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The Burning World (aka The Drought; 1964)

Author: • Oct 8th, 2006 •

Category: bibliography, deep time, enviro-disaster, urban decay

Ballardian: The Burning World

“At noon, when Dr Charles Ransom moored his houseboat in the entrance to the river, he saw Quilter, the idiot son of the old woman who lived in the ramshackle barge outside the yacht basin, standing on a spur of exposed rock on the opposite bank and smiling at the dead birds floating in the water below his feet.”

Ballard’s third novel was originally published in the US in 1964 as The Burning World, but is now more commonly known as The Drought, the name it was given for its initial UK publication in 1965. Strange Words has an intriguing summation of the book’s themes:

The Burning World is the tale of the long season. More specifically, it is a story of the timeless moment between the seasons, between end and the beginning of the cycle. It is the season of Shiva, whose eye opens and destroys the world in fire. And then it all begins again …

The Ballardian chronomania of The Burning World is the end of time. People rush like lemmings to a sea that can supply them no succor, and have their individuality destroyed in an endless string of small, desperate communities which are riven by blood feuds over the stuff of survival. They trap what small bits of the tidal flux that they can, to distill water and catch whatever meager food swims with it. Ransom, the ambiguous protagonist, sees the beach people as dehumanized things, as if cloned by a “cancerous division of time”, in a purgatory of beach limbo, desperate shantytowns where people are waiting around to die.”

The blurb on my 1968 Penguin edition is typeset like a poem and features the immortal line ‘Idiots reign’. Someone was taking themselves a bit too seriously, here…

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 humankind
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.”

..:: ELSEWHERE ON BALLARDIAN (selected posts)
+ The Drought: Water Vigilantes
+ Munich Round-Up: Interview with J.G. Ballard


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5 Responses »

  1. Предоставляем, услуги разного напрвления.
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  2. This wonderfully underrated book was, I believe, pieced together but it has some of my favorite Ballardian images. I love the paintings of Tanguy and the first section paints these landscapes beautifully. This is a very dark and violent work that presages the final quartet of novels.

  3. A wonderful book. Time nearly stops in a world with no water, and Ballard uses the painting Jours de Lenteur by Yves Tanguy as a springboard to create his own landscape out of time. Haunting.

  4. […] my indulgent plunge, late last year, into Ballard’s Terminal Trilogy – “The Drowned World”, “The Burning World” and “The Crystal […]

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