1913 – The Thing (Martian Fighting Machine – Tripod) – H.G. Wells (British)
Tripod (The War of the Worlds)
Martian tripod illustration drawn by Henrique Alvim Corréa for a 1906 edition of the novel.Tripods or fighting-machines are a type of fictional three-legged walker from the H. G. Wells' classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, used by Martians to invade Earth.
The tripods walked on three legs, had metallic tentacles underneath, an appendage housing the heat-ray, and a hood-like head. H.G. Wells first describes the tripods in detail:
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine-tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.
– The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 10
Another eyewitness described them as "Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men" (Book 1, Chapter 14).
A London newspaper article in the book inaccurately described the tripods as "spider-like machines, nearly a hundred feet high, capable of the speed of an express-train, and able to shoot out a beam of intense heat" (Book 1, Chapter 14). Ironically, earlier newspaper articles under-exaggerated the Martians as being "sluggard creatures." The main character witnessed the tripods moving "with a rolling motion and as fast as flying birds" (Book 1, Chapter 12).
The tripods are armed with a Heat-Ray and black smoke, a type of poison gas.
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a light-house projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam.
– The War of the Worlds, Book 1, Chapter 6
Their tentacles, which hang from the main body, are used as probes and to grasp objects. The tripods also sometimes carry a cage or basket which would be used to hold captives so the Martians could drain their blood. The height of the tripods is unclear, a newspaper article describes them to be over 100 feet tall (30 m). However, they can wade through relatively high water. The HMS Thunder Child engages a trio of tripods pursuing a refugee flotilla off the coast of England.
In the book the tripods are delivered to Earth in massive cylinders, shot from a sort of gun from Mars (in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, and in the PC game, the Martians refer to this device as a "large-scale hydrogen accelerator"). Once they arrive on Earth, the machines are soon assembled. A London newspaper article cites unnamed authorities who believed, based on the outside size of the cylinders, they carried no more than five tripods per cylinder (Book 1, Chapter 14).
The depiction of the tripods in any medium only very rarely takes in account the fact that, according to the book, the Martians had never invented the wheel and never incorporated its principle in their technology — which presumably would include mechanical joints. This is in accordance with a lack of such joints in the Martians themselves — who are tentacled invertebrates after all — but makes designing a feasible walking machine very difficult.
Martian tripods drawn by Warwick Goble, criticized and disowned by Wells.The original conceptual drawings for the tripod machines, drawn by Warwick Goble, accompanied the initial appearance of The War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. When Wells saw these pictures, he was so displeased that he added the following text to the final version of his book:
I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them.
It's been suggested that the fighting machines (Wells called them "the Things") inspired the AT-ATs (Snow Walkers) in the Star Wars movie "The Empire Strikes Back". The 'idea' may have been inspired by WOTW, but the design was certainly borrowed from Syd Mead's Walking Cargo Vehicle c1970 (published in the US Steel Interface portfolio and later in his book SENTINEL).
See other early Steam Men and Walking Machines here.