Hello America by JG Ballard (Book Review) – Post Apocalyptic Vision of the Future

Climate change/global warming, worldwide water shortages, discussions about what would happen if the Gulf Stream stopped and peak oil have all been prominent in the news and very much in the zeitgeist during the last few years

hello america jg ballard

“Hello America”, a fictional post-apocalyptic story written in 1981 by British science fiction grand master JG Ballard brings many of these themes together

JG Ballard is renowned for the diversity of his inventions and for the richness of his descriptive language. “Hello America”, the story of a reconnaissance expedition sent to the North American continent – abandoned for a century after the exhaustion of world oil supplies and the onset of a permanent energy crisis – reminds us why this should be so

The novel’s background is that the Soviet Union had dammed the Bering Strait in the 1990s, changing global weather patterns by reversing the normally clockwise currents in the Pacific Ocean.

Although the Russians were able to grow grain as far north as the Arctic Circle, a massive drought began east of the Rocky Mountains in America. West of the Rockies, the opposite problem was true. Further, much of coastal Asia freezes over.

”The price of gasoline at the American filling station had already climbed from 75 a gallon in 1978 to $5 in 1990, and to $25 in 1995,” we are told, and on to $100 around the turn of the century (Note:at the time of writing this review crude oil was quoted at $US118 a barrel).

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Energy shortages forced the population to desert the entire continent for Europe. But a band of explorers is determined to ”get away from a tired and candle-lit Europe with its interminable rationing and subsistence living, its total lack of any flair and opportunity.”

As the explorers ship sails into New York:

“Everyone gathered at the rail, looking at the vivid quays in front of them, at the soundless city with its great towers and
abandoned streets, a million empty windows lit by the afternoon sun.” Already they could see dunes that filled the floors of these deserted canyons.”

“In the centre of Times Square a giant saguaro cactus raised its thirty-foot arms into the overheated air, an imposing sentinel guarding the entrance to a desert nature reserve.”

Clumps of sagebrush hung from the rusting neon signs, as if the whole of Manhattan had been transformed into a set for the ultimate western. Prickly pear flourished in the second-floor windows of banks and finance houses, yucca and mesquite shaded the doorways of airline offices and travel agents.”

In the end despite it’s flashes of brilliance “Hello America” isn’t up to the standard of Ballard’s other futuristic books. The 1st half is far better than the 2nd half but I feel it’s redeemed somewhat because by accident or otherwise Ballard managed to predict several key issues of our time more than a quarter of a century ago.

You can buy a 2nd hand copy from Amazon.com


4 responses to “Hello America by JG Ballard (Book Review) – Post Apocalyptic Vision of the Future”

  1. I’d be interested to know what things he predicted that came true. Sounds like this could be an intriguing read.

  2. I read “Cocaine Nights” by JG Ballard years ago which I thought was an amazing novel (and would recommend). Its about a beautiful (on the surface) gated community full of expat English in the south of Spain that has a dark and seedy underbelly. It is a great read, The guy can seriously produce some compelling and terrifying concepts.

  3. Another interesting travel book about America which has recently come out is ‘American Journeys’ by Australian writer Don Watson (who also wrote ‘Recollections of a Bleeding Heart’ which was a bestseller). It is about Watson’s experiences as he travels around the United States mostly by rail. I haven’t read it yet but the synopsis sounds very interesting because it sounds like a blend between a travel and historical writing.

    EDITOR: thx for the tip. Have added that book to my shopping list.

  4. Although you end negatively I do love books that project into the future – just like Huxley’s Brave New World! What exactly did the author predict?

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