The War Of The Worlds - Fresh Perspectives on the H.G. Wells Classic by H.G. Wells et al.
Benbella, 2005, US$17.95, 292pp
ISBN 1-932100-55-5
This review first appeared on The SF Site
Fresh Perspectives on the H.G. Wells Classic includes the complete text of the original War Of The Worlds, which is a definite help, even though it means only half of the 292 pages are actual fresh perspectives on Wells' novel. First off, the academics amongst you should be aware that this isn't a collection of literary criticism pieces. The various essays (and they truly are quite 'various') are rather personal thoughts and responses to the text. They're very accessible and by turns thought-provoking, entertaining and informative.

On the entertaining side of the ledger (with perhaps a hint of satire in there, too), Lawrence Watt-Evans demolishes the idea of the Martians as super beings, and David Zindell adds a more earnest touch with what I can only describe as a Stapledonian alternate history of the Martians. Ian Watson does something similar, although he does it by 'channeling the spirit' of H.G. Wells. You have to admire his cheek - his and Connie Willis's, actually - the latter whose tongue is lodged so firmly in her cheek that I fear it may be trapped there forever.

Pamela Sargent and Robert Charles Wilson reflect upon their personal responses to the book, then and now, and each find something new and worthwhile in the enterprise. David Gerrold looks at the history of the ideas in the novel and how it has developed within our culture, to which Fred Saberhagen adds some further background. The venerable George Zebrowski seems to find within the book almost a moral lesson, one that Mike Resnick provides a counterpoint to in his piece. It's left to Stephen Baxter to produce one of the explanatory pieces he does so well: in this case looking back at the development of our understanding of the red planet. Jack Williamson and Mercedes Lackey both look back at the times Wells was writing in, which adds some relevant and interesting background for the casual scholar, both thought-provoking and entertaining.

This is a remarkably diverse collection of essays, which is both a strength and weakness, in that a multiplicity of ideas are raised, but sometimes feel like they've been skimmed over - a little more depth and rigour might have been nice sometimes. With that in mind I would say that if you're only looking for a collection of rigorous essays then this is not the book for you - there are others out there that fulfil that need. On the other hand, if you're a fairly casual reader thinking, perhaps, that it's about time you read this most famous of all science fiction novels, then this is unquestionably the version I would recommend to you. The essays are intelligent, lucid and out of the ordinary, between them giving a helpful (if occasionally somewhat unique) background to the novel, one that anyone who enjoys the core text can only benefit from.

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