Saturday, 23 December 2017

J.G. Ballard, 'The Drowned World'

The word "dystopian" has been over-used I think, and is not really the right one here - the world has lethally heated up because of massive instability of the sun, and most humans are living on bases in the Arctic Circle. It's a fable set in the future, and its debt to 'Heart of Darkness', to the seafarers' Neptune myths, and, probably, to the 'The Golden Bough' are clear. J.G. Ballard had an imagination like no other, and descriptive powers not often rivalled. The world of albino lizards, shrieking iguanas, and a booming, elliptical sun turning the fetid lagoons of England into stinking fire, is one that will stay with me. Although it is a bit 1970s album cover in places. Published in 1962, it has the sexism of that time. The Girl Love Interest, whose only point is to be decorative and look the heroine in a B-movie of the time, covered in jewels in a pagan ceremony as society disintegrates into savagery, is plain silly. And the "curly-pated mulattoes" who are the evil Strangman's voodoo hit squad are pure sub-Conrad. If anything, better than Conrad was though, because of Ballard's utter lack of pretension. Yes, really. He hardly ever lapses that way, and "real" science-fiction writers do it all the time. That's why Ballard left "true SF" behind, and began to write - something else. And I just LOVED that (not a spoiler in the unlikely event you haven't already read this) instead of rejoining the brisk uniformed squadron that arrives to mop up after the action and heading back to the Arctic Circle, where the only habitable places are, our hero turns and heads south, to madness and certain rapid death.

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