Fluctuations 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.