The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard


The Drowned World
Title : The Drowned World
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 0871403625
Language : English
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 198

First published in 1962, J.G Ballard s mesmerizing and ferociously prescient novel imagines a terrifying future in which solar radiation and global warming have melted the ice caps and Triassic era jungles have overrun a submerged and tropical London Set during the year 2145, the novel follows biologist Dr Robert Kerans and his team of scientists as they confront a surreal cityscape populated by giant iguanas, albino alligators, and endless swarms of malarial insects Nature has swallowed all but a few remnants of human civilization, and, slowly, Kerans and his companions are transformed both physically and psychologically by this prehistoric environment Echoing Joseph Conrad s Heart of Darkness complete with a mad white hunter and his hordes of native soldiers this powerful and beautifully clear Brian Aldiss work becomes a thrilling adventure and a haunting examination of the effects of environmental collapse on the human mind.


The Drowned World Reviews


  • Bill  Kerwin

    Although today J.G Ballard is perhaps better known as the author of two books which became major films Spielberg s Empire of the Sun and Cronenberg s Crash he was first praised for a quaternity of post apocalyptic novels published in the early 60 s The Drowned World 1962 , the second book in this series as well as Ballard s second published novel was greatly admired by readers of speculative fiction and caused Ballard to be considered one of the great lights of the New Wave The Drowned Wo Although today J.G Ballard is perhaps better known as the author of two books which became major films Spielberg s Empire of the Sun and Cronenberg s Crash he was first praised for a quaternity of post apocalyptic novels published in the early 60 s The Drowned World 1962 , the second book in this series as well as Ballard s second published novel was greatly admired by readers of speculative fiction and caused Ballard to be considered one of the great lights of the New Wave The Drowned World is often described as a sci fi version of Heart of Darkness, but if so, it is a topsy turvy take on the Conrad classic The world is warming due to an atmospheric erosion caused by events in the sun, and a heat wave, accompanied by floods, is moving slowly toward the poles With the heat comes a luxuriance of tropical vegetation, reminscent of the Jurassic period it seems the Heart of Darkness has come to Old England, not the other way round When Kurtz here Strangman arrives from the south in a motorized yacht filled with dark henchman, he is no spent madman expelling a last breath, but an energetic, grinning sociopath intent on looting the last waterlogged treasures of London.The plot is merely serviceable, the character development sketchy, but plot and character are beside the point What is important here is setting and theme, perfectly realized by Ballard s precise yet poetic prose His descriptions of the pitiless sky, of a ghostly submerged observatory, of the flooded streets of London rife with gargantuan plants, and of a collective nightmare where iguana calls to iguana through an eternal tropical forest remain in memory long after the book is done.Of course, for those enlightened enough to believe in global warming, this is scary stuff, and close attention to Ballard s themes make it into something even scarier He postulates a world where extreme climate change may act not only upon our superficial behaviors but also upon the neurological structures of the brain Could the heat and wetness of an atavistic jungle awake the ancient reptile within Are the iguanas of our dreams calling to each other Or are they calling to us

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    The solar disc was no longer a well defined sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out across the eastern horizon like a colossal fire ball, its reflection turned the dead leaden surface of the lagoon into a brilliant copper shield By noon, less than four hours away, the water would seem to burn Solar radiation has melted the polar ice caps, and the oceans have risen to engulf most of the major cities of Europe and America These cities have become tropical lagoons with only the up The solar disc was no longer a well defined sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out across the eastern horizon like a colossal fire ball, its reflection turned the dead leaden surface of the lagoon into a brilliant copper shield By noon, less than four hours away, the water would seem to burn Solar radiation has melted the polar ice caps, and the oceans have risen to engulf most of the major cities of Europe and America These cities have become tropical lagoons with only the upper floors of the tallest building sticking up out of the water and silt Flora and fauna baked by radiation have grown to enormous sizes reminiscent of the Triassic era A team of scientists have come to investigate and analyze the changes that have occurred in London since humans were forced to flee North Some of the members of the team start to have strange, primordial dreams What are these nightmares you ve having Beatrice shrugged Jungle dreams, Robert, she murmured ambiguously I m learning my ABC again Last night was the delta jungles She gave him a bleak smile, then added with a touch of malicious humour Don t look so stern, you ll be dreaming them too, soon Ballard explains what is happening to the scientists with a bit detail beyond just calling them jungle dreams Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory Beatrice Dahl is a beautiful woman made lovely by the fact that she is the only female on the expedition She has found an exquisite apartment that with the help of a generator still has air conditioning and ice She has a sexual relationship with Dr Robert Kerans, but she seems rather apathetic about her lover Of course, it could be the heat Temperatures climb to 140 degrees by midday There is a Max Ernst painting on the wall of Beatrice s apartment, and the longer they are there, the the painting reminds Kerans of the real world I wonder if the Max Ernst painting was something like this.As the day approaches that they will have to leave, Robert and Beatrice become convinced that they are going to stay It doesn t make any logical sense Within a matter of months they would be out of fuel to drive the air conditioning and food would begin to be a problem, but the desire to stay and become part of their jungle dreams clutters their thoughts This novel has a Conradian feel, specifically one of my favorite books Heart of Darkness, so Ballard had my attention from the very first page I m a fan of post apocalyptic books, and J.G Ballard was obsessed with the worlds that are created by the chaos of destruction The characters in this novel go against the norm for post apocalyptic novels They aren t resisting the apocalypse They are intent on joining it The novel becomes even stranger when some scavengers show up led by the pale, thin man aptly named Strangman.Ballard explores the urges that are normally repressed by civilized human beings The call of the wild is in our DNA When we are dipped in the primordial soup of a tropical lagoon, we feel the need to escape the bondages of civilization Something on a cellular level is telling us that we are missing the fundamental purposes of life Kerans is intent on escaping the clutches of all that is trying to bind him and head South into the uncertainty of a new world His commitment to the future, so far one of choice and plagued by so many doubts and hesitations, was now absolute If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at

