The Crystal World; or, Adventures in Reader Reaction

The J. G. Ballard series continues.

A very different reaction (and more plot descriptions) are at Speculiction.

Raw Feed (2006): The Crystal World, J. G. Ballard, 1966.Crystal World 

John J. Pierce and other old school sf critics and editors hated J. G. Ballard’s “New Wave” disaster novels because they were anti-Campbellian. The heroes, far from being can-do types, are passive in the face of disaster. They don’t fight it. They seem to welcome it. And those disasters are not really very well explained or scientifically rationalized.

All those qualities are here.

The hero certainly finds no way to combat the crystallization of the universe. He seems to welcome it as some unity of life and the inorganic, sees it as a return to a unified Garden of Eden paradise where there is no conflict, sees it as a vision of the world of St. John of the Apocalypse.

His motives for doing so are vague.

He doesn’t even know his own mind as to whether he should continue his adulterous affair.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this.

The Campbellian science hero and the passive welcomer of disaster are realistic personality types — but they are probably equally rare.  Most people would try to cope like Bill Masen of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

Nor is there any thing wrong, per se, with the psychopathology of welcoming a disaster, heading into the jungle to be crystalized as the “hero” (surely, a strange word to use for a Ballardian protagonist) does at novel’s end.

Nor is there anything wrong with vaguely described motives or lack of self-knowledge.

Scientific nonsense about time stopping and the world crystalizing isn’t wrong on the face of it either.

The trouble is that this is all in a novel, and the story and plot and, yes, the images that so many critics go on about, are not enough to justify even this short novel.  (The only image I found memorable was the jeweled crocodile the mulatto assassin hides in. For all of his clinical, seemingly scientifically precise prose, I find Ballard’s description’s — except the sex in his Crash — hard to follow.)  He would have been better off to put this story in a novelette or novel.  (I’m not sure if his “condensed novels” were written before or after this work.)

The motivation for the gun battles and intrigue between Ventress and Thorensen was never adequately given nor did Ventress’ wife, using jewels (with some aside about this power being alluded to in the mythology of gems) to stop the crystallization process, have a real reason to be included in the story.

Another Ballard novel I’m not impressed by.  And this is generally regarded as one of his classic disaster novels.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.


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