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The drowned world by J. G. Ballard
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The drowned world (edition 1968)

by J. G. Ballard

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1,473275,061 (3.48)98
Member:AlanPoulter
Title:The drowned world
Authors:J. G. Ballard
Info:Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1968, c1962.
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:science fiction

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The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard

  1. 10
    Freakangels, Volume 5 by Warren Ellis (djryan)
  2. 00
    Blood Music by Greg Bear (Bookmarque)
    Bookmarque: tapping into the human evolution theme and the drastic changes in form and function we can take.
  3. 00
    The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian (sturlington)
    sturlington: Both are about a post-apocalyptic flooded world.
  4. 00
    Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (Bookmarque)
    Bookmarque: another post-apocalyptic novel with a more philosophical attitude, quieter and more introspective.
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English (25)  Italian (2)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Eons ago I read this and was so struck by it that I bought a Folio Society edition as soon as they published it. Now I’ve read it again, I think a lot of it went over my head on the first reading. I was about 20 and hadn’t read anything about evolutionary biology. I hadn’t read many apocalyptic or speculative fiction novels either and having done both in the interim, I think it enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of the book.

On my first reading I was captivated by Strangman’s cruelty and dominance. I didn’t see him as a symbol of humanity’s downfall and assigned him more importance than I think he merits. This time he was more of a distraction which I think mirrored how Kerans and Beatrice actually viewed him. They wanted to get along back into Deep Time and he was impeding their progress down the evolutionary ladder.

That’s the bigger theme of the novel and one I felt was interesting and not beaten to death with lots of pontificating and monologuing. Instead we have the understanding that our regression, along with everything else on the planet, is right. Instead of being outraged by the calamity that destroyed our culture and ecosystem, humans are dreaming of their time before. Triassic time. Racial memory. Flashbacks embedded in our DNA. It isn’t scary, but soothing, and Bea, Kerans and the others who have fallen into the spell, want nothing but to embrace these dreams and go peacefully into the back of beyond.

Our regeneration is limited as is everything else. Whole species have disappeared only to be replaced by their progenitors of millennia past. The idea is intriguing and I wonder if it is truly an evolution or a devolution? When the old life forms are the only way to survive a new climate, isn’t it a sign of progress when those adaptations rise again? While we do know some about what the flora and fauna have done to adapt in the book, we know little about what form humans will take. Our birth rate has plummeted along with our general numbers and large mammals are gone as well. Insects, spore-bearing plants and reptiles have taken over, leaving little room for mammals of any sort.

This book takes a swipe at the answer, but dodges a couple of things in its execution. First is the negativity that a human-created catastrophe always brings to an apocalyptic novel. Oh if we hadn’t been so dumb or ignored whatever, we wouldn’t be dying off and the world wouldn’t be ruined. The Drowned World’s nexus of ecological change has nothing to do with us, so we’re off the hook. Instead of chest-beating, hand-wringing and fighting, we go gracefully, which is another difference I’ve noticed with this versus other end-of-the-world novels. We escape victimhood and gracefully accept our extinction. It’s introspective and relatively serene and reminded me a lot of Earth Abides by George R. Stewart and of Blood Music by Greg Bear. Instead of trying to save the world and make it our dominion again, the humans left behind adapt in the best way they know how. It may not be the way we behaved before, which chafes at some, but eventually they accept the way things are moving and look to the future with calm, positive that even if things are never the same, they won’t be the end, only different. ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Dec 16, 2014 |
A maverick with a ragtag crew tries to save art and the last shreds of the old civilization in an apocalyptic world where solar flares have caused most of the world's major cities to be flooded and overgrown with mutated plants and reptiles. His efforts to reclaim the scraps left behind in one of these drowned cities is frustrated by its few remaining inhabitants, who ramble about having a "neuronic need" for the lagoons that have formed over what used to be London. This isn't what actually happens in The Drowned World, but with only a few minor tweaks it could have been. While it wouldn't have been a great story, such a plot outline would at least have made sense in a way that this book's plot doesn't.