  • Fabian

    Oh, what s left to be said about J G Ballard If you have yet to enter his cult, his realm please do so soon The man is dead, and so his sea of work is a limited lake of placid doom, of absolute apocalypse He is often imitated M Crichton the new Annhilation Southern Reach trilogy guy come to mind, but he is as unique a literary voice as any of the greats He is, actually, currently under Canonization negotiations by the Crazy Cray cray Literary Canon.Oh, this dude is inspiring I Oh, what s left to be said about J G Ballard If you have yet to enter his cult, his realm please do so soon The man is dead, and so his sea of work is a limited lake of placid doom, of absolute apocalypse He is often imitated M Crichton the new Annhilation Southern Reach trilogy guy come to mind, but he is as unique a literary voice as any of the greats He is, actually, currently under Canonization negotiations by the Crazy Cray cray Literary Canon.Oh, this dude is inspiring In The Drowned World , the prehistoric meets the apocalyptic, the dioramas Mr Ballard brilliantly forms for us are just so staggeringly real, that I hate the fact that this is not a screenplay Although the lack of dialogue, perhaps the clich d villain and villain s plot overall, make it no better than some of his weaker short stories all immersive, all absolutely extraordinary, but still I love Crash, High Rise, Empire of the Sun which seems to me the most apocalyptic of all his novels, although it s set in WWII , and consider his complete short story collection to be one of the best of all time its entire 1100 or so pages There is a heftiness of prose here, and the description is so cinematic that, like I mentioned, I found the medium to be suitable for a rip roarin script The environment is so lush that it reminds one of Fantasia, or Jurassic Park , or other cool concoctions of the child like imagination It will remain in your subconscious as a worthwhile deposit As a glorious cancer made of amethystLet s just get this dude up on his deserved pedestal they are few

  • Ben

    Dull plotting.Duller psychology.Shallow characters.Improbable coincidences galore.Pretty racist.And yet almost entirely saved by some great descriptive work in painting the submerged world.Worth reading, barely.

