The driving force behind this--one of Ballard's most puzzling, disappointing and least impressive efforts--is the concept of America as Land of Fantasy, an Unlimited Dream Company. It first appeared in England in 1981; not surprising that it took seven years to brave the Atlantic crossing. The shaky foundations: at the end of the 20th century, a devastating off shortage caused worldwide economic collapse; with America abandoned, an artificially altered climate opened up the Eurasian Arctic but reduced the eastern US to a desert. Now, a hundred years later, a band of scientists and explorers--all American-descended--steams out of Plymouth on a voyage of rediscovery. Threatened by apparently senseless nuclear explosions, haunted by gigantic projections of bygone folk heroes (John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, etc.), and accompanied by latter-day Indians (bearing names like Heinz, GM, and Xerox), the expedition crosses the desert to reach the fabled West. Now surrounded by dense jungle, Las Vegas--nuclear-powered, neon-lit, filled with robot presidents--survives as a high-tech enclave by Charles Manson, self-styled President of the US. The expedition's leader, Wayne, falls under Manson's spell, only gradually realizing that Manson is as insane as his ancient namesake, intent on using the nation's last nukes to bring down an orgy of destruction. Ballard's intensity seems almost incidental here, lost among the hollow and unpersuasive underpinnings, wildly overcomplex or contradictory motivations, obvious symbolism, and murky satire. No Empire of the Sun this, nor even The Day of Creation (p. 298), it leaves the reader wondering, simply, why?