'The dust came first. Donald Maitland noticed it as he rode back in the taxi from London Airport, after waiting a fruitless forty-eight hours for his Pan-America flight to Montreal. For three days not a single aircraft had got off the ground... The great passenger terminus building and the clutter of steel huts behind it were clogged with thousands of prospective passengers, slumped on their baggage in long straggling queues, trying to make sense of the continuous crossfire of announcements and counter-announcements' .
The opening passage of JG Ballard' s The Wind from Nowhere put me in my mind of the recent grounding of aircraft as a result of the dust cloud from a volcano in Iceland. In this novel, the problem is a terrible, accelerating wind that sweeps across the whole world, ultimately levelling most of the built environment while the survivors cower underground.
This was Ballard's first novel, published in 1962 (I have been reading the Penguin edition, pictured, first published in 1967). He later disowned it as 'hack work', but there are some familiar Ballardian themes - chiefly his evident pleasure in describing the collapse of civilisation. For instance, in the chapter 'Vortex over London': 'Nelson's Column was down. Two weeks earlier, when the wind had reached ninety-five mph, a crack which had passed unnoticed for seventy-five years suddenly revealed itself a third of the way up the shaft. The next day the upper section had toppled, the shattered cylindrical segments still lying where they had fallen among the four bronze lions... As they turned into Charing Cross Road Marshall noted that the Garrick Theatre had collapsed' etc.etc.
New York gets it too: 'Apparently New York is a total write-off. Manhattan's under hundred-foot waves, most of the big skyscrapers and office blocks are down. Empire State Building toppled like a falling chimney stack. Same story everywhere else. Casualty lists in the millions. Paris, Berlin, Rome - nothing but rubble, people hanging on in cellars'.