The Drowned World

J. G. Ballard

Set in London, Ballard describes a world flooded from the melting of the polar icecaps due to solar storms that started hitting Earth 60-70 years ago stripping the planet of its protective Ionosphere. Skyscrapers and apartment blocks protrude from the warm stagnant lagoons like concrete islands as the small cast of characters struggle to survive in the soporific heat. The main protagonist is Dr. Robert Kerans, a biologist studying the impact the heat is having on flora and fauna as part of a small scientific base. Paleozoic plants and animals are thriving due to the change in temperature and high levels of radiation are causing strange mutations.

The Earth’s population has been reduced to around five million and they now live on the arctic plateau where it is cool enough to live comfortably. Re-populating is a problem as only one in ten married couples are able to have children due to the high doses of radiation everyone is exposed to. Temperatures started to increase a few degrees per year and now the mean temperature at the equator is 180 degrees. The world’s continents have been re-shaped by silt and rock from the melting mountain glaciers carving out wider rivers, new flood plateaus and estuaries.

The story deals with Kerans’ struggles with the future and what he should do. The base is being closed down and the team is heading north to colder climes but he doesn’t feel ready to go and decides to stay in London with Beatrice Dahl, a woman who wishes to end her days in her London apartment. The heat and loneliness are starting to impact them with strange dreams and a melancholy that leaves them glazed and remote.

Their lives are upended when Strangman turns up with a commotion flying a hydroplane, setting off flares and followed by a three storey paddleboat. He appears like a pirate with a herd of alligators riding in front and a loyal jeering crew behind and upturns their lives with an aggressive and arrogant presence with intentions for Beatrice. His first act is to drain the lagoon opening up London’s buildings and treasures to the burning Sun much to Keran’s and Beatrice’s dismay who can’t bare the exposure of the flooded city.

My edition was accompanied by an interview with Ballard by Travis Elborough where he discusses how much his time in a prison camp in Shanghai shaped his thoughts on the breakdown of society. The annual floods that hit the city also influenced his vision of what a flooded city would look like. This was Ballard’s first novel after spending the previous six years writing short stories that he states were an excellent way for a writer to learn his craft. This fantastic and more detailed review at Fatasy Hive also discusses the Travis Elborough interview.

I found this lovely image depicting Ballard’s world which I understand was used as a book cover for a foreign edition

More Info

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Date Published: 1962

Pages: 168

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