‘The Land Ironclads’ is a short story by H. G. Wells that first appeared around the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s not as inventive or subtle as ‘The Time Machine’ or ‘The War of the Worlds’, but well worth a read.
I first came across it in the excellent Oxford University Press Science Fiction anthology. The plot is fairly straightforward: a new weapon breaks the deadlock between two armies. That’s it. Yet ‘The Land Ironclads’ is one of those short stories that lodged in my brain. Why?
There is the obvious factor of its prescience: it gets the important military and technological developments of the Great War spot on, over a decade before the conflict started.
The thing which caught my attention, however, was the background setting. Wells portrays a world in which nationality, culture, identity, in fact just about every facet of human existence has been stripped away, leaving nothing but war. This is, I think, why the story is still so powerful, and its simple plot reinforces this strength: it’s Wells’ version of Orwell’s ‘boot stamping on a human face – forever.’
A variation on the ironclads will appear in ‘Veronica Britton’. Meanwhile, you can read Wells’ story here, and even make your own land ironclad.