Part spellbinding story, part fable for our time, Ballard's new novel is a vividly cinematic but nightmarish vision of a corrupted world. Dr. Mallory has come to a backward, drought-plagued and poverty ridden African country to run a WHO clinic, but constant warfare between a ragged band of guerrillas and the local chief of police has caused the tribal residents to flee. By accident, Mallory uncovers a mysterious stream that soon becomes a swiftly flowing river, and he dreams of creating a green Sahara and ""saving'' the Third World. Naming the river after himself and obsessively identifying with it, he immediately finds himself in conflict with Dr. Sanger, a charlatan maker of TV documentaries, who believes that his ``flattering revision of nature was an act of creation as significant as the original invention of the river.'' Mallory undergoes a sinister change of heart, acknowledging a self-destructive impulse whose origins in his past are only dimly described. Suddenly deciding he must destroy the river, he travels toward its source on a derelict ferry with a former guerrilla, a 12-year-old girl he names Noon, and who progresses in a matter of weeks from Stone Age primitivism to a fascination with technology. Mallory encounters terrifying dangers at every stage of his quest. The area surrounding the river, which at first seemed Edenic, becomes poisoned by the water's now miasmic influence, the people along its banks falling deathly ill with fever and starvation. Mallory himself slides into full-fledged dementia and delirium as he battles the guerrillas, the militia and the forces of nature. In a narrative filled with ironies, Ballard's prose is honed and supple, often flowering into vivid lyricism. His characters are larger than life, each carrying the destructive impulses that decimate civilization. Some readers may resist the unrelievedly dark, ominous atmosphere, a profoundly depressing nightmare that goes on a little too long, and find that Mallory is too much an opaque, unsympathetic character, almost a device. Ballard's scorn for technological ``marvels'' (the makers of TV documentaries are ``the conmen and the carpetbaggers of the late 20th century'') sometimes overpowers his storytelling skills, and the roots of Mallory's suicidal obsession are never made clear. Yet this is a mesmerizing tale by a master of the craft, one that resonates with dark implications for the future of humanity on this planet. (April)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1988 Release date: 04/01/1988 Genre: Fiction
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