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The Crystal World

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  3,639 ratings  ·  228 reviews
J. G. Ballard's fourth novel, which established his reputation as a writer of extraordinary talent and imaginative powers, tells the story of a physician specializing in the treatment of leprosy who is invited to a small outpost in the interior of Africa. Finding the roadways blocked, he takes to the river, and embarks on a frightening journey through a strange petrified f ...more
Paperback, 210 pages
Published May 1st 1988 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1966)
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Average rating 3.63  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: post-apocalyptic
”What most attracted his attention, however, like that of the rest of the watching group, was the man’s right arm. From the elbow to the fingertips it was enclosed by--or more precisely had effloresced into--a mass of translucent crystals, through which the prismatic outlines of the hand and fingers could be seen in a dozen multi-colored reflections. This huge jeweled gauntlet, like the coronation armor of a Spanish conquistador, was drying in the sun, its crystals beginning to emit a hard vivid ...more
mark monday
a physician in africa; a world of disease. decay takes strange shape! a move into the unknown; the inexplicable finds its form and renovates, reconfigures: a new, dead life! figures in a landscape become one with that landscape... stylized characters form a comic tableau, fighting and fucking and dying, always dying... a journey up-river into the heart of an exterminating whiteness... leprosy and crystallization, two sides of one coin. this cartoon world ends - not with a bang - but with stasis; ...more
Nov 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Kind of a wild mix between Joseph Conrad and Erich Maria Remarque, with a nod to Malcolm Lowry and with the edgy other worldliness of Philip K. Dick. The comparisons to Vonnegut’s Ice nine from Cat's Cradle will be inevitable, but the distinction is one of procedure rather than substance.

Vonnegut used Ice nine as a plot device, whereas Ballard’s crystals are a metaphor for our unavoidable demise, our inescapable mortality. The novel’s protagonist Dr. Sanders’ specializes in the treatment of lepr
Dec 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
Ballard novel: subject, end time. Crystal, metaphor. Verbs? Inappropriateness. Nouns, exclusivity. Technique: problems. Action-omission. Review: inanity, boredom. Book: impossibility. Author-choices, comprehension. Ballard: uniqueness, praise.

OULIPO? Disagreement.

LSD? Certainty.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
What do I think of this novel? I already got a glimpse of it amidst several of the first half of the complete short stories of Ballard, so I knew what to expect before sinking my teeth in it. Time flowers leads to these crystals. The Illuminated Man himself was drawn into the theme of the Crystal World. There's a lot of great imagery going on, and surprisingly, it isn't just the descriptions of the the world being consumed by a time-reversed (or rather, collided time with anti-time) semi-liquid ...more
Susan Budd
Aug 10, 2020 rated it liked it
The glittering forest of The Crystal World is more beautiful than the swamps of The Drowned World or the deserts of The Drought. Nevertheless it is my least favorite of Ballard’s apocalyptic worlds.

The Drowned World draws me in with its heat and torpor and somnolent atmosphere. The Drought draws me in with its marginal community of misfit loners. But The Crystal World fails to draw me in despite its beauty.

The book has much to recommend it. But it is not a book I wish to die in. And I do believ
lark benobi
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: unusual people
This book totally crashes the already-ridiculous-for-me GR 5-star-rating system because honestly this is an awful, awful book, ridiculously awful, and I loved it completely. This writing. Wow. there are weird unlikely dependent clauses all over the place, and there are so many bizarre—actually what I meant to write just then is “freakishly bizarre”—descriptions of characters and of their behaviors. There is the story itself—for some inexplicable reason the world is going to pot in a very beautif ...more
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
Welcome to another J.G Ballard Weird Environmental Apocalypse!™

See! The listless male protagonist, mired in ennui and sleepwalking towards his fate!

Watch! As environmental forces beyond his control reinforce his powerlessness!

Feel! Depressed at the inescapable sense of doom that hangs over beautiful descriptions of ruined landscapes, lyrical depictions of environmental catastrophe and all-too-plausible scenes of petty interpersonal violence that continue even while human extinction looms!

The Crystal World: Time and death are defeated as crystallization takes over
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
The Crystal World (1966) is J.G. Ballard’s third apocalyptic work in which he destroys civilization, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Drowned World (1962). It seems he likes the elements, having employed floods, draughts, and now crystallization. The process somewhat resembles Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but there is no ironic humor to be found
Simon Fay
Later in his career, J.G. Ballard advised that a writer shouldn't write too many books. I took this to mean that a person can expend their reserve of creativity and end up becoming a pale imitation of themselves. I also gathered that this advice came from Ballard's personal experience.

I haven't read most of his material, but I have dipped into examples from numerous points in his career, and while I agree that his later offerings were rather flat, the problem of diminishing returns can be seen a
Dec 19, 2009 rated it liked it
JG Ballard’s The Crystal World is a mindbending book that, by the last page, I was glad to end.

