Bert Smallway finds himself in the wrong places at the wrong times. An accident involving a disabled hot air balloon leaves him floating high above the earth, eventually coming to land in Germany. There, Bert is found to possess top-secret documents that lay out Britain's newest and most advanced flying machine. Bert is then thrown into the largest war the world has ever seen: a War in the Air.
H.G. Wells hanndles the novel with the characteristic brilliance that sets him an Mr. Verne apart from other futuristic fiction writers. Inventions in the book seem perfectly plausible, even a hornet-shaped flying machine; your mind might cry foul during reading, but the book makes it so believable that you would swear all flying machines were wasp-shaped. Similarly, other inventions told about in the book, such as the monorail, have in fact become a reality.
As with many "futuristic" books which are written about a future which has already been lived, some of the events laid out in the book are mildly amusing; others are eerily accurate. The War in the Air is thrown into motion by a maniacal, intensely focused German prince, who attacks with a lightning-quick philosophy to quickly startle its opponents. Sound familiar? At the same time, the War in the Air leaves all civilization and culture destroyed, with humans returning to a basic farming society even as the War drags on. The interesting mish-mash of accurate guesses and complete misses makes for a very entertaining read.
The only part of this book that drags is the multiple points when Wells waxes philosophical. I have no problem with philosophy, but when the frequent exposition on the fate of the human race throws you completely out of the story for a page or two -- not good. Other than that small quibble, the novel is of surpassing quality.
If you're looking for a quick, entertaining red, The War in the Air is another great piece of futuristic fiction from H.G. Wells.