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on 26 December 2016
The Drowned World JG Ballard

Some of the most successful science fiction has gone back to the past in imagining the future. 2001 a Space Odyssey starts in the earliest days of human history before catapulting out to a space station in Earth orbit. Jurassic Park brings back dinosaurs. Then of course, there's Back to the Future.

J.G Ballad's story The Drowned World is an archetypal story of the future that includes a vision of the past. The sun has become hotter, creating a flooded, tropical Earth. The climate has returned to a state that prevailed during the Triassic period. Human survivors of this watery apocalypse find themselves drifting back in dreams to an earlier incarnation of life on Earth. Life has a buried memory of all that has gone before, and those buried memories begin to emerge during sleep.

This is a great premise for a story that can range from past to future. I would also say that the idea has biological accuracy. I once read a book by the evolutionary theorist and writer Lynn Margullis tracing the echoes of ancient life in our own cells. She points out, for example, that the salt balance of human tissue fluids mimics the salt balance of the ancient ocean from which life first emerged onto the land. (See Microcosmos by Lynn Margullis for more.)

So this is a fascinating scenario for a book, which in many ways is poetically explored. There are a few downsides, however. The dialogue between the characters can be that of "British schoolteachers hoisted out of the 1930s", as Martin Amis puts it in an introduction. The middle part of the story, centred on an evil looter, also becomes very conventional - the rescue of a damsel in distress trapped in the bad guy's lair. The damsel herself is vapid and lifeless, trying to hang on to the superficial cosmetics of her former self, even as she sinks into her Triassic dreams. All of the characters, for that matter, are somewhat two-dimensional.

Will Self makes an interesting suggestion on Ballard’s characters in an essay written for the reissue of The Drowned World in 2013. Self writes that Ballad is not creating characters in the normal sense, with backstories designed to make us identify with them and read on. Instead, these are archetypes of people responding to change. Some are vigorous in their resistance, wanting to hang onto what they know. Others are accepting, waiting to see what the new situation will bring. The damsel in distress is a combination of these reactions. In that sense The Drowned World is more of a myth or a fairy story than a novel, despite aspects of the novel that are straight out of the Ian Fleming style of writing. And perhaps even the “thriller” sections have more to them than meets the eye. Sections depicting people trying to hold on to their lost civilization are the same sections where hackneyed old plots emerge.

This is a fascinating book, interesting more for what lies beneath the water than for what floats on the top.
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on 13 December 2016
I read this book for book club under the theme of 'Climate Fiction'. We'd all read High Rise and loved it and thought another JG Ballard book would be good.

I found this to be an interesting vision of a London consumed by rising sea levels and what remains of humanity is struggling to survive in what is now a tropical environment with still increasing temperatures. Loved the idea about the same primordial dreams people are having based on some Triassic era instinctual memories buried deep inside our animal brain. Found it amusing that our protagonist lives in the top floor of the Ritz in a former billionaire's apartment. Enjoyed the madness of the buccaneers that arrive in the London lagoon.

Strange ending however. Wasn't really sure what the point was exactly. Maybe it was that we are ultimately doomed and how you choose to go is up to you. It's the one choice that you have left.
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on 6 September 2017
Maybe it should have 5 stars? I'm undecided. Anyhow i would without hesitation recommend this novel as top quality sci-fi. Holds up today today even though it was written(not sure of the exact date) in the early 1960s. Good dystopian plot, the drowned world is well realised and imaginative.. The mood leans toward the surreal:ie to accentuate this, paintings by Max Ernst put in an appearance once or twice during the narrative.
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on 7 July 2013
I loved this vignette of a novel that describes London almost totally submerged in water, with just a few buildings poking above the waves. The ice-caps have melted, the temperature is in the high 120Cs, and a handful of survivors of a new world order is at a testing station, keeping an eye on the giant iguanas and weather gauges.

They're ordered out to head northwards - high command believes it's hopelessly hot - but a few decide to disobey orders and remain. They have been infected by heat sickness that seems to encourage them to reverse their evolutionary development and to revert to an earlier state of being in mankind... a dreamlike state short of 'rationality' as we know it.

Mad bandits arrive, as do giant crocodiles. Treasures of the past are plundered - though even the 'pirates' aren't quite sure why they're doing it.

The world has gone crazy and the feeling of wanting to retreat somewhere sane is prevalent - though when everything has gone upsidedown (quite literally) it's hard to know what makes sense and what doesn't.

It's a book full of ideas and will no doubt survive the test of time, perhaps for the wrong reasons (as far as human kind and climate changing are concerned). The writing is sharp and witty; the main character, has taken a top floor suite at the Ritz and often ponders whether it is 'only the external landscape which is altering' as the 'luminous, dragon-green, serpent-haunted sea' laps at his window sills.
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on 19 June 2015
Ballard says in interviews that this was his first novel, rather than The Wind from Nowhere. It's certainly a cut above. I found the motivation of the protagonist just a little unconvincing - but perhaps that's what the author intended. There are some excellent descriptions of various phenomena but, as I say, some things weren't quite convincing. We have a character apparently able to function well in extraordinary heat and humidity without mention of water. Making no mention of the struggle for water irked me.

The edition I read was besmirched with a foreword by the dreaded Martin Amis. It was also padded out with a couple of interviews with Ballard. Maybe my four stars is because I felt that it was padded to make it up to the price.
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on 16 September 2017
A very good book, would have been four stars but I've had to knock one star off this edition for the fact that Martin Amis provides a spoiler to the ending in his foreword. Why would you do this?
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on 9 November 2013
Some of the reviews on this novel are completely misleading. This is a great work of (early) sci-fi. I found it very difficult to put aside when I needed to, I just wanted to carry on reading it. It is an absorbing experience, with excellent character development, and a planet (Earth) subjected to extreme climatic influences from its own mother star. I'm not going to get into the usual spoilers that somehow manage to infiltrate these types of reviews, but I would suggest that all serious sci-fi readers should really need to get hold of a copy of this book. If you can find it, the hardback (50th anniversary edition) is a real treat, the intro by Martin Amis is an additional (essential) quality of this work
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on 28 June 2013
I enjoyed this book but had to stick at it and could have given up on it a couple of times. It tells the story of Dr Kerans and his descent into an individual time when reptiles ruled the world. It is set in a future London which has been inundated by melting glaciers and concentrates on the man's mind. Recommended for Ballard fans.
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on 28 March 2018
Great book - if you like your future bleak
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on 7 November 2014
It was the first book from this author I've read.And I must say I was very pleased with the book.A very well and elegantly presented "scifi" phenomenology.May be a little too much of scenery description.Look forward to read more from J.G.Ballard.
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