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February 14, 2008

The Drowned World - JG Ballard

The only Ballard I had previously read was Cocaine Nights, which though entertaining and weird was not exactly Science Fiction. So I was looking forward to The Drowned World (and yet another apocalypse).

What hit me first was the evocative writing, it's really dense, and provides a great image of what the world has become: a flooded, steamy jungle. The reason for the apocalypse is never explained, there are hints: a larger sun, a mention of Russia and America; but otherwise it's a mystery. And it's not a recent sudden apocalypse, with stories of populations shifting northwards and gradual flooding, giving the impression that the human race tried to fight, but in the end were overcome. It's all very trendy given the current concerns over the planet warming up.

The main plot follows Kerans, a researcher, as he slowly comes to realise that he doesn't want to return north from the expedition they are on. I found the plot quite weak, atmospheric yes, but not driving enough. I needed to force myself to read on, and despite the novel being thin (a mere 175 pages), it's taken me ages to finish it. I think this is because I just didn't care about the apathetic characters. But their apathy is part of the plot, they are regressing back in time to prehistoric creatures, who can do without social company.The arrival of a boat full of pirates (with alligators in tow) livens things up a bit, and there's a nice set piece that arises out of this, but overall the plot is subservient to the mood.

As for the message, it left me confused. Give up and adapt? Or you can't fight evolution and the memories buried in your genetic past? I don't know.

So, it was interesting, but not gripping.

I should also note that the most recent reprint has a recent interview with Ballard included at the end, along with an article from the sixties; which are interesting.

1 Comment

I had pretty much the same exact experience with this book that you did: Setting and premise were very interesting, but it took me forever to plow through it, and a lot of that was the intentionally-undefined characters who (As is typical for Ballard) seem more interested to journey through the internal space of their own minds than to actually resolve any external conflict.

I did love the mood, and the setting. I thought semi-sunken, semi-jungle, unbelievably hot London was really well done, but in the end (Again, as with a lot of Ballard), the whole thing felt like a few impressions from a dream stitched together rather than any attempt at a coherent story.