Study Guide

The War of the Worlds Martian Technology vs. Human Technology

By H.G. Wells

Martian Technology vs. Human Technology

Well, this isn't a fair fight. Obviously, Martian technology wins because it's better. (Would you rather travel by horse-and-cart or by tripod?) Even at the end of the book, when humans have figured out how to fly (thanks to Martian technology), people still haven't unlocked the secret of the Heat-Ray or the Black Smoke.

Which reminds us, Jules Verne said something very funny about how Wells treated the Martian technology differently from how he would've treated it:

In The War of the Worlds, again, a work for which I confess I have a great admiration, one is left entirely in the dark as to […] in what manner they produce the wonderful heat ray with which they work such terrible havoc […]. (Source)

Well, okay, maybe that's not so funny, but what does that tell us? That for Wells, the more important issue isn't "how does the Heat-Ray work?" but "how does the Heat-Ray affect people?" (By the way, that's the standard way that people think about Verne – "how does it work?" – and Wells – "what does it do to people?")

It's not just the Heat-Ray that affects people. The book is littered with technology, a lot of which we don't even think about because it's our technology. For instance, trains: even before the Martians start tearing up the trains, there were a bunch of times in the opening chapters where trains go through the narrator's hometown. If you think about it, that would've been crazy a hundred years before. A steam engine traveling on a rail was a huge sensation in 1797. But in 1897 (or whenever the story takes place), it's a normal thing. What causes a sensation is the Martian cylinder.

But, who knows, maybe people will master the technology of the space gun and one hundred years after the Martian invasion, we'll be traveling by space cylinder. This helps explain why trains and bicycles keep getting mentioned in this book along with Martian tripods and cylinders: while there may be new and scary technology, the idea of technology is pretty consistent. Which is why something like the Martian tripod can be compared to an ironclad ship (1.11.8) or why an ironclad might be thought of as a relative of a Martian tripod (1.17.23).