The Drowned World (1962)
By: J.G. Ballard
Large solar flares have reverted the world's environment back to the Triassic period. 2145 London is under a mass of bogs with only tall buildings jutting above the jungle. Dr. Kerans is one of the medical officers of a military detachment taking final studies as the world's temperature slowly climbs. Many of the group are experiencing strange flashbacks to man's distant past. This leads Kerans, Dr. Bokin and Keran's lover Beatrice to stay behind as the group pulls out. Soon after the fiendishly charming Strangman arrives intent on causing chaos with his pirate gang.
This is one of those novels that requires a decent amount of study to really love. The concepts are fascinating, but the presentation is often off-putting. It is a very psychological novel that is more about the atmosphere and ideas rather than the characters. Much of the novel meanders around strange plotlines and the struggle against the much harsher environment. As with pretty much all of the older novels this contains some racism and sexism.
Dr. Robert Kerans has been having dreams of a womblike past that haunt his psyche. He soon discovers that many of his colleagues have been having the same dreams. He is drawn toward the new state of the world and must struggle against the push back of the recent past. Unfortunately, he's not the most interesting character since he is defined by his psychosis.
Beatrice Dahl is a beautiful woman who is trapped by her dreams, but still puts forth the effort to look beautiful. She is an insane damsel in distress. I found her more interesting than Kerans because of some of her strange conflicting behaviors. She just doesn't do much.
Dr. Bodkin acts as a strange mentor to Kerans only to end up shaking him into action. As the elder doctor of the squad he put Kerans on his strange path.
Hardman is our first look into what it looks like when a character sinks too far into the psychosis that permeates the main characters. It isn't a pleasant look and it really drives home the strangeness of our protagonists.
Colonel Riggs is the only truly sane person in this as such he is treated with suspicion and antagonism. I feel kind of bad for him, but he acts as a mark for how far the protagonists have fallen.
Strangman, the Admiral, and Big Caesar are the merciless pirates. Strangman is among the most interesting, bizarre and over the top villains I've ever read about. He manages to start charming and slowly devolving into a raging psychopath who rivals the Batman's Joker.
The overgrown jungles, giant iguanas, and oppressive heat. The characters fix up impressive buildings with refrigeration units, but quickly give in to sweltering heat. The world is as bizarre as it is fascinating.
In the End
The ending is just a cryptic and perplexing as the rest of the novel.
This is a hard sci-fi novel that focuses more on science and atmosphere than story and characters. I can appreciate it as a work, but I didn't really enjoy it. It was incredibly interesting and had some fantastically strange moments.
Check it out if you love sci-fi.