I read this at the tender age of 11, and it terrified me. In a pop culture where aliens have big eyes and abduct people, the original tale of alien invasion couldn't be more unique. Wells wrote this at the end of the 19th Century. Many see it as a sharp metaphor about British colonialism, something Wells touchs upon overtly in the first chapter. It's a story open to interpretation, but it works best as a gut-wrenchingly dark sci-fi story that's distinctly different to common perceptions of the genre.
The plot is simple, yet brutal. With their home planet becoming increasingly inhospitable, the Martians fire cylinders at the Earth. These land around London- capital of the world's greatest super-power. The un-wary locals investigate, and the cylinders open to reveal writhing, tentacled aliens. Wells orchestrates the ensuing violence brilliantly, depicting their cool, calculating destruction of humanity and the enslavement of mankind. There are moments of epic battle, moments of personal survival, and moments of claustrophobic horror.
I won't say more, because it will simply ruin the novel. It probably won't affect you as badly as it does me, but my mental scars have engrained themselves in my brain. This won't stop you enjoying one the most influential and captivated science fiction novels ever written.
Many people know the Orson Wells radio adaptation. Others know the Jeff Wayne musical adaptation. A lot will remember the 1950s film that runs very loosely to the original. Most of you will have now seen Spielberg's excellent cinematic update. However, all of these incarnations have lost that bit of magic Wells weaves into his story-telling. That it was written without any prior influence or any previous template may be why The War of the Worlds is one of the most distinctive and impacting pieces of literature I've ever read.