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The Drowned World

Book name: The Drowned World

Author: JG Ballard

Publisher: Berkley Books

Format: ebook, print, audiobook

Genre: Science fiction

Publication Date: 1962

Rating: 4/5


The Drowned World is a science-fiction novel about a post-apocalyptic world. This was caused by global warming, so it was pretty quick off the mark all the way back in 1962.


Its relevance, sadly, only grows with every passing year, even if the precise mechanics of temperature rise in the story don’t make humanity culpable.


The premise of The Drowned World is that astronomical aberrations cause the increase in the Earth’s temperatures during the late twenty-first century when solar storms enlarge the Van Allen belts.


The rising temperatures cause the polar icecaps to melt, sea levels to rise and people to flock to the newly inhabitable regions at the poles. London is now a lagoon. At the start of The Drowned World a scientific expedition is sent to observe and record its flora and fauna.


Dr Robert Kerans is one of the expedition members. He and other participants start to experience strange dreams. One of his colleagues, Lieutenant Hardman, leaves the group and flees south even though the expedition is supposed to move northwards.


Robert remains in the lagoon along with two others, Beatrice and Alan. The latter is a scientist, the former likes to keep herself to herself. The trio are joined by a group of adventurers hoping to drain the lagoon and plunder treasures from the ruined buildings. This brings them directly into conflict with the nobler motives of the scientists.


The constant realignment between the adventurers and the scientists, unable to see each other’s perspectives but still influenced by their mutual presence, drives the instability of this dangerous environment to breaking point. Robert in particular comes under strain. Beatrice decides to take matters into her own hands, triggering more narrative tension.


The Drowned World is a very short novel, though this is quite common with post-apocalyptic tales. Like John Wyndham, one of my favourite authors in this genre, the focus is on a natural disaster which gives humanity the chance to build a better way of life. We don’t always succeed in grasping that opportunity, and many characters serve to illustrate that humanity is beyond help.


These themes are common in JG Ballard’s later work. Evolutionary biology is at the centre of this narrative. Will Robert and his companions adjust to a new life dominated by their challenging environment?


I liked the way that The Drowned World told its tale with the minimum of fuss and remained full of pace and action. Robert was a relatable character, and I felt considerable sympathy for this situation as the narrative unfolded.


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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Day of the Triffids.


Or you might like to take a look at my review of Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield.


If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Scoop by Evelyn Waugh.