The War of the Worlds is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator.
The Martian invasion of Earth occurred principally because of two factors. In the first place, the Martian climate was becoming colder and colder, and life became more and more difficult for the Martian race. As a result, Martians looked with longing at the Earth, where life was far more comfortable. Secondly, the Martians had made astonishing progress in the fields of science and technology. They had crafts capable of traveling through space, and their superior weapons could easily vanquish the primitive races that inhabited the Earth.
As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java saw a jet of fire leaving the vicinity of Mars and streaking toward the Earth. Later an English astronomer named Ogilvy saw a pinhead of light apparently approaching the Earth. Similar phenomena occurred night after night for several nights.
When the first spaceship arrived, it looked as if a meteor had fallen in England on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking [southwest of London]. Ogilvy investigated. He found a strange cylindrical object half buried in a pit. When he saw the end of the cylinder futilely trying to unscrew itself, he remembered what he had seen in the vicinity of Mars. He did not really believe that intelligent life existed on Mars, but here was an obviously artificial contraption with people inside. Since the craft was unbearably hot, he thought that they were in trouble and ran to get help.
When help arrived, there was no evidence of life in the cylinder, and it was generally thought that the Martians had died.
Stent, the Astronomer Royal, eventually arrived on the scene. Under his direction, excavators began to free the craft from the soil in which it was embedded. Their efforts were hindered by a curious crowd.
Later, the Martians inside the craft resumed their efforts to open the end of the cylinder. This time they were successful. A strange creature with snakelike tentacles slowly emerged from the opening. It was rather clumsy. It fell over the brim of the cylinder into the pit. The crowd watched as a shopman who had previously fallen into the pit tried unsuccessfully to climb out and disappeared from view. Eventually other Martians emerged from the cylinder and fell into the pit.
In the evening, Stent, Ogilvy, and others approached with a white flag and tried to parley with the Martians. It proved to be a mistake. A heat ray was directed at the delegation, and they and many other bystanders were burned to a crisp.
After seeing this tragedy, the stunned first-person narrator left the scene. He told his wife what had happened, but he assured her that the Martians would not be able to climb out of the pit. He knew that the gravitational attraction of the Earth was considerably greater than that of Mars, and he figured that this would be an insuperable obstacle to the Martians as they attempted to move about on Earth.
On Friday night, soldiers approached to counter the alien threat. In the meantime, another Martian craft plunged into the Addlestone Golf Links northeast of Woking, while the Martians that arrived in the first craft were diligently constructing machines to be used in the impending war.
On Saturday, the armed forced tried to destroy the second Martian craft before it opened, and the Martians in the first craft began to fight. The narrator heard the noise of battle, but he did not find out how it turned out till later.
By paying two pounds, the narrator got permission to use a horse and dog-cart. He used them to take his wife, his servant, and some valuables to the home of his wife’s cousins in Leatherhead [east if Woking and south of London]. Then he attempted to return the horse. However, on the way he saw two huge three-legged machines. Since the second machine was headed in his direction, he tried to turn abruptly and had an accident. The horse broke its neck and died. He himself fell into some water, and a storm made him even wetter.
As he lay watching the machines, he saw them going to Pyrford, where a third cylinder had fallen [relatively close to Woking and west of Leatherhead].
As he continued his journey on foot, he encountered the corpse of the man from whom he had borrowed the horse and dog-cart.
When he returned to his house, he found that it had not been damaged. He entered and locked himself in. From his upstairs window, he saw that a train had been wrecked. He also saw fire raging in the distance.
He allowed a fleeing artilleryman to hide in his house. From this soldier, he learned that the Martians in the pit had constructed a huge machine. Using it for transportation, they could easily cope with the Earth’s gravity. With the heat ray, they completely wiped out the soldiers confronting them.
After causing further destruction, the machine walked toward the area where the second spacecraft had fallen. Then a second machine climbed out of the pit and followed the first machine.
The next day, they left the house. They traveled toward London.. They saw death and destruction as they walked. The narrator wanted to reach Leatherhead eventually, but the Martians were in the way.
A lieutenant met them and ordered the artilleryman to report to Brigadier-General Marvin at Weybridge [northeast of Woking and northwest of Leatherhead]. Here the soldiers were preparing to fight, and many people were trying to leave the area. After staying for a while at Weybridge, they went a little north to the place where the Wey River joined the Themes at nearby Shepperton.
Here a battle began. Five machines appeared, causing death and destruction. This time they did not escape unscathed. The head of one of the machines was shot off, and the Martian inside it was killed. After the machine moved aimlessly about, it fell into the river. It caused the water temperature to rise gradually, eventually approaching the boiling point.
To avoid the heat ray, the narrator had dived under water, and others followed his example. When the temperature of the water became uncomfortably hot, the people began to leave the river. The Martians killed them with the heat ray. The narrator endured the heat longer than the others. When he finally left the water and lay on the shore, the Martians did not notice him.
