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Friday, February 05, 2016

The Drowned World (1962) by J.G. Ballard

Book Review
The Drowned World (1962)
 by J.G. Ballard

  J.G. Ballard is a huge loser in the ongoing process of revision to the 1001 Books project.  In the 2008 revision he lost five of his seven total titles, The Drowned World being one of the removed books.  It looks like a majority of the books removed between 2006 and 2008 came from authors who had three or more titles on the 2006 list.  Almost 100% of the titles added in 2008 were new authors with no prior representation on the list.  Ballard is associated with the so-called "new wave" of science fiction from the 1960s and 70s.  These authors incorporated new themes derived from environmentalism and technological innovation with a greater consciousness of science fiction as "literature" rather than pulp fiction.

  Although Ballard has become synonymous with dystopian fiction to the point where "Ballardian" has become a recognized adjective to describe his unique futuristic landscapes, his most famous work is the traditional World War II novel Empire of the Sun, made into a film in the US starring a young Christian Bale.  The Drowned World takes place in a 22nd century London where "solar storms" have led to irreversible global warming.  London, and all the other cities of the world are flooded an uninhabitable, and humanity, down to a total population of five million, lies clustered at the North and South Poles where the average temperature is a livable 80 degrees.  Dr Robert Kerans is a biologist attached to a long term mission to catalog the spiraling number of new animal and plant species, as the mission nears completion, he decides to remain, having come to the conclusion that the changes to the climate have created a kind of regressive "deep time" that precludes human efforts to combat the changes.

  This blend of hard sci-fi with abnormal psychology is the essence of what is meant by "Ballardian."  He has a direct influence on notable filmmakers like David Chronenberg (who adapted the Ballard novel Crash into a film) and David Lynch.  And while I understand and am sympathetic with the need to revise the 1001 Books list to reflect more diversity, I'm sorry to see a science fiction title go, let alone as dark as The Drowned World.

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