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on 25 April 2003
The science-fictional premise of The Crystal World (that the ‘supersaturation of time’ is causing the world, its plants, animals and people, to crystalise) is far less important than the imagery it produces. Ballard’s prose style is like the jewelled forests he describes so well: precise, scintillating, beautiful, but slightly cold. It’s his imagery that lingers in the mind, not his story or characters — the protagonist running through the weirdly transformed forest, whirling his arm to stop it crystallising, sending off sparks of prismatic colour; a snake whose eyes ‘had been transferred into enormous jewels that rose from its forehead like crowns’; a helicopter sliding backwards through the air as the weight of crystals forming on its rotor blades causes it to crash.
Ballard has often paid homage to the Surrealists, and many of his novels resemble Surrealist paintings (with the added dimension of time!), none more so than this, one of his finest. In a sense, the idea of the ‘supersaturation of time’ is his attempt to remove that dimension from his work, turning this book into an attempt at a still image in prose: an image of the world as a single, multifaceted crystal, at one with eternity.
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on 15 March 2001
"The Crystal World" is the final part of Ballard's loose quartet of sixties 'disaster' novels although here the floods, droughts and raging hurriances of the earlier "Drowned World", "The Drought" and "The Wind from Nowhere" are replaced by a strangely esoteric harbinger of doom described as the "suprannuration of time itself". Ballard has denied claims that the novel was written under the influence of mind-altering drugs but the hypertrophied florescence and luridly colourful scenes of a West African jungle that form the novel's setting remind one of Aldous Huxley's encounter with Peyotl (a drug derived from cactus plants in Mexico) in "The Doors of Perception". Dr. Sanders, the laconic Ballardian hero takes a river journey that reminds the reader of Marlowe's passage into Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The doctor intends to deploy his medical skills in the service of altruism at a leper colony - but these 'motives' are soon made questionable by the ambiguous criteria that so often govern the psychology of an alienated Ballardian hero. In the jungles the withdrawing military are helpless in the face of an encroaching forest canopy that literally doubles in space, mass and "time". Will the hero escape or more interestingly, will he stay to embrace destruction in the fabege mirror box of perpetual replication? A must read for all fans of a sophisticated and 'mythological' science fiction.
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on 10 July 2015
A glittering jewel of a book.
"The Crystal World" owes a heavy debt to Conrads " Heart of Darkness" but that said it conveys
a message wholly unique in its presentation.
From the very first page the tone is set for us, the reader, to embark, with the author upon the river, that will take him and ultimately us
to a series of frozen images representative of the eruption of a cosmic reality into our temporal world.
Ballard manages, with a flair and invention, rarely encountered, to place our partial human understanding of the forces at work in the cosmos, in their proper place.
Our wishes, our concerns, as humans, are simply not relevant to the truth of the matter. Namely that a greater reality has usurped the kingdom of our time driven world.
The best book by Ballard I have read.
A great and engrossing read. Poetic and pointed!
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on 15 September 2014
The front jacket of the Fourth Estate 2014 version has the Guardian claiming "Something magical and not to be missed". Now, it's not often I agree with the vapid soundbite blurb on a cover but, in this case, it's pretty much an accurate summary. Having read Ballard's "The Drowned World", I moved swiftly onto this one, exchanging a "wet sky stained by the setting sun" for "cities petrified beneath layers of prismatic crystal". There are echoes of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" in here; given Ballard's novel focuses intently on the concept of polarity of light and dark, I think this novel the dazzling counterbalance to that 1899 accusation of the human condition. Like all the novels of Ballard's "World" quartet, time is suspended for the narration, it is a fabulation that makes the reader hold breath whilst soaking in the lights of his words. Indeed, we find that tropes, then fragments of sentences, then whole paragraphs begin to crystallize around us as an understanding born of inductive reasoning enlightens us. It is the absence of syllogism that forces the reader (willingly) to stumble blindly through the lustre of Matarre's forest until our protagonist, Dr Sanders, finds a kind of Christian salvation through the glittering icons of Catholicism that can deliquesce the crystals.

"However apostate we may be in this world, there perforce we become apostles of the prismatic sun."

