The Drowned World

J. G. Ballard
The Drowned World Cover

Prescient narrative of a world transformed by environmental catastrophe


Ecological disaster has struck the world. Rising temperatures have melted the ice caps and much of the Earth has consequently been flooded. Civilization is now only possible around the poles. London has sunk beneath the waters and disappeared below the drifting tides of silk, turning the area into a vast swamp, resulting in regression and de-evolution akin to the Triassic Age.

Robert Kerans is a biologist in an expedition to study the flora and fauna of this new world, who amid the lush swamplands and hidden monuments starts to experience strange dreams. Much like the Earth has regressed to a previous state of evolution, so too it appears that Keran and two of his colleagues are making a psychic descent into prehistory. Deciding to stay behind when the expedition heads back north, they begin to respond to the deep, atavistic urges that are calling to them from the surreal landscape. They embark on a psychological journey of return back into the paradisiac sun-filled world of the second Triassic Age with increasingly mounting awareness of the contradictory motives propelling them into the past. Their resulting lethargy is rudely interrupted by the arrival of the bedizen Strangman and his menacing cohort of violent pirates intend on plundering the drowned world. Their attempts eventually culminate in major conflict with Kerans and his colleagues. This part of the drowned world is as much a graveyard of their own individuality as it is the also source of their lives.

Ballard wrote a fascinating exploration of "inner space" that I find equally unusual and liberating as Hothouse, Roadside Picnic, Rogue Moon and Downward to Earth. Living in the cosy suburbia of western society we don't often appreciate just how vulnerable we are to environmental and climatic disasters, and Ballard's prescience in describing the world transformed by such a catastrophe seems all the more important. It's the axiomatic strength of the novel, and the sybaritic power with which he conjured up his vision of a primeval landscape and its effects on those who enter it, is a haunting and unforgettable read.

Highly recommended.