Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Principles of Martian Technology (Some Invasion Ideas...)

We recently discovered a rather detailed and wonderfully well-done bit of speculative engineering analysis concerning the technology of the Martians featured in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. You can find it here. We highly recommend it. Unfortunately, this seems to be an archived fragment of something a bit larger in scope. If anyone knows any further details about this seemingly orphaned project, please contact us: netherwerks (at) gmail (dot) com. We'd very much like to find out more about this rather nicely done investigation into the technical aspects behind Mr. Wells' Martians and their technologies. The handwavium-esque 'Viridigen' powersource itself is a touch of genius.

Viridigen not withstanding, there are a few other aspects of Martian Technology that seem to have been lost, forgotten or overlooked in the rush to the Tripods, Cylinders and Heat-Rays.

The Martian Flying Machine(s)
Of a night, all over there, Hampstead way, the sky is alive with their lights. It's like a great city, and in the glare you can just see them moving. By daylight you can't. But nearer--I haven't seen them—' (he counted on his fingers) ‘five days. Then I saw a couple across Hammersmith way carrying something big. And the night before last’--he stopped and spoke impressively—‘it was just a matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe they've built a flying-machine, and are learning to fly.’I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.‘Fly!’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘fly.’

 It wasn't just something that George Pal dreamed up in his classic 1953 movie. The Martian Flying Machine is in the book. But it only gets mentioned in passing and never really seems to do much more than spread some Black Smoke before the war is over. In fact, the Flying Machine only gets mentioned after the War in an issue of the Daily Mail. And in the version of the story that ran in Pearson's Magazine, it is conjectured that the Martians might not have flown more than 50 miles from London. It is supposed that perhaps the Martians were not able to adapt their Flying Machines to Earth's gravity, air pressure, atmosphere or something like that. It is also possible that the Invaders were caught-up in the throes of an on-going scientific-industrial revolution and only invented the Flying Machines en route to Earth. That opens the door to some wonderful What If? lines of conjecture, such as what else might they have come up with, given more time to fiddle with their slide-rules, erector-sets and lens assemblies?

The Black Smoke
The Black Smoke was delivered by explosive rockets. It is an almost viscous, ink-like vapor that supposedly bonds with Argon in the atmosphere to produce a horribly toxic gas that is almost instantly fatal to all forms of terrestrial life that come into contact with it. The gas is extremely dense, almost fluid-like in its characteristics, and is definitely much heavier than air. One can sometimes escape it by climbing upwards, out of the way of its billowing mass. It forms a nasty black scabrous-scum whenever it comes into contact with water and the Martians were able to clear it away with jets of compressed steam, which reduce it to a soggy gelatinous mass that dries-out into a granular black powder.

We only have Mr. Wells' theory to go on that the Black Smoke actually binds with Argon, but the evidence is grimly clear that the Black Smoke most definitely causes a terrible chemical reaction within its victims that is extremely lethal. This is a terrifying form of chemical weapon that kills on contact, not by inhalation. The primary component of the Black Smoke is unmistakably some heretofore unidentified element that terrestrial science has yet to successfully identify, let alone synthesize. Though there are those making great efforts in this area in numerous locations.

It is possible that some of the 'black tubes' used to launch the rockets carrying the Black Smoke could be recovered from a Cylinder Crash-Site by an intrepid group of adventurers who perhaps were lucky enough to discover a Cylinder that landed poorly, killing its crew. It is also conceivable that a group of freedom fighters might topple a Tripod and be able to strip away some of its armament, such as the black tube rocket launchers (plus the rockets themselves...) or the heat ray mechanisms (parabolic mirror, focusing crystal, power source...), but doing so poses a number of secondary problems such as jury-rigging some means to actually operate the weapons without the intrinsic control mechanisms within a Tripod. But such engineering problems are the meat and drink of stalwart Scientists and Adventurers in the mold of Professor Challenger, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage or even a Moriarty or Fu Manchu...

The Red Weeds
An often overlooked component to the Martian Invasion is the Red Weed, a biological weapon that was derived from the ultra-dense red weed that grew abundantly on Mars as seen in The Crystal Egg. This fast-growing red plant spreads like super-kudzu, reproducing almost explosively on contact with water and quickly clogging-up rivers, lakes and streams. The Red Weed practically engulfs those areas it is able to take root within, and tends to choke-out the native vegetation. It glows a soft purple at night and can be eaten, but has a metallic taste that tends to discourage most potential grazers or any but the absolutely most desperate diners.

The Red Weed effectively blocked shipping and all waterborne transport. It also could very easily have infiltrated reservoirs and municipal water supplies, cutting off any form of resistance from their supply of water. That makes it a very effective weapon, and more of a threat than even the Black Smoke. Without water, there is no resistance. Perhaps the Martians had some way of extracting the water from the Red Weed, or they had no need for water in the same way that terrestrial biology does, as they tend to be of more sanguinary tastes or proclivities...

The Big Gun on Olympus Mons
The Martian Cylinders have no propulsion units, only a few maneuvering jets at best. They are a one-way delivery vehicle. Each Cylinder is fired out of a massive giga-cannon erected atop Olympus Mons. In certain respects this huge gun resembles the Railway Guns of WWI, only ridiculously more massive and powerful. Later sources have taken to designating the Big Gun as a form of mass driver, but that just doesn't fit with the rest of the technology--it's probably a gigantic cannon. The idea of a gigantic Space Gun isn't just something limited to old science fiction--this is something that very real military money has been spent on and Top Men have investigated on behalf of the United States. But that's getting into the whole black projects end of the conspiracy-nutjob pond and we'll come back to that another day.

