Unlike the usual set up for post-apocalyptic fiction, classic sci-fi writer J.G. Ballard took a different approach with the characters’ attitudes to the end of the world when he wrote The Drowned World. Here, catastrophe is welcomed, releasing dormant desires and a dreamlike regression of society. In Ballard’s uniquely surreal style, it is a world of dreamlike imagery, immersing the reader; an exercise in style over plot.
What’s The Drowned World all about
That said, there is a plot to speak of – the year is 2145 and London has been devastated by tropic temperatures accelerating evolution. Biologist Robert Kerans struggles to resist the devolutionary process of the environment around him. With talk of scientific and military men heading north, he chooses to flee south, to escape what is increasingly becoming a mundane existence.
The tale follows Kerans and a few cohorts as they seek to settle down in an isolated location, always analysing the changes in the world around them, and their own psychosis. This peace is interrupted by the onset of raiders, and as is the wont of the apocalyptic world, violence, torture and tribalistic urges emerge.
Why it’s worth a read
Ballard’s approach to sci-fi here is, as ever, more psychological and surreal than plot-driven and action-packed. His concern with the workings of the mind are well-suited to this genre, as an exploration of how man can devolve, rather than evolve, in the face of a certain type of progress. A dreamlike, fantasy ride into an uncomfortable future, The Drowned World set the scene for a number of apocalyptic offerings from Ballard, a genre he was all too comfortable inhabiting, for the creative backdrops he could generate, and the slanted look at the mind they allowed.