"Where to start? So much has been written about the Pangbourne massacre, as it is now known in the popular press throughout the world, that I find it difficult to see this tragic event with a clear eye."
Shortly after eight on the morning of June 25, 1988, the thirty-two adult members of an exclusive residential community in West London are brutally murdered, and their children abducted without so much as a trace. Through the forensic diary of Dr. Richard Greville, Deputy Psychiatric Advisor to the London Metropolitan Police, the brutal details of the massacre that has baffled the entire police department unfold. "There seems scarcely room for even a single fresh hypothesis," writes Greville, but he has a few ideas of his own, and pursues them with determination despite repeated discouragement from his superiors.
In this powerful and compelling novel of suspense, J. G. Ballard, acclaimed author of _Empire of the Sun_ and _The Day of Creation_, has spun a tale, at once thrilling and disturbing, which challenges our most cherished assumptions about the relationship between parents and their children.
The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, tells of a young boy’s struggle to survive World War II in China.
Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.
Shanghai, 1941—a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war… and the dawn of a blighted world.
Ballard’s enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.
J.G. Ballard is best-known, perhaps, for his autobiographical non-genre novel Empire of the Sun. While he has written other non-genre works, the bulk of his writing is science fictional-more or less. Ballard is a writer who defies easy categorization: even his most speculative books can't be fitted neatly with a genre label, and his non-genre works all contain fantastical and speculative elements.
The Drowned World (brought back into print by Millenium's SF Masterworks line) was Ballard's first major published novel. For Ballard enthusiasts, it's a fascinating read, for it prefigures many of the themes that pervade his subsequent books: planetary/ecological disaster, entropy, the devolution of human nature, a preoccupation with the roots of violence. For those who aren't familiar with Ballard, it's a good introduction-more accessible and less transgressive than some of his later work, yet full of the arresting surrealism and hallucinatory brilliance of language that are hallmarks of his writing.
The Drowned World posits (presciently, as it turns out) that the world has been overwhelmed by a catastrophic greenhouse effect. It differs from our own impending disaster in that it's natural rather than man-made. In Ballard's scenario, violent solar storms have depleted the outer layers of Earth's ionosphere; as these vanish, temperature and solar radiation begin to climb, melting the polar ice-caps. This enormous outflow of water carries with it tons of topsoil, damming up the oceans and entirely changing the contours of the continents, drowning some parts of the world and landlocking others. At the same time, the increased radiation produces freak mutations in Earth's flora and fauna, initiating a new biological era reminiscent of the Triassic period, in which reptiles and giant tropical plants were the dominant forms of life.
The harsh environment and a decline in mammalian fertility have drastically reduced the world's human population. Still, life goes on, including survey expeditions sent out to map inundated areas for possible reclamation. The novel focuses on one of these expeditions, which for several years has been exploring the series of giant lagoons that used to be Europe. The expedition's personnel have been at it so long that the activity has ceased to mean very much; daily, they sink deeper into lassitude and indifference. Also, some of them have begun having strange dreams, of a primeval swamp dominated by a huge burning sun that pulses to the rhythm of their own heartbeats.
These dreams, it turns out, aren't random occurrences or signs of stress, but the first warning of a much deeper process. Human beings, responding to stimuli embedded in their genetic makeup billions of years earlier, are beginning to devolve. The dreams aren't dreams at all, but memories of the primeval ooze from which life first emerged. As the Earth is moving back through geophysical time, the dreamers are moving back through "archaeopsychic" time, recapitulating in reverse each of the stages of human evolution. Is this an odyssey toward a new Garden of Eden? Or does it presage the extinction of humankind?
In some ways, The Drowned World is not a very satisfactory novel. It's episodic and rather slow, and its various parts don't always seem to mesh. Starting as a biological mystery, it veers suddenly into a bizarre Heart of Darkness scenario, complete with a mad white hunter and his hordes of native soldiers, and then returns with equal abruptness to the speculative concerns of the beginning. Too, Ballard is more concerned with setting and atmosphere than with character and verisimilitude. The protagonist, Kerans, is a cipher; many of the other characters are the merest sketches. The logistical issues that most speculative fiction writers toil over-where the expedition gets food, for instance, or how it purifies water-are never addressed.
Yet Ballard's vision of planetary and psychic change, as well as his brilliant descriptions of the altered earth, possess a surreal consistency that lifts The Drowned World beyond its structural peculiarities, making it a work of real power. One can feel the heat, see the jungles spilling over the roofs of the inundated hotels and apartment buildings, hear the screams of the iguanas and the giant bats. These oppressive, hypnotic images have the solidity of something very deeply conceived; they seize the reader's imagination in the same way that the devolutionary dreams seize the psyches of the book's characters. Perhaps it's no accident that these characters and their struggles seem shadowy by comparison to the vivid landscape in which they move. This is part of Ballard's message: humankind is impermanent, but time and nature endure.
'The world, without rain, is drying up. Rivers are a trickle and we see the shrivelling of the species far from its sources and headed lemming-like for the sea. Time has burst its dams and seeps inside the race-structure with bizarre results A strange and rather wonderful book full of haunting landscapes, phantasmagoria and disaster that clangs on the mind. An impressive novel at any level. Its obscurities and surrealist flourishes only heighten the dreamlike atmosphere.' Guardian
This is the third of Ballard’s informal quartet of books that nod in cursory fashion toward the elements. Like the others, it might be described as a science-fiction novel of the sub-genre ‘disaster’. But like every other Ballard novel it is so much more.
When toxic waste dumped into the oceans is cooked into a molecular layer that prevents evaporation, drought inevitably follows. Not the parched summer of an English countryside, but the blistering furnace of a tropical desert. Society collapses, draining away as quickly as surface water. It is a stark contrast to the amniotic lushness of The Drowned World.