  • Apatt

    J.G Ballard, what an interesting author, they broke the mold when they made him When I started reading sf in the 80s I had the impression that Ballard specializes in global ecological disaster scenario, what with The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World A sort of go to guy for a dot dot dot World apocalyptic fiction Then I read Concrete Island and Empire of the Sun and realized Ballard cannot be pigeonholed so simply The Drowned Worldis one of his earlier novels from his J.G Ballard, what an interesting author, they broke the mold when they made him When I started reading sf in the 80s I had the impression that Ballard specializes in global ecological disaster scenario, what with The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World A sort of go to guy for a dot dot dot World apocalyptic fiction Then I read Concrete Island and Empire of the Sun and realized Ballard cannot be pigeonholed so simply The Drowned Worldis one of his earlier novels from his apocalyptic phase If you are looking for an ecological thriller where masses of people are stampeding away from a gigantic tidal wave, you will need to find a new tree to bark up While there are some thrilling moments toward the end, on the whole, I would describe the mood of this book as contemplative From the first chapter most the world has already been submerged, thanks to solar radiation that melted the polar ice caps This bit of hard sci fi is quite well written in the book but subsequent to this exposition the novel is concerned with the psychological impact on the main characters, particularly Dr Robert Kerans, through whose point of view the third person narrative is focused.For some reason, the environment of the flooded world is causing a gradual regression or devolution on the creatures living on it People are having bizarre nightmares sparked by racial memories Later on a piratical villain named Strangman shows up and the beginning of mankind s mental devolution can be seen through him.This is an intriguing, but not easy to read, book Something about this book s narrative tone comes across as rather detached and I could not feel much involvement in the plight of the characters They are not uninteresting, but none of them is sympathetic I wonder if this is typical of Ballard s prose style I have read a few of his books, but that was decades ago when I was in my teens and I cannot remember much about those books I do know that he is not a sf author I ever find easy to read like Asimov, Heinlein or Clarke, he is akin to Le Guin though somewhat less accessible There is clearly a literary quality to his writing and he often has me reaching for the dictionary.The world of this book is quite vividly described, the image of the drowned cities is quite evocative, and the drained city even so There is an odd kind of beauty to it There are mutated animals and giant insects in this book, but they are a part of the novel s props rather than monstrosities to be battled The Drowned World is well worth reading as something unusual and unpredictable It is one of those rare books that I enjoy in retrospect when I think about it than while I was actually reading it It certainly makes want me to read Crash and other Ballard novels I have read and forgotten about

  • Duane

    This was my introduction to J.G Ballard How to best describe this book I would call it apocalyptic realism I thought I invented that term until I looked it up, and yes it exists It s an apocalyptic future that I can see happening, and I imagine it very much like Ballard does here, except my version is tied to climate change and his is caused by a changing sun Also, it has an eerie similarity to Conrad s Heart of Darkness I m certainly looking forward to reading of Ballard s work.

  • Paul

    Ballard wrote this dystopian novel in the early 1960s, but it is still resonant today and it deals with a drastic increase in temperature on the earth it is set in 2145 The premise is fairly simple temperatures have greatly increased and the polar icecaps melted temperatures around the equator can reach well over 150 degrees Most life is centred on the polar areas Jungle proliferates and evolution has goes into overdrive with some insects, reptiles and plants developing and changing very q Ballard wrote this dystopian novel in the early 1960s, but it is still resonant today and it deals with a drastic increase in temperature on the earth it is set in 2145 The premise is fairly simple temperatures have greatly increased and the polar icecaps melted temperatures around the equator can reach well over 150 degrees Most life is centred on the polar areas Jungle proliferates and evolution has goes into overdrive with some insects, reptiles and plants developing and changing very quickly Great banks of silt have also developed with great lagoons surrounded by jungle At the start of the book a team of scientists and military personnel are studying a series of lagoons set in jungle over what was the city of London which is many feet below the lagoons.The main character is Robert Kerans, a biologist He has moved up from the makeshift camp to the top floor of the Ritz, the top floors being above water He spends time with two others in particular Dr Bodkin a scientist and Beatrice Dahl who is rather reclusive and has taken the top floor of another hotel There are plenty of descriptions of heat and exotic wildlife A number of members of the staff start to get dreams which seem to draw them to the sun and the south and which seem to point to a collective unconscious and impulses which go back to prehistoric times Obviously Ballard is playing with Jungian ideas about the unconscious Kerans, Bodkin and Dahl remain when the main party leaves and they continue to lead a fairly solitary existence This is disrupted when a large boat arrives captained by Strangman a white man, dressed all in white, with an all black crew Strangman is dangerous and unpredictable Some high jinks ensue, but the primeval instincts are strong I thought I had laid Heart of Darkness to rest last year but here we are again Ballard has denied being influenced by it, but it s clearly there for all to see It is also possible that the influence is early H G Wells, as Conrad was also influenced by Wells novels such as The Time Machine The main characters are also like time travellers transported back to primeval times Although the contrast here is different to Heart of Darkness where the jungle is threatening and other Here the impulse is to return to the jungle, the primeval home.There are links to Lord of the Flies and Robinson Crusoe and Strangman can be seen as a parody of Crusoe Strangman is looting the treasures of the submerged city Water and the sea are potent symbols here and Ballard puts words from Eliot s The Waste Land Death by Water into Strangman s mouth There s nothing much left now I can tell you, I sometimes feel like Phlebas the Phoenician Though that s really your role, isn t it A current under sea Picked his bones in whispers As he rose and fell He passed the stages of his age and youth Entering the whirlpool Strangman also quotes Donne Eliot was a great promoter of Donne and alludes to the following Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world No man is an island, entire of itself every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend s or of thine own were Any man s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee Ballard makes reference to a number of other works Camus, Kierkegaard, Ulysses and Homer to name a few There are elements of the Grail Quest as well There sometimes seems to be an element of, to adapt a rather British saying, throwing in everything including the kitchen sink It s clever stuff and Ballard s vision is very prescient It is also well written and the impulse is to move back into the Darkness as if going back to the womb or back to primeval impulses However we still have a white man in charge of a ship with a crew of black men dancing to his tune Perhaps we have not moved on so far after all That really irritated me

