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The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard

21 Aug

TDWFluctuations in solar radiation have caused the icecaps to melt and the seas to rise.  Nature is on the rampage.  London has been transformed into a primeval swamp, and within its submerged landscape giant lizards, dragonflies and insects compete for dominance.  Human fertility is in decline and buildings sink beneath waters infested with decaying matter.  Into this wasteland a group of intrepid scientists venture to record the flora and fauna of this new Triassic age.  Soon ghostly voices haunt their waking and nightmares permeate their sleep.

After years of being wary of the sci-fi genre, I find myself increasingly enamoured by the stories that tackle those profound existential questions of life and our place in the universe and thankfully here is another one to add to the list.

The story centres around a group of scientists who are exploring and mapping the geography and the inhabitants of this new world.  What they didn’t foresee was the effects that their surroundings would have on them and then of course there are the dreams…

Ballard’s début novel is a wonderful creation of life in the near future, a returning to a geological age long past and an exploration of the effects that that would have on the modern mind.  It’s a regression into the psychology of the mind you might say.

Being the author’s first book, I will admit that it isn’t the strongest writing and in many ways it is a book of its time with respect to the portrayal of some of its characters.  Even though they are noticeable from the off though, they aren’t particularly significant and to dismiss the book on those alone would be criminal.

The story is only 175 pages long, yet manages to feel like a true odyssey.  Interestingly the book has the feeling of many genres meeting, one minute it feels like an exploration story, such as The Lost World and then progresses in feel to the self exploration of  Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Ballard does do a really good job of conjuring a sense of familiar dislocation,an eerie water world overlaid with primeval encroachment.  A true transience of time seen through and judged by, the value of our own humanity.  He conceives of something that feels so tangible, yet so very different, a feeling of age and of something believable.

This ancient feel is further compounded with the addition of the sun which is written almost like a character in itself, linked as it is to all facets of human awareness, something perhaps engrained in our genes as well as in nature.  It’s a connection that is key to the story, a pulsing, alluring heartbeat that spans across the ages.  Anyway that cryptic statement is one for you to discover the meaning of when you read it.

The oppressive heat is reflected in the slow progression of the plot, which although short does leave a lot to ponder on.  There is plenty of description but it doesn’t turn romantic in any way, remaining intense, brooding and thought-provoking.  It’s a daring book in many ways, the concepts are of impressive depth and explored in a very acute way and when the reader takes them to their logical conclusions it becomes a fascinating and intelligently philosophical read.

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41 Comments

Posted by on 21/08/2014 in Sci-Fi

 

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41 responses to “The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard

  1. Alastair Savage

    21/08/2014 at 15:24

    I’ve wanted to read this for a while but somehow I never get round to it. From your review, it sounds much more primeval than I imagined. I want to look at Ballard’s short stories too, which are apparently amazing.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 15:28

      It’s short so you can squeeze it in anytime, it was worth mentioning the number of pages as it is an epic read for such a short and fairly slowing moving book. It’s well worth a read…I will be looking out for more Ballard now, the synopses of pretty much all of his books sound brilliant.

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  2. Joachim Boaz

    21/08/2014 at 16:17

    I loved this novel.

    Have you read any of Ballard’s short stories? They were all released in an omnibus edition recently — recommended.

    It also should be noted that of the SF authors Ballard is generally (for some good and bad reasons) considered to have transcended the genre (i.e. along with Vonnegut, and a handful of others who, despite started in the magazines etc were picked up by the mainstream lit establishment)

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 17:20

      I read a book of his short stories years ago, I may have to look them up again to remind myself of my favourite ones.

      I miss magazines and also when the papers used to publish stories, it would be nice to get back to that again…I have been meaning to read Vonnegut for years, for which there is no excuse as he is on my shelves. having read the synopsis for some of Ballard’s other work I can see why he transcended the genre. Welcome to the blog!

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  3. Anonymous

    21/08/2014 at 16:56

    Quite interesting.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 17:17

      Yes, get it read, I demand it, if that is not too rude.

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  4. renxkyoko

    21/08/2014 at 17:00

    Interesting.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 17:18

      I think the existential nature of it al will most definitely interest you Ren.

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  5. shadowoperator

    21/08/2014 at 17:04

    You say it reads like a book of its time–what is its time, exactly? I’ve noticed that you do seem to be taken with sci-fi a lot lately. Do you have a favorite sci-fi series (other than Dr. Who) that’s been on television? Did you ever see “Firefly” and the movie made from it, “Serenity”? They were both excellent, and I would recommend them both, “Firefly” especially. It’s out on a 4-DVD set now, and it’s definitely worth it. Too bad it was cancelled. I’ve never heard of Ballard, but my curiosity may well lead me there sometime soon.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 17:27

      It was published in 1962 and some of the attitudes taken to the woman character and also the black guys are pretty stereotypical to say the least. I am slowly warming to sci-fi like Buck Rogers when he returned to Earth after all that time…I enjoyed the new Battlestar and Farscape and of course Firefly was a fun show, it was a shame they did cancel it as it had a different feel to most of the sci-fi out there. Blake’s 7 is another good BBC sci-fi show I like as well, it did get uber camp though but the ending was utter magnificence. I think I have exhausted most of the authors whose books I own when it comes to the genre but I do have some more Clarke to read and it will allow me to get back into some sadly neglected of late genres.

