Published in 1962, The Drowned World established J G Ballard’s reputation as an original and prescient science fiction writer. Ballard regarded it as his first novel, despite the publication of The Wind from Nowhere in 1961.
Set in the year 2145, The Drowned World imagines a surreal post-apocalyptic cityscape: solar radiation has caused the polar ice caps to melt, submerging London and much of the world under water. Triassic-era lagoons and swamps are populated by encroaching tropical vegetation, giant iguanas and albino alligators, thriving in the rising heat. The crux of the novel, typically Ballardian, explores the psychological effects of this major environmental change on a cast of characters including Dr Robert Kerans, a biologist, and Beatrice Dahl, who has chosen to stay in London. Kerans’ small community, which finds itself strangely attached to this new world, is disrupted by the arrival of Strangman and his crew, a group of pirates set upon looting treasures from the largely abandoned, submerged city. The Drowned World is therefore unique as a post-apocalyptic novel, in that Ballard does not focus on humankind’s destruction or escape.
Shown here is an extract from a partial draft of the novel dating c. 1961, in carbon typescript. Some pages are missing. The draft contains the scene in which Strangman reveals his ‘surprise’: the draining of the lagoon, revealing the city (Leicester Square, specifically) beneath it, prime for looting. It produces a near-instant psychological change in the characters: Strangman becomes menacing, ‘callous and vulpine’, while Kerans and his companions become disturbed and fearful of this return to the old world (‘For a moment Kerans fought to free his mind, grappling with this total inversion of his normal world, unable to accept the logic of the rebirth before him,’ f. 52r; ‘“But it’s all so hideous. I can’t believe that anyone ever lived here. It’s like some imaginary city of Hell. Robert, I need the lagoon,”’ f. 53r).