I have to say I was disappointed with this one, my first foray into the catalogue of this daring, remarkably prolific, writer. Now, I realize it's hisI have to say I was disappointed with this one, my first foray into the catalogue of this daring, remarkably prolific, writer. Now, I realize it's his first novel and he's working with a high concept, sci-fi story with some pretty high-fallutin ideas about primordial dream states and global warming, but still, it should have been more engaging and richer in content. The characters are all cut-outs and precious little is ever revealed about any of them. It's just hard to care about characters when they're not much more than names followed by random actions, and/or wooden dialogue. The men are all repressed, stiff-upper lip, military types and the only female character isn't much more than a dress dummy with maybe 6 lines of dialogue in the entire novel.
Anywho, the world is flooded at some point of the 21st century due to solar activity and a small band of scientists and military facilitators are left to pick up survivors from the submerged cities and flee to Greenland where the only civilization remains. I should point out that it was written in 1962 so the idea is quite visionary and spookily prescient, even if the scientific causes are different than what is commonly imagined today. The action centres within the jungle like lagoons that have spread over what used to be London. The main character, Doctor Kerans decides to abandon his surveying mission just before the scheduled departure, and remain holed up in a makeshift hotel he has rendered habitable for at least a few months, possibly a year. His former flame, Beatrice, lives conveniently across the lagoon in a similar jury rigged set-up. Our Stoic Couple have sparse interactions that do not culminate in anything romantic, despite her alluring beauty and lots of longing gazes. (Perhaps this was brave of the author because it would have been tres predictable...)
Along the way some of the survivors have begun falling victim to primordial dream states triggered by the excessive heat and humidity and the appearance of some very large iguanas. One scientist is so overcome by this recurring vision that he flees into the surrounding jungle in order to live it fully. The military team go after him for no apparent reason, then decide to bail and hot foot it to Greenland without our Stoic Couple in tow.
After a time of relative tranquility for Stoic Couple, a gang of pirates, led by a charismatic Barnum and Bailey type demagogue, show up in a converted riverboat/floating casino, and proceed--with some help from their congregation of highly obedient alligators--to make life unpleasant. They manage to drain part of London and set to looting stores, stealing monuments and generally creating mayhem as unencumbered pirates in a lawless world are want to do. Some more unlikely stuff happens, the military returns to rescue Couple and there's a good deal of heavy philosophizing and moralizing about mankind's primeval state, how our prehistoric past is actually embedded in our DNA, and how easily it could be triggered by the right conditions. Frankly, it all comes off as bit too arch and on the nose metaphorical.
However, there's a very cool earlier scene involving a deep sea dive into a submerged planetarium, and it's easily the most vivid and poetic scene in the novel, a kind of Death and Transfiguration moment for the main character, the ultimate epiphany where something so profoundly spiritual happens that it feels like entering the vault of heaven. He survives, of course. (turns out his air hose got stuck in a doorway...) It's a stunningly beautiful moment and the clearest example of why "Show, don't tell" is the best three word axiom in the English language. Alas, Ballard spends most of the novel telling and not showing.
If not for that one scene I would have rated this 2 stars. If the whole book had been that good I would have given it 5. ...more