Timeless--stunner from creation to conclusion (5/5)
From April 7, 2010
After reading this novel, I've been further exposed to Ballard balletic short story collections of The Terminal Beach (1964) and Vermilion Sands (1971)--both of which showed nearly unparalleled beauty in setting in prose without dragging the reader down in paltry descriptions of color and texture. I've been very, very keen on getting my hands on everything Ballard!
Rear cover synopsis:
"Rain is a thing of the past.
Radio-active waste has stopped
the sea evaporating.
The sun beats down on the parching earth,
and on the parching spirit of man.
A warped new mankind is bred
out of the dead land--bitter, murderous,
its values turned upside down.
Idiots reign. Water replaces currency
and becomes the source of a bleak new evil...
If it ever happened, it could be very like this."
It's my opinion that Ballard is one who took up the challenge to
bring science fiction from the pulpy novels to the land of literature, a
task which little have achieved before him. Granted, many of the sci-fi
masters have created works which have wowed the limited community but
the ripples of these works have little effect on the greater literary
ocean. With sci-fi's tendency to include more recent cultural changes
(stemming from a notion than SF must be modern to sell), Ballard has
taken a different route and created his novel in a timeless period
devoid of 60s overtones (the sexual revolution, rise in drug culture,
anti-war sentiments, etc.). THIS is what many of the authors of the time
failed to do and hence have been lost their mediocre novels to the
sands of time (some Pohl, much of Silverberg and a few others).
Ballard has created is simply impressive because of the aforementioned
fact but also because he actually has included some luscious language
never before seen in sci-fi before his heralded "New Wave of science
fiction" came around. Two excepts impinged a rich sensory stimulation: "She moved along at a snail's pace, her tiny booted feet advancing over
the cracked sand like timorous mice." and "His eyes hovered below his
swollen forehead like shy dragonflies." There are other such passages
which are equally as descriptive and lush as the latter two. The
similes, metaphors and third eye observations by the author are like
those never seen before 1965 sci-fi.
The story itself invites the
reader to explore the community of Hamilton at the end of a summer
drought where the river and lake has nearly dried up; the population has
fled to the oceanic coast and the remaining citizens dealing with their
own inner demons. Castor has remained behind to coddle his mementos and
look after his loose alliances with brachycephalic-skulled sidekick, a
feral river-touring boy and the increasingly rouge-like town minister.
Later in part two, the story jumps forward ten years where we find the
drought still in situ; the ocean has receded, replaced by miles of salty
earth. Communities dotted along the coast cope by herding tide pools of
water and herring back to their camps consisting of restructured heaps
of automobiles. When worse comes to worse, the hope arises that there
may actually be water a hundred miles back inland, which is where part
three begins and where you may find yourself at the mercy of a truly
From here on... I am a Ballard fan, yet to be tried-and-true, but this novel has won me over in so many ways.