Across this parched landscape a small group of characters play out their lives. They are the usual collection – a mixed bunch of misfits whose casual acquaintance in normal circumstances brings them close together when their inner landscapes become an outer reality. We are shown brief, bright glimpses, like the painful glancing reflections of sunlight from a mirrored surface. And if we dare to approach that mirror, we will see something of ourselves.
There are moments in the book when you can wish a tighter editorial control had been exercised. Some descriptions fail because the language gets in the way – there are only so many time you can use ‘river bed’ in a paragraph before it becomes obtrusive. On the whole, however, the writing shimmers like heat from a baked landscape, offering glimpses and mirages, distortions of a reality that show truths with an unrelenting harshness.
It is also a poetic work. The images and themes are displayed and developed with a concentrated intensity that prefigures the direction Ballard takes with some of his middle period work. Whilst it would not work as a poem, it does show what a poetic sensibility can bring to prose. It certainly makes me look forward to the next book in this chronological re-read of Ballard’s work.
J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel "High Rise" contains all of the qualities we have come to expect from this author: alarming psychological insights, a study of the profoundly disturbing connections between technology and the human condition, and an intriguing plot masterfully executed. Ballard, who wrote the tremendously troubling "Crash," really knows how to dig deep into our troubling times in order to expose our tentative grasp of modernity. Some compare this book to William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," and there are definite characteristics the two novels share. I would argue, however, that "High Rise" is more eloquent and more relevant than Golding's book. Unfortunately, this Ballard novel is out of print. Try and locate a copy at your local library because the payoff is well worth the effort.
"High Rise" centers around four major characters: Dr. Robert Laing, an instructor at a local medical school, Richard Wilder, a television documentary producer, Anthony Royal, an architect, and the high rise building all three live in with 2,000 other people. Throughout the story, Ballard switches back and forth between these three people, recording their thoughts and actions as they live their lives in the new high-rise apartment building. Ballard made sure to pick three separate people living on different floors of the forty floor building: Laing lives on the twenty fifth floor, Wilder lives on the second floor, and Royal lives in a penthouse on the fortieth floor (befitting his status as the designer of the building). Where you live in this structure will soon take on an importance beyond life itself.
At the beginning of the story, most of the people living in the building get along quite well. There are the usual nitpicky problems one would expect when 2,000 people are jammed together, but overall people move freely from the top to the bottom floors. A person living on the bottom floors can easily go to the observation deck on the top of the building to enjoy the view, or shop at the two banks of stores on the tenth and thirty-fifth floors. Children swim and play in the pools and playgrounds throughout the high rise without any interference. Despite the fact that well to do people live in the building, with celebrities and executives on the top floors, middle-class people on the middle floors, and airline pilots and the like on the bottom ten floors, everyone gets along reasonably well-at first.
Then things change. The gossip level increases among the residents, and parties held on different floors start to exclude people from other areas. In quick succession, objects start to land on balconies, dropped by residents on higher levels. Equipment failures, such as electrical outages, lead to mild assaults between residents. Cars parked close to the building are vandalized, and a jeweler living on the fortieth floor does a swan dive out of the window. Every incident leads to further acts of violence and increasing chaos in the lives of those in the building. People begin to take a greater interest in what's going on where they live than in outside activities and jobs. As the violence escalates, elevators and lobbies on each floor turn into armed camps as the residents attempt to block any encroachments on their territory. What starts out as a book about living in a technological marvel quickly morphs into a study of how technology can cause human beings to regress back into primitivism. Moreover, Ballard tries to draw a correlation between the technology of the building and this descent into a Stone Age mentality. He shows in detail how the residents of the apartments sink back into the morass, passing through a classical Marxist structure of bourgeoisie-proletariat, moving on to a clan/tribal system, to a system of stark individuality. In short, Ballard tries to equate our striving towards individuality through technology with how we started out in our evolution as hunter-gatherers, as individuals seeking individual gains. The promise that technology will liberate the individual is not the highest form of evolution, argues Ballard, but is actually a return to the lowest forms of human expression.
Within a few pages of the story, I thought this might turn out to be very similar to a Bentley Little book. Little, nominally a horror writer but often a social satirist, often takes a situation like this and shows how people collapse under the pressures of modern life. My belief was not born out, however, not because Ballard doesn't take certain situations over the top but because he imbues his work with a significant philosophical subtext that Little would never write about. Bentley Little is all about focusing on the over the top, outrageous incidents of humanity's decline, whereas Ballard is more interested in serving as a preacher on anti-humanistic technology, thundering out a jeremiad concerning where we might go if we do not take the time to think very carefully about the society we wish to create.
"High Rise" is a dark, forbidding tale of woe that is sure to get a reaction from anyone who reads it. There seem to be few out there who can deliver such devastating blows to our love of technology as Ballard does in his works. This author is often referred to as a science fiction writer, but "High Rise" works just as well on a horror level. So does "Crash," when I think about it, although the cold, detached prose of that book is not present in "High Rise." Whatever genre Ballard falls into, this book delivers on every level.
A 35-year-old architect is driving home from his London office when his car swerves and crashes onto a traffic island lying below three converging motorways. Uninjured, he climbs the embankment to seek help, but no one will stop for him and he is trapped on the island, where he remains.
"Visionary of both style and substance… the literary equivalent of Salvador Dalí or Max Ernst."-The Washington Post Book World
"Ballard's novels are complex, obsessive, frequently poetic, and always disquieting chronicles of nature rebelling against humans, of the survival of barbarism in a world of mechanical efficiency, of ethropy, anomie, breakdown, ruin… The blasted landscapes that his characters inhabit are both external settings and states of mind."-Luc Sante