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The Drowned World Paperback – 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'There are those (I am among them) who would back Ballard as Britain's number one living novelist' -- JOHN SUTHERLAND, SUNDAY TIMES

About the Author

SALES POINTS * #17 in the Millennium SF Masterworks series, a library of the finest science fiction ever written * 'One of the brightest stars in post-war fiction' -- Kingsley Amis * 'There are those (I am among them) who would back Ballard as Britain's number one living novelist' -- John Sutherland, Sunday Times * 'This novel, with its brilliant descriptions of an inundated London and an ecology reverting to the Triassic, gained Ballard acceptance as a major author' -- Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
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Product Details

  • Series: Millennium SF Masterworks (Book 17)
  • Paperback: 175 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857988833
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857988833
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,025,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Born in Shanghai in 1930, J. G. BALLARD is the author of sixteen novels, including "Empire of the Sun," "The Drowned World," and "Crash." He lived in London until his death in April 2009.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the first novel I read by J.G. Ballard. I first heard of the author 12 years ago after seeing "Empire of the Sun". At that time I had no idea that Ballard's early works were science fiction.
"The Drowned World" (Ballard's first novel) is set in a future where most of the planet is underwater or covered in lush jungle. Melting ice caps have caused the sea level to rise, and an altered climate has forced the population to flee to the areas of the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Intense sunlight is causing the temperature to rise all the time, making the environment increasingly hostile to human life. The only creatures that thrive in the new conditions are fish, insects and reptiles, which are all growing bigger and bolder.
The mood of this book is brooding and melancholic. The small group of characters, who live in a tropical, submerged London, have dreams linked to a world millions of years in the past, as the Earth's ecology reverts to a prehistoric wilderness. There is an interesting discussion about the built-in "race memory" in the human psyche. People's fear of snakes and lizards can be linked to the time when early mammals lived in fear of the reptiles, who were the dominant lifeform millions of years ago. (And are becoming so again.)
I think some of the inspiration for "The Drowned World" may have come from John Wyndham's "The Kraken Wakes", which also featured a submerged London (although the climate was getting colder, not hotter). In turn "The Drowned World" may have been the inspiration for that much-maligned film "Waterworld". Ballard's writing style is descriptive like H.G. Wells and M.P. Shiel: poetic and elegant, if a little flowery.
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Format: Paperback
The cover of my version has a lizard sitting quite happily on some poor guy's face, which is the only part of his body sticking out of the water. For some reason, I really like it. This would be considered atypical SF if it came out today, I can't even imagine the reaction back in the sixties when this was first published, especially to an audience that had been raised on an audience of big guns and fast spaceships and heroes who solved problems by punching aliens in the face. Ballard's novel isn't about saving the world, in fact, the world is well past that point by the time the book opens and it's only going to get worse, all the people left can do is figure out how to live with the changes. As you can probably surmise from the title, climatic changes and the melting of the polar ice caps have caused the water levels in the world to rise, putting most cities under water and turning the world nearly into one big tropical ocean. This change is more than just cosmetic since it's apparently resurrecting racial memories buried deep within the collective unconscious, thus people start having weird dreams about times when the world used to be like this. Action packed? Not really. Hallucinogenic? At times. Different? You bet. Ballard succeeds mostly on the strength of his ability to convey this flooded, humid world in all its declining glory. The protagonists wander about almost aimlessly, not even sure why they do what they do. The "villains" of the piece provide a nice counterpoint to all the gloomy stuff but in the end serve as little more than a distraction, albeit a strangely entertaining one.Read more ›
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Unlike most entries in the post-apocalyptic fiction genre, J. G. Ballard's "The Drowned World" deals not with the immediate aftermath of a global calamity, but with the long-term psychiatric implications of such an event. Set some eighty years after an increase in solar activity has rendered most of the earth a tropical swamp, Ballard explores the human reaction to such a rapid change in geography and society at the most primal level.

As such, it has more in common with the likes of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" than "Alas, Babylon" or other contemporary works of apocalyptic fiction. In fact, in many ways it presents itself as a post-modern retelling of Conrad's journey into man's baser instincts. The main character, Dr. Kerans is an admirable stand in for Marolow, as like his literary predecessor he is both drawn to and repelled by his surroundings and what they do to him and those around him. Likewise, his aptly named nemesis Strangman is so reminiscent of Kurtz, including his almost cult-like relationship with Africans (more on that later) it is difficult not to picture him as a Marlon Brando type character.

However, what separates the two novels, and keeps "The Drowned World" from being entirely derivative, is that Marlow has a civilization, a real civilization, to fall back upon. No matter his descent into the unknown, both internally and externally, there is always a thread, however tenuous, that he can use to pull himself back up out of the primitive. Kerans, on the other hand, is stuck in a global Congo, and the so-called civilization he could fall back upon is a mere shell of what it was, scratching out an existence above the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. As such, his backward drift into the primeval is both more intense and ultimately irrevocable.
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