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The Drowned World

The Drowned World
Cover of first edition (paperback)
Author J. G. Ballard
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Berkley Books
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 158 pp

The Drowned World is a 1962 science fiction novel by J. G. 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. The novel is an expansion of an out of print novella of the same title published in Science Fiction Adventures magazine in January 1962, Vol. 4, No. 24.

The Drowned World opens within the conventions of a hard science fiction novel, as the catastrophe responsible for the apocalypse is explained scientifically – solar radiation has caused the polar ice-caps to melt and worldwide temperature to soar, leaving the cities of northern Europe and America submerged in beautiful and haunting tropical lagoons. Yet Ballard's novel is thematically more complex than is immediately apparent. Ballard uses the post-apocalyptic world of the story to mirror the collective unconscious desires of the main characters. A theme throughout Ballard's writing is the idea that human beings construct their surroundings to reflect their unconscious drives. In The Drowned World, however, a natural catastrophe causes the real world to transform itself into a dream landscape, causing the central characters to regress mentally.

Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs… Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory.

Set in the year 2145 in a post-apocalyptic and unrecognisable London, "The Drowned World" is a setting of tropical temperatures, flooding and accelerated evolution. Ballard's story follows the biologist Dr Robert Kerans and his struggles against the devolutionary impulses of the environment. As part of a scientific survey unit sent to map the flora and fauna in the boiling lagoon, the tranquility and banality of their role is soon upset by the onset of strange dreams which increasingly plague the survivors' minds. Amidst talk of the army and scientific team moving north, Hardman, the only other commissioned member of the unit, a "burly, intelligent but somewhat phlegmatic man of about 30", flees the lagoon and instead heads south, a search team unable to find his whereabouts.



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