  • Susan Budd

    The Drowned World was my introduction to Ballard I don t know what I liked the lavishly described landscape with its swollen sun, primeval jungle, and shrieking iguanas or the inner landscape of recurring dreams, instinctive impulses, and psychological obsessions It s the combination of these two worlds the outer and the inner that give The Drowned World its depth and hypnotic air The outer world is described in such poetic prose that a narrative is nearly unnecessary It is a voodoo j The Drowned World was my introduction to Ballard I don t know what I liked the lavishly described landscape with its swollen sun, primeval jungle, and shrieking iguanas or the inner landscape of recurring dreams, instinctive impulses, and psychological obsessions It s the combination of these two worlds the outer and the inner that give The Drowned World its depth and hypnotic air The outer world is described in such poetic prose that a narrative is nearly unnecessary It is a voodoo jungle 27 with a strange dream like beauty 30 , a nightmare world of competing organic forms returning rapidly to their Paleozoic past 31 , an unending succession of green twilights 31 surrounded by the luminous, dragon green, serpent haunted sea 70.The world is undergoing a regression, a devolution to an earlier stage in Earth s history In this world of lagoons and equatorial heat, reptiles rule It is a world without consciousness This is the world to which Kerans and the others are adapting This is the world in which each character finds himself in his dreams As each member of Kerans team succumbs to insomnia and isolation, dreams and d j vu, the pull of the outer world on the inner world becomes stronger Everything is sinking back into a pre conscious state This self imposed isolation is preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance 25.Dr Bodkin offers a psychological theory for what is happening to them all He explains to Kerans that the jungle dream they are all having is not a dream but an ancient organic memory millions of years old 89 All the bizarre behavior is the result of being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs 56.Ballard s prose is at its finest when he uses metaphor to merge the outer and inner worlds A important task than mapping the harbours and lagoons of the external landscape was to chart the ghostly deltas and luminous beaches of the submerged neuronic continents 58.This is where I went from being spellbound by the prose to being fascinated by the theories of consciousness, dreams, and memory As a poet and a philosopher, these are the areas that most intrigue me and inspire my creative work But for all my delight with the first half of Ballard s novel, the second half left me wishing he had written it as a novella, leaving out the ninety or so pages about Strangman and his crew The book didn t need these action scenes It already had atmosphere and ideas I believe these chapters detract from the phantasmagoric quality of the novel Yet they do have some redeeming value The behavior of Strangman s crew is atavistic, primitive It is the behavior of men only just emerging from their pre conscious origins, their emerging consciousness still half submerged in the swampy amniotic fluid of the collective human race instinctual, tribal, and superstitious But instead of evolving, Strangman s men are devolving Instead of emerging from their pre conscious origins, they are slipping back into it Towards the end, the novel returns to the theme of isolation and the dream like unreality that accompanies it And this brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion The dormant magic and mesmeric power 59 of The Drowned World has cast its spell over me

