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The Drowned World (Millennium SF Masterworks…

The Drowned World (Millennium SF Masterworks S) (edition 1999)

by J. G. Ballard

Series: Elemente (Wasser)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,332564,854 (3.45)195
"The Drowned World imagines a terrifying world in which global warming has melted the ice caps and primordial jungles have overrun a tropical London. Set during the year 2145, this novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team of scientists as they confront a cityscape in which nature is on the rampage and giant lizards, dragonflies, and insects fiercely compete for domination."--Provided by publisher.… (more)
Title:The Drowned World (Millennium SF Masterworks S)
Authors:J. G. Ballard
Info:Gollancz (1999), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 175 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard

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» See also 195 mentions

English (54)  Italian (2)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
An interesting premise and some intriguing ideas save this from a 1 star rating. The character development is laughable, the action man scenes extremely lame and the stench of racism and misogyny is so strong I frequently needed to stop reading and have a shower. ( )
  SamanthaD-KR | Jun 10, 2021 |
One of the more hallucinatory post-apocalyptic fictions I've read, The Drowned World often feels like the fever dream of someone obsessed with jungles, climate change, and civilization itself. Protagonist Dr. Robert Kerans and his cohorts are exploring the ruins of modern society after solar flares have resulted in the oceans rising hundreds of feet and the rapid encroachment of dinosaur-era reptilian life-forms into the swiftly disintegrating human domains. While carrying out their duties, they're afflicted by the tendency to deliver pseudo-scientific/mystic orations on the deeper meanings of the regression of life back into this more primitive, almost Jurassic epoch:

"Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs. The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing fetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is coded time scale, each nexus of neurons and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time."

Heavy stuff. The actual plot isn't so interesting, being a very tame, almost anesthetized adventure tale starring some of the least dynamic adventurers ever (what's the point of quasi-girlfriend Beatrice Dahl's existence?), but that's somewhat remedied by the neat descriptions of the fantastic new world created by the rising seas. Ballard casually mentions the artist Max Ernst, and indeed his works like Europe After the Rain II are strongly reminiscent of the imagery here. I was disappointed by the seeming decline in the writing quality towards the end, as the druidic drug passages became increasingly rarer:

"Caging the compass, he swung it around towards himself, without realising it sank into a momentary reverie in which his entire consciousness became focused on the serpentine terminal touched by the pointer, on the confused, uncertain but curiously potent image summed up by the concept 'South', with all its dormant magic and mesmeric power, diffusing outwards from the brass bowl held in his hands like the heady vapours of some spectral grail."

Overall it was a quick read and it wasn't horrible, I was just left somewhat confused by the end as the protagonist "left the lagoon and entered the jungle again, within a few days was completely lost, following the lagoons southward through the increasing rain and heat, attacked by alligators and giant bats, a second Adam searching for the forgotten paradises of the reborn Sun." Well then. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Like diving willingly into a hungry whirlpool of Deep Time, surrounded by all the nightmares of drowning and the unknowable ocean, spinning further and further into the muck which has no bottom... ( )
  evano | Apr 24, 2021 |

So if you are after spaceships or an adventure romp, look elsewhere: this is about inner space instead of outer space, as Martin Amis notes in his excellent introduction. The problem, however, is that for a novel that supposes to examine a certain psychology, Ballard’s hypothesis obviously is ludicrous. So what is he examining here? A mere speculative effect, that doesn’t offer much insight in the human condition, because it is totally unrealistic? For a psychological novel, there’s not that much characterization, let alone character development, even though there are glimpses of brilliance on the matter.

Paintings of Paul Delvaux and Dalí serve as props in the story, and they offer a way to get a better grip on what Ballard was trying to do, which is write a surrealist/symbolist novel. The Drowned World shouldn’t be read for psychological realism, but rather for psychological symbolism – a tangent to the fact that what is psychologically real is not always the same as reality in this book. Once I realized that, it seemed a pretty straightforward affair: a tale about regression, about the mere veneer of civilized society, and the heart of darkness underlying all. It is as if Ballard’s nature imagery might serve as a simile for the human condition:

"Beautiful and serene from his balcony a few minutes earlier, Kerans realised that the lagoon was nothing more than a garbage-filled swamp."

(...) but I don’t think there’s something like an irreducible primitive core that needs to be held in check. The days of Freud are over – but who can blame Ballard for writing stuff like this in the sixties? Besides, dichotomies remain ever popular today.


+ this review ends with a discussion of the alleged racism of The Drowned World

More on Weighing A Pig ( )
  bormgans | Mar 21, 2021 |
As one of Ballard’s early works, this is pretty readable, esp. if you’ve ever tried the atrocious witterings of the likes of Crash. It’s sci-fi, and the basic premise is that the temperature of the world has risen so much the equatorial regions of the world have become unihabitable swamps flooded by the entirely melted polar regions to which the population has now retreated.

The primordial landscape becomes the setting for our narrative of competing factions pitted not only against the physical environment but, of more consequence it seems, the mental strain of living in such climatic extremes.

This latter pressure very much gives the novel a Heart-of-Darkness feel. Madness isn’t far away from anyone as their dreams are haunted by visions of being enveloped by heat or water or both and their daylight (and there’s a lot of that) seems an undending nightmare from which there is no relief.

This results in characters subject to some kind of reverse evolution whereby they find themselves unable to resist urges to strip themselves of every vestige of humanity, abandon community and launch themselves off into the annihilation of the endless wastes.

Ballard raises a lot of questions exploring what this means about humanity and our role in nature. There’s no hierarchy. It’s a symbiosis. While it’s our power over the environment that has destroyed the balance of the planet’s ecosystems, at the same time humanity finds itself unable to exert any power at all in the resulting ecosystem.

Continued global warming and rising sea levels have lent the 1962 novel even greater prescience than when it was first published. It strikes me that it should be more widely known because of this.

But then it strikes me daily that despite the rhetoric no one actually gives a toss.

I see friends and family around me continuing to buy single-use plastic drinks bottles and takeaway containers in the face of clear alternatives. I hear people’s plans to take absolutely unnecessary transcontinental flights when things open up again. I continue to pull plastic out of the sand on the beach where I live, plastic that comes directly from the shops on the sea front selling complete shit no one needs.

And if you’re more angered that I used the word ‘shit’ than by my description of our needlessly selfish behaviour, I’m writing this for you.

If we’re not bothering with all the evidence we’re presented with, Ballard’s fiction might well become fact. And having read quite a bit of him, a world in which Ballard’s fiction is fact is not one I want to live in any longer. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
... wirkt verblüffend modern, während so mancher einst gerühmte Bestseller längst im literarischen Urschlamm versunken ist ...

» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ballard, J. G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amis, MartinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berni, OlivieroCover artistsecondary authorsome 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
Körber, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pelham, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterka, JohannIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Self, WillIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stoovelaar, FrankCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thole, C. A. M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiskott, IngeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"The Drowned World imagines a terrifying world in which global warming has melted the ice caps and primordial jungles have overrun a tropical London. Set during the year 2145, this novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team of scientists as they confront a cityscape in which nature is on the rampage and giant lizards, dragonflies, and insects fiercely compete for domination."--Provided by publisher.

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