The tale that scared America silly in 1938, courtesy of Orson Welles, returns in a well-made app that would do a Martian invader proud.
H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, long before world-destroying technologies were available to frighten us in real life. The humans in it, famously, are unprepared when an armada of ill-intending Martians reaches the third stone from the sun and begins to blow things up willy-nilly. Eventually, though, they begin to mount resistance, and if some of the fighting takes place in the unlikely confines of rural England, so much the better for Wells’ first generation of readers. The developers at E-mersiv do Wells’ book a service by having fun with it. When the Martians begin to deploy their extremely nasty heat ray, for instance, or what Wells calls “this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat,” words on the page burn before readers’ eyes—a very neat bit of animation, that, matched with appropriately scarifying background noises that suggest sizzling and smoking. The score is not always the best; there are too many moments of tinkling piano and weird prog rock for comfort. But for its sonic lapses, the main body of the text is superb, giving new life to Wells’ words. This is nowhere more true than toward the end of app and novel, when the Martians have destroyed the center of the world: “London about me gazed at me spectrally,” Wells writes, a burned-up, bowled-over, blown-apart city of the dead, and the designer nicely reinforces the sense of doom and destruction by blackening the edges of the page as if a firestorm had passed over it. The text is easy to bookmark—so easy that it invites flagging favorite passages, in fact. The only poorly executed aspect of the package is a glossary pulled down by means of a readily accessible menu; it reads as if written by a non-native speaker of English—perhaps a Martian—and is uninformative (the opening gloss for “Narrator’s Wife,” for instance, is “Wife of the narrator”).
It’s as if Orson Welles had gotten hold of an iPad. Though some fixes remain to be done, a top-notch production.