Once the Invasion succeeded, the Martians would most likely have built another such mega-cannon on Earth and used it to invade the Moon and possibly Venus, as well as go back to Mars. It would be most unfortunate if the Martians were to discover Cavorite in the course of their depredations and inhuman activities on the Earth. One also has to wonder how they would manage the invasion of the Moon and the attempted subjugation of the Selenites...

The Cylinders
The Thing itself lay almost entirely buried in sand, amidst the scattered splinters of a fir tree it had shivered to frag- ments in its descent. The uncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over and its outline softened by a thick scaly dun-coloured incrustation. It had a diameter of about thirty yards. He approached the mass, surprised at the size and more so at the shape, since most meteorites are rounded more or less completely. It was, however, still so hot from its flight through the air as to forbid his near approach. A stirring noise within its cylinder he ascribed to the unequal cooling of its surface; for at that time it had not occurred to him that it might be hollow. 
...And then he perceived that, very slowly, the circular top of the cylinder was rotating on its body. It was such a gradual movement that he discovered it only through noticing that a black mark that had been near him five minutes ago was now at the other side of the circumference. Even then he scarcely understood what this indicated, until he heard a muffled grating sound and saw the black mark jerk forward an inch or so. Then the thing came upon him in a flash. The cylinder was artificial--hollow--with an end that screwed out! Something within the cylinder was unscrewing the top!

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Big, thermally-insulated bullets approximately 90 feet in diameter, the Cylinders were fired out of a big Space Gun on Olympus Mons and they came to a very abrupt, hard landing just like interplanetary artillery-shells.

The Heat-Ray
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Whether it is a carbon dioxide laser, a maser, particle beam weapon, or some sort of flame-thrower or babble-onium death-ray, the Heat-Ray used by the Martian Invaders (not the one invented by Archimedes),  is an iconic Directed-Energy Ray Weapon. (But you definitely have to use the sound effect from the 1953 movie!)

In the interests of enhanced gaming mayhem, why not randomize the type of weapon each Tripod has equipped?

Random Ray Weapon
  1. Laser
  2. Maser
  3. Particle Beam Weapon  (See this article as well...)
  4. Directed Energy Ray Weapon (as seen on The Six Million Dollar Man...)
  5. Death-Ray
  6. Tesla-esque Teleforce Ray Weapon
  7. Heat-Ray
  8. Charged Particle Beam
  9. Super-heated Plasma
  10. Hydrogen Fluoride Laser
  11. Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon
  12. Electrolaser (Lightning Bringer!)
  13. The Obligatory Ray-Gun, only much bigger
  14. Phaser
  15. Disintegrator Ray (...it was good enough for Edison to Conquer Mars...)
  16. X-Ray Lasers
  17. Gas Dynamic Laser
  18. Carbon-Dioxide Laser
  19. Chemical Laser
  20. SASER
For more ideas, go look over the list of fictional Rayguns at wikipedia.

The Fighting Machines / Tripods
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine-tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.
H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Some of the very first Mecha or Land Ironclads/Dreadnoughts in fiction, the hundred-foot-tall Tripods from Wells' novel are iconic harbingers of interplanetary malevolence. Every adaptation and movie has revised and re-imagined the Tripods until now there are dozens of competing, conflicting and sometimes complimentary versions floating about all over the place. Wells describes them as having a brazen hood over the top and they tend to move along at a very speedy clip, out-pacing flocks of birds, for example.

As a bonus--click HERE to go get the plans for building your own paper-miniature version of a Land Ironclad based off of H. G. Wells' story The Land Ironclads.

The Handling Machine
Besides the Tripod-Fighting Machines, the Sarmak/Mucoid/Martian invaders also employed five-legged 'Handling Machines' that are alternately described as being "spider-like," or "crab-like,"  with many jointed levers and tentacles with which to move things, manipulate things and build the other machines such as the Tripods. They have the uncanny appearance of being almost alive, possibly they are some form of symbiotic or cybernetically-enslaved lower life form domesticated/enslaved and employed by the invaders for brute labor, and as the hands that they lack. If some enterprising group of adventurers were to hijack acquire one of these machines from their masters, it could quite possibly reveal a great number of things about the Sarmak/Mucoids/Martians...

A gigantic machine used to excavate the pits around the Cylinders and to form earthworks for the Martian invaders. These machine may have been automatons as they are explicitly described as having no pilot or drivers. These machines were often abandoned when the Tripods moved on, though a few were re-directed to work on various secondary projects. They are not described in any real detail within the original novel. Subsequent interpretations seem to favor the form of massive centipede-things, but there is no reason that they couldn't be more along the lines of one of Jules Verne's drill-like machines from Journey to the Center of the Earth. In fact, it might make a very interesting scenario where the Sarmak/Mucoid/Martians are actually trying to invade the Hollow Earth and the surface-world is just something that they need to pass through to get where they are going.



  1. I would say that the Martians of The Crystal Egg are a different species, unconnected to these. But that's just me.

  2. @C'nor: The Martians revealed by The Crystal Egg could be any of a number of Martians, which is why we did A Fighting Table of Mars for the Crystal Egg over at Netherwerks, where we presented it as a Found Object, so that you could pick and choose from a number of options, or use it as a jumping-off point to make your own table of fictional/setting appropriate Martians.

    As to the creatures from The Crystal Egg being another species than those in the War of the Worlds, we agree. It's just better to have more Martians running around. Even if we end up with the 15' tall bug-dudes from Edison Conquers Mars--which we're in the process of statting-up.

    @Trey: You're welcome. We need more Ray Guns in gaming!


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