There really isn't much going for The Drowned World. Most of the characters have no drive to survive, so they're not that sympathetic or relatable, nor do they have some sort of firm purpose to give the main narrative momentum. The rest of the characters are complete clichés (Colonel Riggs) or cartoon villains (Strangman, a knock-off Kurtz with an alligator fetish and a painfully on-the-nose name), so it's not easy to care about what happens to any of these characters. It's made even harder by the fact that they do things that don't make any sense. See a guy that gives you bad vibes and is followed by a huge swarm of crocodiles? "We've everything to gain by showing ourselves," says the main character. Some of the city gets drained and the female lead breaks down into tears, crying "it's horrible" as if she hasn't been living in overgrown cities and seeing stuff like this for years at this point- what, they don't have tides in the future? Even the villain does things that don't make any sense, sparing characters instead of killing them with no discernible logic. The main characters are all suffering from some undefined psychological condition of this new world, experiencing genetic memories, and so Ballard seems happy to have them do whatever he wants them to instead of having understandable desires and motivations. It's really not well done.

The writing isn't great either. I was expecting some great descriptions of what this overgrown and perpetually flooded city looked like, but Ballard spends more time describing the inside of the Ritz, the massive sun, and the exterior of different buildings than he does a city retaken by nature. On top of that, Ballard's writing really beats you over the head with whatever he's trying to communicate. It isn't enough for him to describe a place as vaguely womblike, he has to have a character explicitly call it "womblike," and several times at that. He's not satisfied with having a character thinking one way and behaving in a contrary way, he has to have the character talk to himself about how he's "living on two levels." Thanks for assuming your readers are idiots Ballard!

Finally, the actual story is pretty dull. The psychological state of the main character dictates why he stays behind in this city in the beginning, instead of any real motivation. Then he lounges around the city in a stupor until Strangman shows up. Then Strangman does some stuff, oscillating between a creepy guy and an insane mustache-twirling villain at Ballard's whim. Then the main character is saved by a deus ex machina. Then the main character wanders South, again without any real motivation, but the ending nevertheless tries to paint this suicidal wandering that the main character can't seem to help as heroic, or at least noble, or at a bare minimum somehow understandable. It's none of those things. What was Ballard trying to do with this story, considering its complete lack of meaningful plot or realistic characters or message applicable to the real world? I'd bet he thought the setting of an overgrown London was cool, and just wrote whatever popped into his brain around this central concept (looking at his other books written around the same time I'm all but certain this was his usual M.O.). Anyway, I expect more from my science fiction than one idea for the setting that is rarely adequately presented by the book's prose. You want a good story about a drowning world? Go read Stations of the Tide by Swanwick. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
The Drowned World is now 50 years old, and it's starting to feel a little long in the tooth. The technology and worldview seems dated, although it's interesting to view the book as an alternate take on the post-apocalyptic science fiction that was emerging at the time. While A Canticle For Leibowitz and On The Beach were focused on life after nuclear war, Ballard's work is set in London after an ecological catastrophe that returns Earth to a Triassic-like state.

Where the book excels is the rich, language that evokes fantastic scenes and emotional states. Long after I had finished the book, these scenes echoed in my mind, such as the visit to the sunken planetarium and the draining of Leicester Square. I have found some of his short stories to be similarly rich, and even Empire Of The Sun to have the ability to evoke particular scenes in the mind's eye. ( )
  in30minutes | Sep 25, 2014 |
Good writing, great atmosphere,....but weak plot. ( )
  DCBlack | Jul 23, 2014 |
I'm very fond of this book. It's right up there with "Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen" as a book that spawned a host of imitations, and even proved to have some influence on the world of climate science. It certainly seems prescient, with regards to today and our problems. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Feb 22, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. G. Ballardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
French, DickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griffiths, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Groot, RuurdCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollis, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pelham, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stoovelaar, FrankCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007221835, Paperback)

When London is lost beneath the rising tides, unconscious desires rush to the surface in this apocalyptic tale from the author of Crash and Cocaine Nights. Set in the near future, the ice caps have melted and the planet basks in an unendurable heat. London is a primordial swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows up the walls of the Ritz and there are unconfirmed sightings of primeval reptiles swimming through the newly-formed lagoons. Some flee the capital; others embark on harebrained schemes to drain the submerged streets in search of treasure. But Dr Robert Kerans has come to accept this submarine city and finds himself strangely resistant to the idea of saving it...

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:38 -0400)

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"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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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