  • David Schaafsma

    The Drowned World is one of four novels J G Ballard wrote about the same time about the environment Published in 1962, it seems prophetic, in that it proposes that global warming would melt the polar ice caps, and the resulting raised sea level would drown cities One interesting thing about the book is that the cause as Ballard has it in this book is that solar storms known to affect Earth weather become so severe that they scorch the planet This theory roughly aligns with the current 1% o The Drowned World is one of four novels J G Ballard wrote about the same time about the environment Published in 1962, it seems prophetic, in that it proposes that global warming would melt the polar ice caps, and the resulting raised sea level would drown cities One interesting thing about the book is that the cause as Ballard has it in this book is that solar storms known to affect Earth weather become so severe that they scorch the planet This theory roughly aligns with the current 1% or right wing, pro biz view that climate change if it exists at all is not man made, it s just a part of What Happens Ballard tries out the man made theory in his next book, Drought 1964.The Drowned World introduces us to Dr Robert Kearns, as the world heats up It s 180 degrees at the equator, and in London, it approaches 130 degrees at each mid day The roughly five million remaining people in the world are mostly heading north, to the remaining Arctic and Antarctic circles, where the average temperature is 85 degrees A group of military men connected to Kearns are heading north Kerans, who has a kind of vague relationship with Beatrice, lives in the Ritz, tenth floor, though the rising water is at the seventh floor They and a fellow scientist, Dr Bodkin decide to stay, though this is suicide, on some level They have some supplies, but the heat is getting unbearable, back to Triassic Age levels Flora and fauna are burgeoning animals such as iguanas and alligators are getting huge The theory is that the combination of heat and water would create a kind of hothouse effect, not hospitable for humans Many of these folks also seem to be dreaming similar dreams, of swamps and lagoons from ages past, connecting as Ballard has it to the Collective Unconscious, a sort of weird psycho biological ideology That wasn t a true dream, but an ancient organic memory millions of years old The innate releasing mechanisms laid down in your cytoplasm have been awakened The expanding sun and rising temperatures are driving you back down to the spinal levels into the drowned seas of the lowest layers of your unconscious, into the entirely new zone of the neuronic psyche This is the lumbar transfer, total psychic recall We really remember these swamps and lagoons Kerans sees the clock turning back through Deep Time to something primitive, but also something spiritually purer than contemporary society Here s another taste of this kind of thinking from Kerans The brief span of an individual life is misleading Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurones and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time After the others leave, a group of pirates, scavengers, savages, show up, led by a guy named Strangman Until then, I think all of the people are white, but many of these wild drunken looters are black seems possibly racist to me, in a kind of Heart of Darkness kinda way Until then, Kerans, Beatrice and Bodkin have romanticized staying in dying London, until Strangman and his Wild Boys come in No sixties romantic vision of the future return to Hothouse Eden we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs This is suddenly Jules Verne s Twenty Thousand Leagues turning into the dark, sinister world of Lord of the Flies, or the Heart of Darkness, where Kerans is lost, wandering, a second Adam searching for the forgotten paradises of the reborn Sun I like the world building in this than the story or mystical ideas I liked the references to painting throughout, especially Ballard s focus on the work of surrealists from Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux and others Unreason reigns As the madness of Strangman ruins Kerans s happy vision of psycho biological devolution, we can see that some of the darkest dimensions of surrealism are an influence on Ballard This becomes a pretty scary short dystopian book I am glad I finally read with my Cli Fi for Climate Change Fiction, you wannabe hipsters students I liked it early on, thought it was too weird for awhile, then liked it as it got darker, actually 3.5, rounded up

  • Kathy

    Dear Kerans, Here s an idea go up to Hampstead It ll be dry there and you can walk about.The first couple of chapters of this book are quite intriguing, but as soon as you realise that this is central London and the buildings aren t even fully submerged, you know that the rest of Britain IS STILL THERE So why is everyone acting like the world has been drowned Didn t JG Ballard have the first notion of physical geography DUH Schoolboy error When London drowns, you can say goodbye to East Dear Kerans, Here s an idea go up to Hampstead It ll be dry there and you can walk about.The first couple of chapters of this book are quite intriguing, but as soon as you realise that this is central London and the buildings aren t even fully submerged, you know that the rest of Britain IS STILL THERE So why is everyone acting like the world has been drowned Didn t JG Ballard have the first notion of physical geography DUH Schoolboy error When London drowns, you can say goodbye to East Anglia, Holland, Belgium and Denmark, but most of the rest of Britain and mainland Europe won t even have it s feet wet Birmingham, for example, is 140 metres above sea level Go figure.Even if you can get past that one, you will probably be tripped up by some other little problems like there is no effort made to create plausible characters, the only woman is portrayed in a completely sexist way, the whole thing is deeply racist and nothing much happens at great and tedious length Or maybe it s that whatever happens seems to make you feel like you couldn t care less In a world where men mess about in boats without any evident purpose Detail Detail More and descriptions of water and seaweed and silt WHAT FOR Just to bore me further and further out of my skull with the utter, utter tedium of this book.If you re wondering whether to read this book, try this phrase an unconscious acceptance of the logic of his own devolutionary descent, the ultimate neuronic synthesis of the archaeopsychic zero.If you yawned, or laughed or lost the will to live part way through, then please be warned that this book is chock full of this kind of pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo Another alternative might be to try staring into a bucket of muddy water for a few hours Bored Well, this book isn t for you A deeply depressing waste of ink and paper I cannot think who would find this book of any interest in any way.I HATED THIS BOOK