organisms. However, it may not be as wholly original as one might suppose: in Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac one of his many wives dies of an Earthly disease against which she has no resistance. (Incidentally, though The War of the Worlds makes no mention of viruses - 'lowlier' even than bacteria, they had been first identified in 1892 with the discovery of the tobacco mosaic virus - so their role as an agent of disease was understood if not fully appreciated.)

The bacterial fate of the Martians also provides another lesson from Wells in the process of natural selection. The first clue to the Martian's imminent demise is given in the fate of the "red weed" - a Martian plant introduced by the invaders: "In the end the red weed succumbed almost as quickly as it had spread. A cankering disease, due... to the action of certain bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by the action of natural selection, all terrestrial plants have acquired a resisting power against bacterial diseases - they never succumb without a severe struggle, but the red weed rotted like a thing already dead." And eventually, the Martians are all killed, "slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared... These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things - taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many - those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance - our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars.... By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vein." In other words, Wells is saying that for all our failings, man has evolved to fit his 'chosen' environment.

It is interesting to note that whilst recognised as an agent of natural selection at the end of the nineteenth century, the full importance of viruses, bacteria and other microbes in the process of evolution has only more recently become fully apparent. As micro- organisms have a much shorter life-cycle than their host organisms, their rate of evolution is faster, and it is a constant struggle for the host organisms to 'keep up' in this evolutionary arms race. This has been dubbed the 'Red Queen effect', named after Lewis Carroll's Queen in Through the Looking Glass: "Now, here, you see," says the Queen, "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that." This effect is seen as particularly instrumental in encouraging the evolution of sexual reproduction in host animals. Very basically (for a more detailed discussion see Further Reading), sexual reproduction 'jumbles up' the genes and thus the immune systems of each generation. This gives the new offspring an in-built advantage over the micro-organisms that have been busy evolving to attack the parental generation. Animals that reproduce without sex are therefore often susceptible to these micro-organisms: they have no natural variation of immune systems between individuals or generations, and if one is susceptible, in theory they all are. So it would seem unsurprising that the Martians are, "absolutely without sex... A young Martian... was really born upon earth... and it was found attached to its parents, partially budded off, just as young lily-bulbs bud off, or like the young animals in the fresh- water polyp." The point Wells makes with regard to this is that it leaves them "without any of the tumultuous emotions that arise from the differences among men", thus stressing his idea of super-rational Martian intelligence. However, intentionally or not, Wells has stumbled across one of the reasons why the Martians all succumbed so quickly to the bacteria: they are, effectively, all clones of one another - with identical immune systems.

Wells also notes that on earth "Among the lower animals... the two processes occur side by side, but finally the sexual method superseded its competitor altogether. On Mars, however, just the reverse has apparently been the case." And this is only likely to be the case in a micro-organism free environment. It would have to have been so for a considerable length of time for the Martians to make such an oversight as to ignore the concept of space quarantine that human astronauts now routinely practise. Indeed "in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead. And the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of the putrefaction process." And in a twenty-first century twist on a nineteenth century conjecture, scientists are now speculating that there may be bacteria to be found on Mars. Traces of them may or may not have already been found in Mars rock, depending on

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