The War of the Worlds
Simply a great read. A very fast-moving account of what a Martian invasion might look like at the turn of the 20th century (it was written in 1898).
The author captures the subtle movement from confusion to outright terror and panic extremely well. When the first Martian cylinder lands, no one knows quite what to make of it, and there’s a fantastic timeline of growing concern to the moment when it tips and the entire population of London flees in mass panic.
There is no characterization in the novel – we never even learn the narrator’s name. It is written in the first person as a bystander’s account of what happened, and in that sense, it succeeds wonderfully.
I was especially amused at the terror expressed by the narrator when confronted with the idea that the Martians are learning to fly. The idea of powered flight was still over the horizon in 1898, so it would naturally follow that beings in possession of this capability could control the world.
The last few paragraphs (before the epilogue) are a wonderful payoff to one of the unanswered questions of the novel.