Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, July 27, 2012

1965: The Drought (Ballard, J.G.)

Timeless--stunner from creation to conclusion (5/5)
From April 7, 2010

Written in an era witnessing ecological change (James Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis" and Buckminster Fuller "Spaceship Earth"), the 1960s & 1970s hosted a plethora of excellent novels about this eco-transformation. Included in this repertoire are such classics as Brian Aldiss' two novels Long Afternoon of Earth (1961) and Earthworks (1965), John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up (1972) to name a few. J.G. Ballard's The Drought is a short but powerful tale of a seemingly temporary drought turning into a decade long struggle of survival on the eastern coast of America.

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).

What 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 talented author.

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.

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