Friday 15 October 2010

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

 I don't particularly read sci-fi (though I loved Michael Moorcock's 'Behold the Man') and got this book as my free book in a 3 for 2 deal at Waterstone's.  I just thought it sounded worth a shot.  It's my first Ballard.

Synopsis: Fluctuations in solar radiation mean that the ice-caps have melted and temperatures reach up to 150C.  Most of the cities of the Northern Hemisphere are submerged in tropical lagoons populated with prehistoric animals and massive bugs of all kinds.  The main character, Kerans, is a scientist sent to study the animal life forms but soon gets caught up with all kinds of people.

Score: 2 out of 5.

I liked the premise of this book, and indeed the initial third or so of it was amazing.  I liked the scenario of the increase in temperature leading to all of these prehistoric animals in a kind of de-evolution and thought I was in for a fantastic adventure story, in the style of Conan Doyle's 'Lost World'.  I wanted battles with giant iguanas and crocodiles as enormous as blue whales!

But there wasn't actually much of a story at all.  The main character was very passive (intentionally) and the book just kind of drifted with no purpose.  I get that this was because humanity and the world as a whole were drifting with no purpose, but it didn't make for fun reading. The sections on what happens to humanity when civilisation is stripped away were interesting, and all the looting and plundering seemed applicable to life now.

The main problem for me that this book appears to have been written in a psycho-analytic time.  Don't get me wrong, I did a psychology degree, but I have no time for the "collective unconscious" or "regressing to the womb" or other such Freudian arguments.  Ballard seemed to be arguing that the heat was activating some kind of genetic memory we all have of the time of our ancestors, and this was captivating and entrapping the main characters, making them seek out hotter lagoons.  It made no sense!  If I was Kerans I wouldn't be thinking "Hmm, 150C is a little mild, I'm going to leave this nice air-conditioned scientific facility with all the food provided and venture south where it is even hotter and I will have no resources whatsoever!"  Despite the shortness of the book, there was a lot of waffle about this.  A bit disappointing, really.

To summarise:  I liked the idea, but not enough pace or story. 

Has anyone read any other books by Ballard?  I want to read 'Empire of the Sun', but this one's put me off a bit!


  1. I really enjoyed Empire of the Sun, but it's the only Ballard that I've read. There's definitely a lot more on the themes of humanity in that book - and it's a part biography of his own life. It's definitely worth a read.

  2. @Bethany
    Yeah, it's the biographical part that attracts me to "Empire of the Sun". I won't let one disappointing book put me off!

  3. Hi Sam, I'm with you on "behold the man" & have read a few Ballards "Unlimited dream company" "Cocaine nights" etc. some i've enjoyed others were a bit hit & miss.
    little fact Micheal Moorecock & JG Ballard were mates, in fact moorecock introduced him to his lifelong partner.

  4. @parrish lantern
    I didn't know Michael Moorcock & JG Ballard were friends!

    Which Ballard's would you recommend?

  5. try unlimited dream comp & empire of the sun

  6. @parrish lantern
    Empire of the Sun is the one I think I want to read next :)

  7. G Ballard was a brilliant visionary writer. One of those rare authors who so completely illustrates the world he has created that you feel immersed in it. All of his work is like this but this particular book is a stand out and stays with you weeks after you have finished reading it. Highly recommended.

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