Book I: The Coming of the Martians
The Narrator, a writer on philosophical matters, explains that the Martians sought to invade earth because their planet was cooling and dying, and they saw the Earth as resource-rich "morning star of hope" to colonise. With an astronomer Ogilvy, the Narrator observes (in 1894), bursts of fire on the surface of Mars, which they later take to be a form of 'space-gun' projecting objects towards earth.
Six years later, a 'meteorite' lands on Horsell Common and is found by Ogilvy who realises it is a hollow cylinder. The Narrator goes to examine the cylinder, along with crowds of onlookers. A Martian emerges from the cylinder and the crowd and Narrator are horrified by its strange appearance. A deputation of humans approaches the cylinder. The Narrator watches, stupefied, as a Heat-Ray destroys everything in its path. He flees in terror. More onlookers arrive, but flee when they are told the Martians are approaching. The Narrator stumbles home and tells his wife what he has seen but maintains that the Martians cannot survive in the earth's atmosphere, and are severely limited by earth's greater gravitational force.
Soldiers cordon off the cylinder and life carries on as normal. The second cylinder lands, and is attacked by soldiers. The Martians retaliate, killing the soldiers, and the Narrator takes his wife to safety in Leatherhead. Returning to his home, the Narrator is caught in a storm and he sees the first of the Martian tripods. Once home, the Narrator surveys the destruction wrought by the Martian Heat-Ray from his study window. He takes in a soldier - an artillery-man - who tells him how the Martians destroyed Woking. The Narrator and the soldier go to Weybridge. The Martian tripods attack, and although on is destroyed, Weybridge and Shepperton are both devastated. The Narrator flees. On his way to London, the Narrator meets a self- pitying curate.
The Narrator's brother, a medical student in London, finds Londoners at first unperturbed by the recent events; but when forces at Kingston and Richmond are defeated, everyone is advised to evacuate. The Narrator describes the Martian's advance and their latest weapon - poisonous black smoke. The Narrator's brother flees London and rescues two women and their cart. Together, they try to cross the Great North Road, but it is swarming with panic-stricken crowds. The three reach the south-east coast and board a paddle-steamer, from where they witness the destruction of two Martian tripods by the torpedo-ram Thunder Child.
Book II: The Earth Under the Martians
Worried about his wife, the Narrator sets out for Leatherhead, accompanied by the miserable curate. They reach Mortlake and take refuge in an empty house, but are trapped when the fifth cylinder lands. The Narrator describes the Martian machines and the creatures that operate them. As the curate becomes even more self-pitying, the Narrator witnesses the Martians' treatment of captured humans and resolve to escape. The curate loses his reason and his shouts attract a Martian machine. The Narrator strikes the curate dead with the handle of a meat-cleaver and hides in the coal cellar. After days without food and water, the Narrator risks using the water pump, and discovers the Martians have left the pit. He leaves the house and discovers a barely recognisable, devastated landscape all around. He discovers the artillery-man again, who expounds his plans for mankind's survival.
Hoping to find survivors, the Narrator goes to London. He sees a Martian tripod, motionless and howling, and a wrecked Martian handling machine. On Primrose Hill he finds the Martian's base, which has become their grave. The Martians have all fallen victim of earth bacteria and microbes that they have no resistance to. The Martians dead, people begin to return to London. The Narrator hears that Leatherhead has been destroyed, and he returns home, desolate; but his cousin and wife are waiting for him. The Narrator reflects, with cautious optimism, on the effects on mankind of the Martian's invasion.
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