25th May 2001 at 01:00
In 1938, Orson Welles' radio production of "The War of the Worlds" panicked millions of Americans into believing that aliens had landed at a small town in New Jersey. "Good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a grey snake," said the radio announcer. "Now it's another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me..." Today's media-savvy public may scarcely credit the havoc wrought by Welles' adaptation; there were even calls for Congress to ban fiction presented in the style of a news broadcast.

H G Wells' originalbook was equally subversive. A lifelong socialist, Wells attacked colonialism and the dehumanising militaristic ambitions of 19th-century Germany through the metaphor of men from Mars. Crisp prose and tense plotting ensured "The War of the Worlds" (1898) was among the first science fiction novels to command a mass audience. It retains a dedicated following. This poster advertised George Pal's 1953 film version. Try www.war-of-the-worlds.org to contact those who believe that the truth about alien invasions has been kept from us.

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