33. The War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1898)

Without doubt this book has the greatest opening paragraph in the English language, culminating in ‘intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us’. I always thought I’d love Wells’s social realist novels like Kipps more than the speculative stuff, but au contraire, I find the former laboured and mawkish while The War of the Worlds is terse, tense and profound. Of course it’s a ‘ripping yarn’ but it’s also got a lot to say about human nature and social organisation – and it’s got aliens rampaging over south-east England which, for a Surrey boy like me, is gratifying.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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