The Malaysian sf lover must consider Payless a godsend. I know I do. Enter any branch and most likely there's a good selection of classic sf for fantastically cheap prices. The better ones (my personal faves are the ones at 1U1, Summit USJ and Amcorp Mall) might even harbour some rare classics. So it was that I when I was digging around in the sf section of the Payless in Summit USJ, I chanced upon J.G. Ballard's Wind From Nowhere.
There's an interesting story behind this book. It's actually Ballard's first published novel, but you'd never know that from the officially endorsed bibliographies or even the interviews with him. Written in a scant two weeks (take that Nanowrimo!), The Wind From Nowhere was his attempt to become a published writer. It succeeded and he soon followed it with his now classic, The Drowned World. Since then however, Ballard has disowned it, calling it a mere hackjob.
I did not know this before I read it. I only knew of Ballard from his short stories (I like his earlier ones), from BLDGBLOG (of which I'm a very huge fan) and from David Cronenberg's movie, Crash, based on Ballard's novel of the same name (very weird is all I can say). I have not read any of his novels as yet2, so I thought The Wind from Nowhere could make for interesting reading.
The novel concerns itself about a ravaging super-hurricane that blows and wreaks destruction over the entire world. Beginning from when the wind is starting to pick up speed (gaining 5mph each day) and aeroplanes have been grounded, we follow a vast array of characters, most notably Dr. Maitland, who is luckily drafted into the government disaster team.
The plot itself isn't memorable and only begins to pick up about half-way into the book and by that time the super-hurricane had about blown away every last trace of human civilisation, leaving an eccentric tycoon, Hardoon, to play antagonist to the novel's characters. Seeing the government in scatters, Hardoon takes the reins on determining humanity's next step in this destroyed world. He builds a pyramid, a monument to humanity's ability to challenge the wrath of nature.
But before all that happens, we are treated to a long, sometimes tedious, introduction that spans the first half of the book. The large assemble of characters Ballard throws out, from a submarine captain to a henchman villain worthy of SPECTRE, are mostly cardboard cut-outs, a parody of action movie stereotypes of the 60s, the book's era. Characterisation is sparse, sometimes not even existent. When a character dies having been caught by the wind and thrown into a building, we have hardly begun to know her and are consequently indifferent to her death.
I would say that Ballard's writing is not bad in The Wind from Nowhere. In fact, there were times I marvelled at it. Consider this line: "Remember, it's not enough to make history -- you've got to arrange someone to record it for you."
In terms of structure and characterisation, it's awfully clear that this is a first novel. However, I wouldn't go far enough to call it a bad one, at least not bad enough to justify it being disowned. It's obviously not perfect, but there were moments where I could not help but enjoy the story so much, I had to turn the page to find out what would happen next. And as far as I'm concerned that's enough to make a book a good read.
Overall, not bad for something I picked up for five bucks.
UPDATE: Hey! I forgot I mentioned The Wind from Nowhere in a previous post.
1 Eh, what's that? OU, not 1U? What the hell are you talking about?!
2 Apart from his short stories, I did read the first page of Ballard's latest novel, Kingdom Come, of which I'm not sure if I want to continue reading. It looks to be boring but maybe I should give it a chance. The premise certainly piques my interest.