Because of their casualty, the Martians did not continue onward toward London, but decided to retreat to the place where the first cylinder had fallen. They took the fallen machine along with them. Some newspapers claimed that the Martians had been repulsed.
During the brief respite, powerful guns were placed in key positions, and spies observed the movement of the Martians. They had heliographs with which they could warn their comrades if the Martians were approaching.
Since the narrator saw that Weybridge was burning, he headed toward London. Since the water was the only refuge from the Martian heat ray, he traveled down the Thames on an abandoned boat. Feeling sick, he disembarked and rested. After walking for a while, he dozed. When he awakened, he was in the presence of a curate.
While the curate and the narrator were conversing, the flicker of a heliograph warned them that the Martians were on the move again.
At their pit, the Martians had been busy. They made rockets that delivered a black poisonous vapor, and with them they suffocated the soldiers who manned the powerful guns and wiped out several towns. They could clear away this poisonous substance with steam jets whenever they wished to do so.
In this new offensive, the only Martian casualty was damage to the leg of one of their machines. This they quickly repaired. In the meantime, reinforcements were on the way. A fourth Martian cylinder fell to the earth.
As the Martians advanced toward London, six million people fled from the city. It was a disorderly exodus, and some people were so desperate that they committed crimes. For example, two men tried to steal a pony chaise in which two ladies were fleeing. The brother of the narrator helped them fight off the robbers. He rode with them and became their protector. Together with his charges, he reached the sea and boarded a steamer to Ostend. Other boats were also carrying refugees to safety.
Three Martian machines entered the water to prevent their escape, but a British ironclad called the Thunder Child intervened. The Martians suffered further casualties before the Thunder Child succumbed to their technology.
In the meantime, the narrator and the curate were lurking in an empty house southwest of London. All about them was the poisonous Martian smoke, which cut them off from the rest of the world.
Eventually a Martian cleared away the poisonous smoke with a steam jet. Although the narrator was anxious to rejoin his wife in Leatherhead, he went in the wrong direction, probably to avoid the Martians. Instead of going directly to Leatherhead, which lay to the southeast, he went northeast in the direction of London. He passed Sunbury and Twickenham. The curate accompanied him.
At Sheen, their journey came to an end. When they were scavenging food inside a house, a fifth Martian cylinder plunged to the earth close to them. The house suffered considerable damage, and tons of earth surrounded it except on the side facing the cylinder. They had to keep silent because a Martian sentinel was outside guarding the pit where the cylinder had fallen.
Through a peephole in the wall, the narrator was able to observe the Martians at leisure, and he learned more about them later when dead Martians were scientifically examined. The Martian body was a huge ball: a head with a brain inside. They had two eyes, and a single tympanic surface served as an ear. Around the mouth were sixteen whip-like tentacles that served as hands. The mouth opened into bulky lungs. The Martian also had a heart and vessels.
They had no digestive system. For nourishment, they injected blood taken from some living creature. They preferred human beings, since they bore some resemblance to the creatures from which they derived nourishment on Mars. Therefore, after their military victory, they became more interested in capturing people than destroying them.
The Martians did not give birth to their young. They reproduced by budding.
They depended on machines to do their work. Besides their fighting machines, they had versatile contraptions called handling machines.
The curate proved to be a troublesome companion. Eventually he became insane and started making a speech with a loud voice. The narrator knocked him out, but it was too late. A portion of a Martian handling machine entered the hole in the wall, groped around till it found the curate, and dragged him to his doom. The narrator managed to escape detection, but the Martian took the food supply out of the house.
For many days, the narrator lived on dirty rainwater. When he finally had the courage to look outside, he saw crows picking the skeletons of dead Martians.
He cautiously left his hiding place. He saw red weeds growing everywhere. It was a plant that the Martians had brought from their homeland.
He walked toward London. For a long time, he did not see anybody, not even Martians.
Eventually he encountered the artillery man who had previously been his companion. The artillery man had great plans He would live underground in the drains of London with brave men and women. They would keep the human race alive till they gained enough knowledge to challenge the Martians. Then they would get into Martian fighting machines while the Martians were not looking. With these, they would restore the human race to dominance.
Though temporarily impressed, the narrator soon realized that he was an idle dreamer and continued his journey.
When he reached London, he saw dead Martians and the wreckage of Martian machines. They had succumbed to bacterial diseases, against which their bodies had no resistance.
The narrator did not understand the significance of what he saw. He became delirious for three days. Fortunately, others had learned what happened. Kindly people found him, took care of him, and told him the good news when he became rational.
They informed him that Leatherhead had been completely destroyed. He decided to visit his home. At the same time, his wife came home, accompanied by her cousins. There was a happy reunion.
To write this summary, I consulted the version presented online by Classical Authors.