The Drowned World, J G Ballard, Berkley Books, 1962, 158 pp
Summary from Goodreads: The Drowned World is a '62 science fiction novel by Ballard. In contrast to much post-apocalyptic fiction, the novel features a central character who, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, is enraptured by the chaotic reality that has come to replace it.
Ballard's second novel, following The Wind From Nowhere, (read last year when I wasn't blogging my reviews, sorry) continues the theme of extreme environmental change and how his characters deal with it. There are a couple of radical shifts from the earlier book.
I am a bit obsessed these days with climate fiction (it even has a genre abbreviation: CliFi) because despite ISIS, racial upheaval, the circus of the Presidential race, etc etc, we won't be able to be entertained by all this foolishness if we don't have a living planet on which to play out our human antics.
While other books I am reading from 1962 are concerned with the Cold War, atomic weapons, the beginnings of the sexual revolution, and Civil Rights, there is also a growing awareness of the effects of industrial practices on the environment.
The Drowned World is not exactly a screed about our endangered world as caused by mankind. It is apocalyptic in a different sense. In this short novel, solar flares and the accompanying radiation have resulted in polar ice-cap melt and soaring temperatures so the coastal cities of the world have become lagoons.
Biologists Dr Kerans and Dr Bodkin are part of the crew of a biological testing station monitoring these changes. They are currently docked over a drowned London. Kerans lives in the penthouse suite of the Ritz Hotel because it is deserted and also above water. Dr Bodkin, his assistant, is going mad and feral, refusing to return north with the rest of the team and wanting to become one with a world returning to prehistoric times.
The heat and the encroaching tropical jungle of sixty-foot-high ferns complete with sea creatures, all create a Jurrassic Park atmosphere. Kerans and Bodkin are both having surreal dreams filled with prehistoric images. Both decide to stay behind and embrace what seems to be a devolution to an earlier consciousness.
There is more: a deranged pirate and his crew scavenging for the lost treasures of 20th century London and a beautiful former socialite named Beatrice. Of course, there must be a love interest! The whole story is creepy and psychological in the extreme. Kerans's attempt to return to "the forgotten paradises of the reborn Sun" almost gave me nightmares.
Rather than a tale of how mankind might rebuild civilization after an apocalyptic event, Ballard this time presents an apocalypse of humanity descending the evolutionary ladder. I've not read anything like it.
(The Drowned World is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)