HG Wells, The War of the Worlds and Woking

Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise in Woking? It was never going to happen. Woking is a very ordinary town, an hour's train ride south of London. It lacks the drama that Americans have the ability to confer on their dullest destinations. So Tom Cruise flees those spindly monster tripods as he travels from Athens, New York to his inlaws' house in Boston.

But walk out of Woking station, turn right and head along the diagonal street towards the precinct. And there he is at the end of the street. Wells' weird and wonderful Martian on his tripod watching over the Saturday shoppers in the precinct. Wells himself lived in Woking and would wander the nearby heathlands with his brother Frank discussing the great questions of life. They, like us, were living at the birth of a technological revolution: telegrams, electricity and fast news were new arrivals on their scene. "Suppose" Frank once asked "some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly" and thus the 1898 novel was born.

The Martian cylinders land in familiar suburban locations: Horsell Common, Addlestone Golf Links, Pyrford. The narrator's journey takes him not through Cruise and Spielberg's contemporary New York and New Jersey but along the hedgerows of southern England to a devastated London. The book is a fast, exciting read, worth revisiting and making the Spielberg film look clunky and sentimental in comparison.

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