Our Ballardian Present

Cousin Brucie blogs about JG Ballard getting recognized as a visionary for his novels of global disaster. When I started getting into science fiction, it was at the beginning of cyberpunk, with which I was smitten including that of Cousin Brucie. At the same time, I really was getting into the “new wave” SF which at that point was distinctly No Longer New. I loved the works of Michael Moorcock but particularly JG Ballard.

I know Ballard was reacting to a specific literary trope, that of the British disaster novel where the heroes stave off large scale defeat by being plucky and British. There was something fascinating to me about these stories of non-plucky Brits facing global catastrophe and almost always failing to avert it. In the best case, they learn to live their lives in the catastrophe. I think of things like The Drowned World where the protagonist learns to love the post-catastrophe world so much that the “happy ending” is his undoing of the fixes to London by the plucky British engineers.

As much as I love those books, I never wanted to live in one. As time goes by, it is becoming clear that those futures are going to come true to a greater or lesser extent. I’m really hoping for lesser, but if you want a moral and emotional preview of what life might be like when the seas rise and wash away most of what we hold dear, try reading some Ballard. To quote Peter Gabriel:

Lord, here comes the flood
We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.