In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells's Martians had the good sense to make landfall near Woking. 'Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night after, about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night.' Technologically primitive Surrey suburbanites were zapped by future war weaponry; it was a horribly unequal contest. Roaming bands of survivors, heads bandaged, took to the hills; the defeated military attempted guerrilla raids from their shelters on the North Downs. Religion was no consolation. Fundamentalist clergy wandered the back roads and river paths between Staines and Richmond, calling for divine retribution. They died raving, in the rubble, doctrine decayed into a stream of incoherent curses. No building, however innocent its function, was safe from the Heat-Rays. 'I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had vanished.' Woking, heathland bastion of English values, had a mosque. But the alien invaders, who had travelled 140,000,000 miles with mayhem in mind, had no interest in cultural niceties. Burn, blast, batter. Convert the primitives of Ottershaw and Chertsey and Weybridge into meat. Liquidise them. Very perceptive, these foreign devils. With one glance, they understood that our soft estates were good for nothing except future golf courses, catteries, mediparcs and orbital motorways. They dug their crater at a place with easy access to the coming M25. Wells knew the geography of the perimeter, he had cycled for miles through country lanes and villages that would soon be swallowed by ribbon-development and retail landfill.
LRB 3 January 2002 | PDF Download