Thursday, May 1, 2008

'The War of the Worlds': the real thing…

I bought my copy of 'The War of the Worlds' album by Jeff Wayne when it was first released – vinyl of course, and was completely taken with it. When it seemed that vinyl was on the way out, and tapes were the thing, I bought the double album on tape (of course tapes were already on the way out then too.. I was something of a late adopter you know) because it was a real favourite.

My kids grew up loving it, and my daughter in particular used to love listening to the album while poring over the vinyl album artwork.. those tripods, fantastic war machines, the red weed. Perhaps that's where she got her love of things Sci-Fi, and to this day she is (amongst other things) a 'Stargate' nut.

The sad thing is that I had never read H G Wells book 'The War of the Worlds', the real thing that is .. until recently. While away on a brief holiday this week I found a copy of a re-issue of the book selling all too cheaply on the bookshelf of a small local bookseller. I grabbed it, and read it in less than a day, and marvel at this incredible book. Now I still think that the Jeff Wayne musical version of the book was fantastic, but it hardly 'holds a candle' to the book in my opinion.

In the forward to this particular edition, Bruce Brooks wrote:

"However, prediction of technology isn't really what impresses us about old-timers; that's just a pretense. What really impresses us is their understanding of human beings, like us, and the ability of these old writers to command timeless, irresistible humour, or passion, or – in the case of 'The War of the Worlds' – terror.

'The War of the Worlds' is a masterpiece of fright. It is many other things, too – a sly allegory of British colonialism, a treatise on the question of nature vs. artifice, a satire of religiosity – but most of these matters come to mind only after we have finished reading the novel and then, a few weeks later, resumed our normal sleep patterns."

It isn't hard to understand why I might be writing about this book on a war gaming blog: it's the very stuff of the hobby, from the man who almost 'invented' the modern form of the hobby with his book 'Little Wars'. The book has fired my imagination; just as I have been blogging about a Victorian Science Fiction army – this is it. Wells creates visions of Victorian armies, pith helmets, red tunics, blue trousers, combined with giant fighting machines. In his case Wells saw tripods manned by Martians. War gamers today see not only tripods, but steam driven tanks and all manner of fighting machines, modern in outlook, but driven with the arcane technology of the Victorian era.

"Forthwith the six guns which, unknown to anyone on the right bank had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, 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.

I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the other four Martian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not 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."

I reckon that these words, written 110 years ago, are as riveting today as they must have been to Wells' readers in 1898. The words are of course much more for the average war gamer: they are a source of inspiration and excitement. And of course let's not forget that 40 years after they were written, in 1938 (October 30th to be precise), Orson Welles' radio dramatisation of 'The War of the Worlds' was sufficiently believable to have thousands of Americans believing that a Martian invasion of Earth was actually taking place: powerful words indeed.

In the meantime, I must get that box of Esci 1/72nd British Infantry of the Zulu Wars, just the thing for a Victorian Sci-Fi army for HotT (I need some Shooters, and some Blades (British infantry with bayonets), for a start..), all inspired by words written 110 years ago by H G Wells: 'The War of the Worlds', the real thing…

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