to return to London, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an ever-thickening multitude away from the stations and along the northward running roads. By mid-day a Martian had been seen at Barnes, and a cloud of slowly sinking black vapour drove along the Thames and across the flats of Lambeth, cutting off all escape over the bridges in its advance.
If one could have hung that June morning in a balloon in the blazing blue above London, every northward and eastward road running out of the infinite tangle of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming fugitives, each dot a human agony of terror and physical distress.
Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of Streets far and wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens-already derelict-spread out like a huge map, and in the southward blotted. Over Ealing, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart. Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out:ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-found valley, exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.
And beyond, over the blue hills that rise southward of the river, the glittering Martians went to and fro, calmly and methodically spreading their poison cloud over this patch of country, and then over that, laying it again with their steam-jets when it had served its purpose, and taking possession of the conquered country. They do not seem to have aimed at extermination so much as at complete demoralisation and the destruction of any opposition. They exploded any stores of powder they came upon, cut every telegraph, and wrecked the railways here and there. They were ham-stringing mankind.
They seemed in no hurry to extend the field of operations, and they did not come beyond the central part of London all that day. It is possible that a very considerable number of people in London stuck to their houses through Monday morning. I have not space to tell you here of my adventures during the days that followed -of how I saw men caught for the Martians' food, of how the third falling star smashed the house where I was resting, and of what I saw while I was hiding there. When I came out into the air again, I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of another planet.
Everywhere spread a red weed, whose seed the Martians had brought with them. All round were red cactus-shaped plants, knee-high, without a solitary terrestrial growth to dispute their footing. The trees near me were dead and brown, but further a network of red threads scaled the still living stems. I went on my way to Hampstead through scarlet and crimson trees; it was like walking in an avenue of gigantic blood drops .
It was near South Kensington that I first heard the howling. It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing alternation of two notes, "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," keeping on perpetually. I stopped, wondering at this strange, remote wailing. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude. It was not until I emerged from Baker Street that I saw, far away over the trees in the clearness of the sunset, the hood of the Martian giant from which this howling proceeded. I watched him for some time, but he did not move.
I came upon the wrecked handling machine halfway to St. John's Wood Station. At first I thought a house had fallen across the road. It was only as I clambered among the ruins that I saw, with a start, this mechanical Samson lying, with its tentacles bent and smashed and twisted, among the ruins it had made. It seemed as if it had driven blindly straight at the house, and had been overwhelmed in its overthrow.
A little beyond the ruins about the smashed handling machine I came upon the red weed again, and found Regent's Canal a spongy mass of dark red vegetation. The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the trees towards the park were growing black. All about me the red weed clambered among the ruins, writhing to get above me in the dimness.
Far away, I saw a second Martian, motionless as the first, standing in the park towards the Zoological Gardens. An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it. And I would save myself even the trouble of killing myself. I marched on recklessly towards this Titan, and then, as I drew nearer and the light grew, I saw that a multitude of black birds was circling and clustering about the hood. At that my heart gave a bound, and I began running along the road.
Great mounds had been heaped about the crest of the hill, making a huge redoubt of it. It was the final and largest place the Martians made.
And from behind these heaps there rose a thin smoke against the sky. Against the skyline an eager dog ran and dis-appeared. The thought that had flashed into my mind grew real, grew credible. I felt no fear, only a wild, trembling exultation, as I ran up the hill towards the motionless monster. Out of the hood hung lank shreds of brown at which the hungry birds pecked and tore.
I scrambled up the earthen rampart, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And, scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians-dead!-slain by the putrefactive and dis-ease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God has put upon this earth.
Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rot-ting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all corners; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they arc. For neither do men live nor die in vain.
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