The premise is fascinating; out of nowhere jungles across the globe begin to crystallize. The crystallization slowly spreads, enveloping everything in its path, including animals, buildings, and people. Ballard is enamored with describing the silent, alien landscape inherent in the crystal zone, definitely to the point where the jungle becomes a character and possibly to the point of overkill. The nov
Oct 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: rocky rococo
I found a fossilized chiffon cake in a cave. Ballard popped out of it and I fired at him with my shotgun, setting off a storm of falling stalactites. The sound of them exploding against the cave floor was deafening, but that's not what stunned me. It was the efflorescence of the fractured crystals releasing trapped light and time. I wondered if this was all a metaphor for wanting to fuck one of my literary heroes.

"You know, overall, you're not really that great of a writer."

"Yes," he said, "Bu
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Will review later. Reminds me of several other of Ballard's environmental disaster/transformation novels with a bit of Conrad's Heart of Darkness overlayed for good measure. ...more
Nate D
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dreaming in glaciers
Recommended to Nate D by: jeweled crocodiles
Legendarily inspired by a boat ride through the Everglades on hallucinogens, this is a novel driven primarily by the crystalline clarity of its images. Plot and character wind through the annealed alien formations with the cold delineation and pre-determination of icons in a symbolist frieze. This makes for a rather distanced reading, but the sheer descriptive imagination and conceptual grandeur -- yes, this is a novel about the crystallization of the the entire universe, perhaps a phase shift i ...more
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps my favorite Ballard novel so far, the most impressive element being the endless variety of descriptions of this crystallizing jungle in the heart of Africa. Ballard is one of the few writers I've encountered who can utilize descriptive language to its full effect, without sounding like he wrote with the thesaurus open on his lap, and without sounding kitschy. The prose mesmerizes.

Like his other novels, Ballard is concerned with the effects of modernization on humanity, and how it dehuman
Probably the best of the Ballard "elemental apocalypse" quartet (or it ties with The Drowned World at least). Once again, it's Ballard taking apart Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and reassembling it as a post-modern tale of apocalypse and humanity's failings - a journey up river through an African jungle slowly being encroached on, and transformed into, crystal. Time itself is the cause - like a dissolved material reaching maximum load in a solution, it begins to precipitate out into spacetim ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mid-century-sf
A leper doctor arrives in an African backwater. He is mildly interested in renewing an adulterous affair with the wife of a friend who runs a mission upriver, but what is finds is a world undergoing a sea change. The jungle, the wildlife, even the people are all becoming something rich and strange. This is a sci-fi mash up of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene. Faced with the inexorable march of the crystallizing environment, the hero perhaps bows to the inevitable, but he also embraces it.
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ballard achieves a kind of psychedelic realism in this novel - although at times it did get a bit too action-adventurey for my liking. What really stuck with me was the image of the vitrifying forest itself; with its crystal river, kaleidoscopic trees, and jewelled crocodiles, the mysterious Suzanne with her 'leonine mask' of leprosy...horrible and beautiful, and written in a kind of hypnotic, trance-like language which makes the plot itself seem less significant.
Jason Pettus
THE‌ ‌GREAT‌ ‌COMPLETIST‌ ‌CHALLENGE:‌ ‌In‌ ‌which‌ ‌I‌ ‌revisit‌ ‌older‌ ‌authors‌ ‌and‌ ‌attempt‌ ‌to‌ ‌read‌ every‌ ‌book‌ ‌they‌ ‌ever‌ ‌wrote‌

Currently‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌challenge:‌ ‌Isaac‌ ‌Asimov's‌ ‌Robot/Empire/Foundation‌ |‌ Margaret‌ Atwood‌ |‌ JG‌ ‌Ballard‌ |‌ Clive‌ ‌Barker‌ |‌ Jim Butcher's Dresden Files | Lee Child's Jack Reacher | Philip‌ ‌K‌ ‌Dick‌ |‌ Daphne‌ ‌du‌ ‌Maurier‌ |‌ Ian Fleming | William‌ ‌Gibson‌ |‌ Michel‌ Houellebecq‌ |‌ John‌ ‌Irving‌ |‌ Kazuo‌ ‌Ishiguro‌ |‌ John‌ ‌Le‌
Aaron Wickstrom
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Crystal World made me feel uncomfortable, in ways both good and not so good. On the good side, the constant repetition of the same descriptions and words (jeweled, deliquescing, glittering, etc.) added to my understanding of the crystallization process by creating a kind of textual parallel: images and metaphors, like the reduplicating crystallizing objects, jut out of the text without any noticeable purpose but to better draw a landscape that is difficult to "see." Ah, but not really, see. ...more
Stephen Dranger
Dec 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
60s adventure pulp trash. So many things are wrong with this book. In it, you'll find the sexism and racism you'd expect from this era and this genre. The main character is a dull block of wood with no personality, almost a complete lack of motivation, and no visible character arc. The supporting cast are all one-dimensional.

