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.