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J.G. Ballard

(1930–2009)
James Graham “J. G.” Ballard was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Ballard came to be associated with the New Wave of science fiction early in his career with apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels such as The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). In the late 1960s and early 1970s Ballard focused on an eclectic variety of short stories (or “condensed novels”) such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), which drew closer comparison with the work of postmodernist writers such as William S. Burroughs. The literary distinctiveness of Ballard’s work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian”, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”
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The Drowned World: Diving into the pellucid depths of our racial memories

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The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

The Drowned World (1962) is J.G. Ballard’s best apocalyptic work, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966), but if you are thinking of an action-packed adventure where a plucky group of survivors clings to decency amid the collapse of civilization, this is the wrong book. Ballard was interested in ‘inner space,’ and while he sometimes adopted SF tropes in his books and short stories, his works most often featured natural disasters, the collapse of civilization, lonely astronauts, grim future urban landscapes, and weird obsessions with technology and mechanization. His main intent was to explore the psychology of human beings trapped in modern urban societies (and what happens when these societies collapse), and most of his protagonists a... Read More

The Terminal Beach: The best of Ballard’s early stories

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The Terminal Beach by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard is best known for his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984), along with his early novels like The Drowned World (1962), The Crystal World (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975). But many consider his best work to be his huge catalog of short stories, many of which were pivotal in the New Wave SF movement in the late 60s/early 70s. Ballard’s style may have been suited to the short form, as it plays to his strengths (hallucinatory imagery, bizarre concepts, powerful descriptions) and avoid his weaknesses (lack of empath... Read More

The Crystal World: Time and death are defeated as crystallization takes over

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The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard

The Crystal World (1966) is J.G. Ballard’s third apocalyptic work in which he destroys civilization, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Drowned World (1962). It seems he likes the elements, having employed floods, draughts, and now crystallization. The process somewhat resembles Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but there is no ironic humor to be found in this book as far I could tell. In The Drowned World, the flooding of the world was used as a metaphor for diving deep into the collective racial memories of the Triassic-age, when dinosaurs r... Read More

Vermilion Sands: A desert resort for artists, former film stars, and wealthy eccentrics

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Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971) was first published as a U.S. paperback by Berkley in 1971, and was then published by Cape in the U.K. as a hardback in 1973. It contained the following stories:

"Prima Belladonna" (1956), "The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista " (1962), "Cry Hope, Cry Fury!" (1966), "Venus Smiles" (1957), "Studio 5, The Stars" (1961), "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" (1967), "Say Goodbye to the Wind" (1970), "The Screen Game" (1962), "The Singing Statues" (1962)

Sometimes you encounter a book that is intelligent, brilliantly-written, wryly-humorous, hypnotic, and almost completely resistant to description without reducing it to triviality. The stories here showcase artists of different medi... Read More

Concrete Island: Stranded in modernity like a latter-day Crusoe

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Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard

In the early 1970s, J.G. Ballard was busily creating modern fables of mankind’s increasingly urban environment and the alienating effect on the human psyche. Far from humans yearning to return to their agrarian and hunter-gatherer roots, Ballard posited that modern man would begin to adapt to his newly-created environment, but at what price? Ballard’s protagonists in Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975) are modern, urbane creatures, educated and detached, who embrace their technology-centric lifestyles. But when conditions change, their primitive urges and psychopathologies emerge to horrifying effect.

In Concrete Island, a modern-day retel... Read More

High-Rise: Lord of the Flies in an urban luxury high-rise

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High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

If you had the chance, would you live in a massive, 1,000-unit luxury high-rise with its own supermarket, liquor shop, schools, pools, gyms, etc.? Instead of living in some dreary suburb with boring, prosaic neighbors, why not join an elite group of young and successful professionals, like-minded and sophisticated, with immaculate taste and superb social connections? Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to join the elite upper echelons of society? This is the scenario that J.G. Ballard creates in High-Rise (1975), and then proceeds to plunge the reader into a nightmare of barbarity, roving bands of marauding residents, festering piles of garbage and refuse, and a total collapse of social order and morals. It is a deliciously dark fable, one that was spot-on back in ... Read More

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard: A broad spectrum of Ballard’s capabilities

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The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard by J.G. Ballard

The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (1979) was published in 1977 in the UK and 1978 in the US. It contains a few stories from J.G. Ballard’s earlier, more conventional SF phase in the late 1950s, his most productive and lyrical phase in the early and mid 1960s, and a small sampling of his experimental ‘condensed novel’ phase of the late 1960s/early 1970s. The stories are taken from these collections: The Voices of Time (1962), Billennium (1962), Passport to Eternity (1963), The Terminal Beach (1964), The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and Vermilion Sands (1971).

... Read More

The Unlimited Dream Company: More art than story

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The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard

Looking at the spread of colors, shapes, and lines smeared across the canvas that is J.G. Ballard’s 1979 The Unlimited Dream Company, it’s easy to get lost in the details, the view to the whole submerged. Superficially disorienting to say the least, the narrative packs a bewildering visual punch while beneath the surface lurk the powers of nature, myth, and beast — the book is certainly art more than story. Surreal is only the beginning of the description. For those uninitiated to Ballard, strap yourselves in and prepare for a ride — on erotic wings.

The Unlimited Dream Company, if it were the work of a visual artist, would be part of Dali, Paalen, or Ernst’s portfolio. With imagery jumbled and intense in semi-... Read More

Memories of the Space Age: Autopsy of a lost dream

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Memories of the Space Age by J.G. Ballard

Memories of the Space Age (1988) is a limited edition hardcover published by small press Arkham House, with a gorgeous cover of Max Ernst’s ‘Europe After the Rain’ that captures the hallucinatory, decayed imagery of J.G. Ballard’s collection. It contains eight stories written between 1962 and 1985, thematically linked around rotting launch gantries at Cape Canaveral, the failure of the US space program, dead astronauts eternally orbiting in space, deserted hotels lining the Florida coast, and the lonely, disturbed individuals who linger at the fringes of this lost dream of the Space Age. The stories have so much overlap that some readers will find them very repetitive, and that is undeniable. Yet they do lure the reader into Ballard’s hy... Read More

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories: Humane science fiction

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The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories edited by Tom Shippey

I read Tom Shippey's other excellent collection, The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories some time ago, so it was only a matter of time before I sought out this one. Like its stablemate, The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories consists of a chronological collection of stories from a variety of authors with an introduction by the editor. I was struck by the idea of "fabril" literature, which is discussed in the introduction: a form of literature in which the "smith" is central. Certainly, a great deal of early science fiction in particular involves a clever engineer solving some sort of problem, and I'm sure many careers in engineering and the sciences have been launched in this way. I'd say that there is some tendency, though, as the genre matures, for technology to beco... Read More