In J. G. Ballard’s The Wind From Nowhere (1962), cosmic radiation creates an immense natural disaster. Ever-increasing winds threaten to tear buildings out by their foundations and force the survivors into subterranean caverns. With the winds comes dust, a manifestation of erasure, that lacerates skin and engulfs all.
John Carnell serialized Ballard’s first novel in New Worlds in 1961 (issues 110 and 111). The novel reads as a sounding board of issues and themes that will appear with greater effect and craft in The Drowned World (1962) and later post-apocalyptic moodscapes. Despite the evocative disaster, The Wind From Nowhere feels rushed and insufficiently dwells on its surreal and metaphoric implications.
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis
Donald Maitland’s scheme to escape his neurotic heiress wife comes to naught with the arrival of “the dust” (7). Propelled by ever increasing winds, the “fine crystalline topsoil found on the alluvial plains of Tibet and Northern China” inundates and corrodes all surfaces (20). Planes are forced to the ground. Passenger ships return to their ports. And as the winds become perpetual hurricane gales, the inhabitants of London retreat to below ground, reenacting the stoic heroism of the Blitz in the face of nature unleashed.
The American Submarine Captain Lanyon arrives in Genoa with a tall order—bring back the NATO Supreme Commander Van Damm, who appears to have suffered an accident due to the dust. When he arrives in Southern France, he discovers Van Damm is already in a coffin. Lanyon encounters Patricia Olsen, an American NBC newswoman, and attempts to help the afflicted on his way back to Genoa. In the face of despair and destruction, new connections are made.
In the background, the billionaire industrialist Hardoon, with his private army, constructs an immense pyramidal construct he believes will withstand the winds. Like the titular character in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) winching his ship up a jungle mountain, Hardoon proclaims “I alone have built upward, have dared to challenge the wind, asserting Man’s courage and determination to master nature” (142). The real transformation will not be a technological marvel but new neurons forged by the trauma of disaster.
The Wind From Nowhere lacks the gritty sense of decay and malaise that permeates the majority of Ballard’s 50s/60s works. While there are moments of introspection, the novel often slips into a standard disaster story mode with long descriptive sequences of the casualties and landmarks destroyed by the winds. I found the construction sequences of Hardoon’s tower—while presaging Ballard’s fascination with urban arcologies in High-Rise (1975)—a poorly integrated afterthought to the main narrative of Lanyon and Maitland.
There are delicate touches throughout. Ballard describes career women as beacons of a society that will fight to the bitter end in the face of adversity: “[Symington] reflected that the ascendancy of woman in the twentieth century made the possibility of an abrupt end to civilization seem infinitely remote; it was difficult to visualize a sleek young executive like Deborah Mason taking her place in the doomed lifeboats. She was much more the sort of girl who heard giant SOS signals and organized the rescue operation. Which, of course, was exactly what she was doing at Central Operations Executive” (44). In another instance, Ballard characterizes the huddled masses in the “sub-world of dark labyrinthine tunnels and shafts” as “denizens of some vast gallery of the dead waiting for resurrection” (122). This theme of rebirth and reconnection in the face of disaster while present throughout, rarely appears in such expressive terms.
Ballard disowned the novel as “hackwork.” According to a fantastic interview with David Pringle, it was the product of a joke with his wife about paying for a holiday they couldn’t afford: “I’ll write a novel in ten days, six thousand words a day, during this holiday.” I tend to be uninterested in what authors say about their own writing—I rather judge it for myself! And I’m happy to read average Ballard any day.
Recommended only for J. G. Ballard completists. If you are new to his 50s/60s output, check out The Drowned World (1962), The Drought (variant title: The Burning World) (1964), and short story collections like Billenium (1962), The Voice of Time and Other Stories (1962), and Terminal Beach (1964) first.
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