No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; no one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
A century later:
Assistant Martian: “Sir, we finished the risk assessment for the invasion of Earth. It doesn’t look good. There’s been an outbreak of something called COVID-19.”
Chief Martian: “What’s a COVID-19?”
Assistant Martian: “Well it’s a highly infectious disease, and you know what happened the last time we invaded Earth.”
Chief Martian: “Oh quite, we caught a cold that day.”
Assistant Martian: “Very droll Chief. The worst part is we have to self-isolate for 14 days when we arrive.”
Chief Martian: “You can’t be serious, is there no way round it.”
Assistant Martian: “Well apparently there is a loophole called a ‘Dominic Cummings’ but our legal team are still puzzled by it.”
Chief Martian: “I suppose we could just hide in Scotland for two weeks.”
Assistant Martian: “Nope, not allowed.”
Chief Martian: “ Wales?”
Assistant Martian: “Nope.”
Chief Martian: “A nice warm beach in the South?”
Assistant Martian: “No, it’s a strange thing but humans appear to be a migratory species and the whole of human kind goes to the beach at weekends. It’s standing room only; and don’t get me started on the litter.”
Chief Martian: “ Okay, we’ll just have to head down to the nearest pub when we land and drown our sorrows.”
Assistant Martian: “ Hmmm…I don’t know how to tell you this, but…”
Chief Martian: “[Martian expletive] I hate Earth, let’s go to Venus.”
At the end of the book the Martians do indeed go to Venus and HG Wells reflects on what has come to pass. A great tide of human suffering had come to an end but what, if anything, had mankind learned?
As HG Wells says: ‘Our views of the human future must be greatly modified by these events. We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly.’
Their Martian invasion is our pandemic. We have lost loved ones, lost jobs, businesses, impaired the pensions of millions who have worked hard all their lives, and borrowed heavily from the future prosperity of generations to come. So many lives have been affected that I hope that somehow some good can come of it, that we do indeed learn from it. I suppose it starts with me keeping to my ‘lockdown resolutions’ and anyone else who made similar decisions sticking to theirs. If, like me, the quiet and solitude has made you determined to live a better life, whatever that might mean, then I wish you every success and a sincere hope that the return to normality doesn’t make you and I, and the rest of mankind, squander a tremendous opportunity.
As HG Wells writes: ‘By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers;…for neither do men live nor die in vain.’
I sincerely hope that’s true.
Jan van der Velde
Chairman, OS Club