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  6. Letizia

    21/08/2014 at 17:50

    “The story is only 175 pages long, yet manages to feel like a true odyssey” – that phrase caught my eye the most. I love shorter novels, or rather, I admire them particularly.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 18:43

      I have quite a few that I have been looking at, mostly because I am lazy at the moment and shorter books make me feel like I am getting somewhere. I think the shortest I have ever read was Stefan Zweig’s Chess which was thoroughly fantastic and is another that needs reviewing…

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      • Letizia

        21/08/2014 at 18:46

        I liked that one too – need to find that one in my collection and dust it off, the poor thing.

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        • Ste J

          21/08/2014 at 18:56

          It’s my favourite ‘back pocket’ book, I think mine is so battered that I need a new one.

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          • Letizia

            21/08/2014 at 19:08

            A ‘back pocket’ book- I like that! As a woman, having a book in my back pocket would be too bulky but I always have one in my bag.

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            • Ste J

              21/08/2014 at 19:12

              That is the first time I have sounded like a proper bloke on the blog…go me! I am usually found with a back pack, I leave my Louis Vuitton for best!

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  7. Love, Life and Whatever

    21/08/2014 at 19:46

    Hey this sounds lil deviating from my interest…so will skip them from my reading list….anyways thanks for your wonderful reviews

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      21/08/2014 at 19:49

      It’s not to everybody’s taste, I do like to mix up my genres though so there will be something more to your taste soon my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. gargoylebruce

    22/08/2014 at 09:34

    Excellent. It’s going on the list.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2014 at 13:34

      Grand, another book to overpopulate the ridiculously long list.

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      • gargoylebruce

        23/08/2014 at 07:13

        Yes indeedy 😀 *skips away happy in the delusion that there is time to get throughout he tbr list in one lifetime*

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  9. Al

    22/08/2014 at 14:01

    Sometimes stepping out of our comfort zones and reading from a genre we are very wary of can make a huge difference and if a debut writer that manages to keep you enthralled all the way through, it shows someone who has an art for storytelling.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2014 at 14:57

      Very true, it’s great to discover something different and have it be really enjoyable. It’s always encouragement to discover more things. Ballard’s other books sound fascinating as well. If I can enjoy P&P then I feel I am ready to take on anything.

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      • Al

        22/08/2014 at 15:16

        I found a new version of P&P the other day – Pride & Predator

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        • Ste J

          22/08/2014 at 15:17

          Don’t tell Christina she will go on a rampage lol.

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          • Al

            22/08/2014 at 15:52

            Haha I have a photo of it as well. It was amongst many others. So funny

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          • Christina ~

            23/08/2014 at 05:11

            ***She pretends to not have seen this comment conversation and, therefore, has removed all references of an offending type to her beloved P&P from her mind which would most certainly induce her to act in a wholly undignified manner.***

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            • Ste J

              25/08/2014 at 13:52

              Message understood and I promise to not draw your attention to Pied and Prodigious which I am sure is not at all snigger worthy.

              Like

               
  10. cricketmuse

    22/08/2014 at 15:08

    Sounds like a Jules Verne homage. A true visionary, that one was.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2014 at 15:19

      I suppose in a way it does have a subtle feel of Verne, I hadn’t noticed that, I love how the more one reads, the more one notices things in other books that feel similar and make the reading experience richer for it.

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  11. Tom Gething

    23/08/2014 at 04:01

    Yet another author I need to get to. “Empire of the Sun” being the only thing of his I have read, although I did try to read one of his fantasies but couldn’t’ get into it. Thanks for the nudge.

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2014 at 14:05

      I am yet to read Empire of the Sun yet, it will interesting to read a contrasting style of his work. I appreciate the nudge back.

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  12. Christina ~

    23/08/2014 at 05:05

    In case you didn’t have me at sci-fi, at classic sci-fi, or your intriguing descriptive prose…you had me at “…a pulsing, alluring heartbeat that spans across the ages.” That is quite a sentence…in a word beguiling. Which leads me off to anticipatiously add it to my TBR.

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2014 at 14:00

      I vow to keep that list going and to give you as much choice as possible. I do enjoy crafting a sentence or two that would catch your eye like an errant fish hook.

      Like

       
  13. Francis

    23/08/2014 at 11:04

    sounds very intriguing, must give it a read!

    http://growing-positive.blogspot.co.uk/

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      25/08/2014 at 13:47

      I wholeheartedly encourage it because I am passionate like that. Welcome to the blog.

      Like

       
  14. LuAnn

    26/08/2014 at 14:24

    This sounds just like my cup of tea! Thanks. 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      27/08/2014 at 13:02

      I think you will like it, I remember you being interested in Solaris as well, both of which are diverse yet share a certain feel to them.

      Like

       
  15. The Book Haven

    01/09/2014 at 19:24

    What a coincidence! I found out this book just a few days back. It was a SF masterworks edition and looked fabulous! But Goodreads said it was the second volume of a series (The Elemental Apocalypse Quartet). So I was hoping to grab a copy of the first one — The Wind from Nowhere. Thanks to you, now I know it’s a debut novel, so the first one must be a prequel kind of thing and I guess I can start with this one. What do you say?

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      02/09/2014 at 18:46

      I had another look at this, although my copy mentioned it was his debut, I have read in other places that The Wind From Nowhere is his debut, which is interesting if confusing. This one can be read stand alone if you don’t fancy waiting for the best, the first can then be a prequel as it were…I don’t think it will take away from either book, I will look into the rest now, I had no idea it was a quartet.

      Like

       

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