It is into this crystal forest that Ballard plunges us with a novel that is straightforward in regards of plot: Sanders leaves his leproserie to arrive at the Port Matarre after receiving a strange summons from a lover, Suzanne Clair. He arrives with the enigmatic Ventress (like Strangman in "The Drowned World", he is another idiosyncratic nemesis of a "white suited figure and sharp skull"), finds himself caught up in an attempt to murder the latter, and then journeys with the journalist Louise Peret deep in to the jungle, to Mont Royal, to understand the truth about the crystalline force of the universe that is besetting the planet. As time itself leeches away, so the world around him begins to focus ever more sharply through a spectrum of deadly crystals, blinding everyone to an insane adoration where choices are instinctively drawn out of every person and the true nature of every being is revealed in a glorious transparency. We find ourselves encased in a story where "divisions into dark and light seemed everywhere around". What follows is a series of journeys through the jungle in a race against time; either to hunt or to find or to escape: the journeys are striking in their individual need.

With him are characters that are lost in their own misery: the mine-owner, Thorensen, desperately trying to protect his wife, Serena; Captain Aragon who comes across like a sane Captain Ahab; Captain Radek who degenerates into a crystal man "lurching [one] stride after another, his pace quickening as the prismatic light of the forest mingled with his blood"; the "vitrified" crocodiles with ruby-jeweled eyes (caiman is a common reptilian theme for Ballard), the already lost Suzanne Clair who leads villagers in a mad dance reminiscent of Dickens Miss Havisham; the young African Kagwa who blindly follows his insane leader until, at the last, Sanders is the sole survivor to stagger from the crystal forest with his earlier "curious premonition of hope and longing, as if he were some fugitive Adam chancing upon a forgotten gateway to the forbidden paradise" gone, utterly replaced by the knowledge that "despite his relief at escaping from the forest, this feeling of flatness and unreality, of being in the slack shallows of a spent world, filled Sanders with a sense of failure and disappointment."

As readers we experience this transition through Ballard's coruscating language of prose, his fine attention to using a full prism of tropes that assail us with a sense of colour and light, time and time again. It is Louise Perot who idly notes that "when you first arrive here everything seems dark, but then you look at the forest and see the stars burning in the leaves". It is the reader who, at the final page, realizes the stars are Ballard's words, the leaves the pages of his novel, the forest the entirety of his masterpiece.
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on 22 December 2006
Is there any artist who can lay claim to such a consistently dazzling and diverse range of writing? In this formative (and in my view most accomplished)period of his career, Ballard deconstructs our modern superficialities and demonstrates the primitive instincts and impulses that reside within us all. The imagery is at times breathtakingly beautiful, an arabesque landscape saturated with "Kori Nors".

However, it is the position of the individual amidst unrelenting adversity that dominates the book, with Ballard's evocative prose hypnotising the reader like a jewel-studded basilisk. His imagination is apparently boundless, his prose exquisitely rendered, and impossible scenarios are made to seem all too plausible. And best of all he's still writing well into his 70s, with the indefatigable need to confront our, and his demons still as intense as ever. Psychological extremity in a tangential world. All kneel and worship!!!
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2007
Following a mysterious message a doctor heads into the Cameroon jungle on the trail of his ex-lover, only to find that pockets of time are being leached out of the area leading to strange crystal transfomations of the flora and fauna. In many ways 'The Crystal World' is a familiar reworking of Ballard's earlier novels, with the onset of a geological disaster (previously an excess and lack of water in 'The Drowned World' and 'The Drought')being used to mirror the psychological states of the cast, while the lead character gradually comes to actively embrace the new state of the world. However despite it's familiarity the bizarre SF concept at the heart of this novel makes for some startling and haunting imagery, and 'The Crystal World' stands as the most lyrical and strange of Ballards early novels. Excellent stuff.
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on 18 July 2014
I read this book many many years ago, but it was just as enjoyable the second time around
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on 8 March 2015
Heavens is there a more imaginative anf terrifying story
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on 7 January 2015
An unusual somewhat thought provoking book
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on 5 February 2016
Bought as a present
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