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The Drowned World by Jim G. Ballard

The Drowned World (edition 2006)

by Jim G. Ballard

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1,684374,243 (3.47)124
Title:The Drowned World
Authors:Jim G. Ballard (Author)
Info:HarperPerennial (2006), Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library, E-Reader, 1001 books
Tags:sf, london, reptiles, climate change, global warming, ecology, flood, water world, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, morose, racial memory, atavism, aaeb, kindle, read:2012

Work details

The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard (Author)

  1. 10
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English (35)  Italian (2)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
The Drowned World could easily look like a climate change cautionary tale nowadays, depicting as it does a planet on which all the major cities are under hundreds of feet of water, the average daytime temperature is a good 120-140 degrees, and the biosphere is reverting to something much like its Triassic state, teeming with giant ferns and reptiles that some people are starting to suspect are evolving back into dinosaurs. But the book (first published in 1962) predates modern theories; here the sun is the culprit; a series of really bad solar flares having stripped away a lot of the protections Earth's atmosphere provides, the planet has gotten hot and steamy; The Drowned World could well be a sequel to Stephen Vincent Benet's poem, "Metropolitan Nightmare," which is even older.

So the characters here are neither hand-wringers nor moralizers. Robert Kerans, Colonel Riggs and Beatrice Dahl are studying the vast series of lagoons that used to be London as the book opens. But it's time to go back to the relative safety and comfort of the Arctic Circle; the iguanas and gators are getting uppity and the heat is going to get unbearable. Everything looks good to go -- but nobody asked Beatrice. And Beatrice, like many other members of the expedition, has started to have "deep" dreams that seem to be seducing her into staying, into giving up her humanity as it is commonly understood and becoming a quiescent consciousness submerged in jungle and lagoon. And because she and Kerans have become a couple during their time in the Lagoons-That-Were-London, he's going to stay, too. Besides, Kerans kind of likes his living arrangements, in the penthouse of the ruins of the Ritz Hotel -- a penthouse that's now more or less at water level, and still crammed full of a long-dead resident's silk shirts and other treasures.

What follows is a short -- shockingly short by modern standards; I had almost forgotten that novels once took up just 133 pages! -- account of a myriad of ways in which people can go mad outside of civilization. We have looters, a savage king (who arrives on a paddle steamer escorted by hundreds of alligators who seem to respond a bit to his will), and more than one person who has decided to do as the dreams suggest and just sort of zone out and become human lizards. When the savage king finds a way to drain the lagoon where Kerans and Beatrice are basking, the better to get at the treasures he imagines are still to be had in the abandoned stores and museums at the bottom, things get even stranger, which I would not have thought possible.

I had my own "deep" dream after reading The Drowned World in which I basically invented my own sequel to it and shared the sense of being subsumed in its waters; Ballard's sequences are so vivid and compelling that I wasn't at all surprised by this. I too, want to see London's big planetarium filled with water and teeming with sponges and coral and angelfish, the little specks of light from the water's surface far above forming a new set of constellations that Kerans imagines mirror those that appeared in the night sky when the Earth's climate was last like this.

Ballard is a wonder! ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
Strange, increasingly hallucinatory post-apocalypse novel about a warming planet overrun with lagoons and exploding tropical plants and animals. The protagonist (and others) begin having nightmares which are described as racial memories of earlier times when these climatic conditions existed. A bad guy enters the scene to plunder what's left, and throws this new natural order into chaos, which strangely rouses the dazed characters into action to restore their surroundings. I found the characters mostly listless (and nearly lifeless), and the conflict seemed like a contrivance, just to make something happen. But the book was hard to put down, due to Ballard's powerful, visceral description of this "drowned world." The book seems more like a series of images to me than a story, but I won't be forgetting that lagoon anytime soon. ( )
1 vote unclebob53703 | May 17, 2016 |
I thought this book earned two stars, barely. If he would have expanded the plot a bit more, made the writing not so dull, and the characters not quite so boring, it would have been...probably not much better. It's a pity, as I always enjoy a good end of the world tale, bu my recommendation is give this book a miss.

( )
  Garrison0550 | May 5, 2016 |
This month's Post-apocalyptic Book Club selection.
This was a re-read, though I'd read it so long ago it might as well have been in the Jurassic period.
JG Ballard succeeds marvelously in creating a hallucinatory, dreamlike environment here. Solar flares have heated the Earth. Only 5 million people still live, mainly on military-style bases in the Antarctic. Our protagonist, Kerans, is a biologist assigned to a team with the singularly pointless task of venturing south and mapping the changed earth, with its lagoons caused by polar melt and bizarre new plants... the formerly temperate zones are changing back to prehistoric-style jungle.
However, in this hot and humid atmosphere, people seem to be going crazy, afflicted by shared dreams from the primeval unconscious, losing the drive to live. In half-submerged London, Kerans, his older colleague Bodkin, and the woman Beatrice, decide to stay, rather than return to the Antarctic. It's a decision that clearly will not lead to their continued survival; ambiguously suicidal.
However, the trio's doomed idyll is thrown into upheaval by the arrival of Strangman, a bizarre albino riverboat captain with a crew of caricatured and allegorical savages.

Strangman seeks to drain the lagoon, and becomes more and more of a threatening figure. Although lethargic and passive, the trio oppose his wishes, feeling inexorably drawn to accept the course of nature, and embrace its terrible beauty, even though nature has become inimical to human life.

Ballard sure does love 'Heart of Darkness.' This is a deeply symbolic work, and draws a lot from Conrad's. However, many of the themes touched on here are dealt with more deftly in Ballard's later books. The characters here are very flat, especially for a psychological novel. Yes, Ballard is using the trope of the 'savage' for literary purpose, but I'm not at all sure that excuses his portrayal of the crewmen as nearly inhuman beings.

Flaws and all, I'd still say this book is worth reading. There's a lot packed into its brief pages; it made for a really good book group discussion. I also simply enjoyed its evocative, lush and oppressive atmosphere. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ballard, J. G.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boswell, JamesIllustratorsecondary authorsome 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
Self, WillIntroductionsecondary 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:30 -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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