Fluctuations in solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat. London is a swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows up the walls of the Ritz and primeval reptiles are sighted, swimming trough the newly-formed lagoons.
Some flee the capital; others remain to pursue reckless schemes, either in the name of science or profit. While the submerged streets of London are drained in search of treasure, Dr Robert Kerans – part of a group pf intrepid scientists – comes to accept this submarine city and finds himself strangely resistant to the idea of saving it.
Length: 194 pages
Published: 2010 (originally 1962)
Publisher: Fourth Estate
I read The Drowned World for a university module on science fiction, and honestly if I had been reading if for myself, I probably would have DNF’d it. I don’t like writing negative reviews, but I felt that for this book, as JG Ballard is seen a giant of the science fiction literature world, I felt like I had to explore how I feel about it.
The story focuses on Kerans, a biologist who has come to the underwater city of London as part of a scientific expedition. This isn’t a novel about climate change, as I don’t think knowledge of man-made climate change was around in the early 60s, but read from a modern perspective the novel could be interpreted that way.
It’s an interesting concept. And something that we are seeing more of as knowledge about climate change feeds its way into literature. The reality is that if we don’t make changes to the way we’re living, London could conceivably be underwater in the future.
The story, however, let the concept down. For reasons unknown to anyone, Kerans decides to stay behind when the expedition leaves to go back to Greenland (the north and south poles being the only area now inhabitable by humans). Kerans and a woman named Beatrice decide to stay in London against all sane advice, for reasons that are never quite explained.
And that’s where the book lost me. Ballard does include some exposition about primaeval memories and man regressing back to his primitive roots. But I didn’t fully understand it and I’m not sure it makes much sense. It certainly wasn’t easy to understand.
Having done some background reading around Ballard, I understand that The Drowned World, as with his other books, pushed science fiction as a genre out of its narrow ‘space-bound’ constraints. He introduced the idea of science fiction as earth-bound, and introspective, psychological rather than simply hard science. So I can appreciate his work from that point of view, and I may give his other books a go.
Unfortunately, The Drowned World just wasn’t for me.