did not finish: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (audio)

The War of the Worlds is a classic, and H.G. Wells is a respected name. I guess I’d only read his The Invisible Man, as a very young (I had assumed, too young) girl; it didn’t resonate much with me. I thought I’d give him a second chance with this sort of landmark work in early science fiction, and I selected the audio version because of the story attached to its original radio production that caused all that panic when people thought the Martians were *really* attacking. But this one was a fail for me. I quit about halfway through.

First, I’ll give you a partial plot synopsis: Our unnamed narrator-character (not to be confused with the narrator of the audiobook, who will be discussed shortly), a resident of the English countryside, describes what seemed to be falling stars but turn out to be giant cylinders fired from a rocket on Mars. These land, every 24 hours, around London and disgorge Martians, who turn out to be better-armed than the locals, technologically superior, and unfriendly. They operate giant tripod-machines that shoot fire and destroy land, crops, vegetation and people. The Brits try to fight back with their inferior weapons but are getting their butts kicked. And then I stopped listening.

The style of narration was dry. I was easily bored; my mind wandered. I think the audio-narrator, Bill Weideman, was part of my problem. For one thing, he has the odd habit of dropping the occasional leading consonant, like so: “we are ‘ill waiting” (for “still waiting”) and the like. I am perplexed at why you would choose someone with such a strange habit of speech to narrate an audiobook; I was frequently confused as to certain words he pronounced in this manner. Another oddity involved accents. This story is set in England, and when the narrator quotes other characters he gives them an English accent (which by the way seemed excessively nasal and frankly annoyed me), but in the voice of the main-character-narrator, no accent was used (meaning, he sounded American to me). I did not learn, in the half of the book I listened to before giving up, if the narrator was in fact American. But perhaps most generally, Weideman and Wells between them created a monotonous, even soporific effect on me. I couldn’t seem to focus on following the story, as the narrator (in both senses) felt emotionless to me. I can understand how the idea of “total warfare,” total destruction of acres upon acres of land and men and women and children were demolished wholesale in a single sweep of the Martians’ weapons, was shocking to this book’s original audience (1898) and that of the radio drama (1938). But in a world that has seen an atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, perhaps the impact is lessened.

Of course, as is always the case when I read a Great Classic and do not find myself moved, there is the question of whether there’s something wrong with me: what did I miss? I do not discourage you from trying out this well-known and well-respected book (although I might discourage you from trying Weideman’s audio narration). I hope you like it. I did not.

4 Responses

  1. I just wrote a review about Spartacus, the movie, and said I didn’t really like it. But the movie is so well-respected. I thought to myself, “Am I an idiot? Why does everyone love this movie and I was bored?” So I understand how you feel. So I don’t think you missed anything. It just wasn’t your cup of tea…however this is coming from the idiot who was bored by one of the greatest movies of all time so what do I know :)

    • Yea… you know, it’s so easy to want to tell you, we can’t all like the same things! It’s okay! But it’s harder to follow that advice. I’ve been struggling since I’ve kept this blog to have confidence in my reactions to books even if they’re well-regarded. There isn’t consensus on the worth of one single book out there; and that’s okay.

  2. Just because something is a classic it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to like the book. I’ve had this happen quite a few times. If I don’t like a book, I usually just put it down and start a new one.

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