It even fails as science fiction: the main idea is that somehow (?) some kind of time crystals are forming in a jungle somewhere, the author waves his hands about this repr
Nutshell: when the world turns to glass, real men hoard women.

Situated between Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Wayne Madsen’s Decade of Death Secret Wars and Genocide in Africa 19932003, we have here the colonialist traveling to the heart of sub-Saharan Africa and finding horror therein.

Opens at a port in Gabon where protagonist, one Dr. Sanders (potentially related to the colonel? (yeah, I’m a dick)) discusses with a priest how the light “is always like this, very heavy and penumbral—do you know
Mark McGinty
Jun 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing

This is an interesting piece of literature, not quite a fantasy story, but not quite within the bounds of reality. The characters are normal people, the setting is a small town with nothing special about it, except that it is beside a jungle where jewels grow out of the ground like weeds, and as a tumor, overtake anyone or anything in their way. If you can find your way out, before becoming a frozen statue of gems, the crystals melt away as you cross an invisible threshold. It's mesm
Oct 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
This is my third Ballard novel and I am getting used to the way he writes; heavy use of imagery, plot as a vehicle for the thinly veiled subtexts, characters on a quest to discover something about themselves and cryptic, stilted dialogue with much left unsaid leaving the reader to fill in the gaps.

Thought provoking as ever, one really needs time to digest the book and no doubt would benefit from a re-read.

The science behind the premise of this book is mind baffling nonsense as far as I know but
Nick Armstrong
Jan 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanna get frosted tips in the crystal forest
Jun 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Maybe people who get off on young women improbably jumping middle-aged dick, plus violent racism?
Wow. For a "classic," this is one of the most intelligence-insultingly terrible books I've ever made the slogging effort to finish.

Seriously, WTF? Who the fuck thinks this is a "classic"? Honestly, this is a shitty, incoherently plotted, carelessly inconsistent, ten-year-old-wish-fulfilment-kind-of-ridiculous potboiler of a hack job. And, yeah, it does have a much-more-than-usually-serious Aesthetic Concept at the center, but... uh... that alone doesn't make for a good, or even readable, book.

Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trippy Science fict/fan. 1966 Post apocalyptic


JG Ballard is an amazing writer with an amazing life story. He wrote "The Empire of the Sun" as a semi autobiographical story about growing up in the internment camps in WWII Japan. It was made into a great movie, where Christian Bale, as a child, played the author.

The Observer calls this book, aptly, "A haunting picture of diseased beauty,......."

West African jungle starts to crystallize

man vs.himself

Sarah Kelsey
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a sci-fi take on Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_. I remember this book's theme and the gradual crystalization of the living things, a sort of leprosy of inertia. It was quite an interesting idea.
As I recall, we read this in my UW Sci-fi class.
Venus Maneater
Dec 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Beautiful imagery. Obviously inspired by Lovecraft and obviously the inspiration for Annihilation by Vandermeer. It's also obvious why Annihilation got a movie and not this novel.

There's little flesh to it and honestly it didn't age that well. Our protagonist is in Afrika and everyone who isn't white is called either a Negro or a Mulatto. Women are there to be fucked and look pretty. Maybe they even get a little hysterical. Written in 1966, this book doesn't get a pass.

There are a few action s
Dave Bunting
Oct 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
I can't read any book where I can feel the thesaurus in the author's lap. It's pompous and inauthentic. I made it about halfway through The Crystal World, but had to finally put it away shortly after seeing the words "deliquescing," "coruscation," and "palimpest" in one paragraph. Some may think that makes me seem uneducated or simple; people who feel that way can continue to feel that way because their opinion is irrelevant. When I read an author that is trying this hard to use impressive langu ...more
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James Graham "J. G." Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels such as The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on a ...more

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“The crystal trees among them were hung with glass-like trellises of moss. The air was markedly cooler, as if everything was sheathed in ice, but a ceaseless play of light poured through the canopy overhead. The process of crystallization was more advanced. The fences along the road were so encrusted that they formed a continuous palisade, a white frost at least six inches thick on either side of the palings. The few houses between the trees glistened like wedding cakes, white roofs and chimneys transformed into exotic miniarets and baroque domes. On a law of green glass spurs, a child’s tricycle gleamed like a Faberge gem, the wheels starred into brilliant jasper crowns.” 26 likes
“It is random discharges of this type, set off by the creation of anti-galaxies in space, which have led to the depletion of the time store available to the materials of our own solar system. Just as a super-saturated solution will discharge itself into a crystalline mass, so the super-saturation of our solar system leads to its appearance in a parallel spatial matrix. As more and more time leaks away, the process of super-saturation continues, the original atoms and molecules producing spatial replicas of themselves, substance without mass, in an attempt to increase their foothold upon existence. The process is theoretically without end, and it may be possible for a single atom to produce an infinite number of duplicates of itself, and so fill the entire universe, from which simultaneously all time is expired, an ultimate macrocosmic zero beyond the wildest dreams of Plato and Democritus.” 12 likes
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