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

Readers’ average rating:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsVermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard speculative fiction book reviewsVermilion 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 mediums, faded film stars now dwelling in obscurity, and wealthy eccentrics, all of whom retreat from the larger world into the faded desert community of Vermilion Sands in the American Southwest. The blurb on some of the editions describes it best:

Vermilion Sands is a fully automated desert-resort designed to fulfill the most exotic whims of the idle rich, but now languishes in uneasy decay, populated only by forgotten movie queens, solitary impresarios and the remittance men of the artistic and literary world. It is a lair for beachcombers, hangers-on and malignant obsessions — a place where sensitive pigments paint portraits of their mistresses in a grotesque parody of art; where prima donna plants are programmed to sing operatic arias; where dial-a-poem computers have replaced poets; where psychosensitive houses are driven to murder by their owners’ neuroses; and where love and lust, in the hands of jewel-eyed Jezebels, pall before the stronger pull of evil. 

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe themes in the stories are wide-ranging and feature the most bizarre artistic forms, including delicate operatic singing orchids (“Prima Belladonna”), psychotropic houses that retain the emotions of their owners (“The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista”), paintings that paint themselves (“Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”), a growing metallic sculpture that produces music that drives people to distraction (“Venus Smiles”), automated poetry machines that cause a crisis when they are all vandalized and a publishing deadline looms (“Studio 5, The Stars”), a former pilot who finds a new life as a cloud-sculptor (“The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D”), living fashion that reflects and enhances the emotions of the wearer (“Say Goodbye to the Wind”), a doomed film production where the actors and crew cannot be bothered to film (“The Screen Game”), and a sonic sculpture commissioned by a reclusive film star (“The Sound Sculptures”).

The collection is internally consistent in tone, with a wonderfully languid and ironic view of the strange and sometimes comical lives of the residents of Vermilion Sands. It might be more accurate to call it artistic fantasy than SF, but labels really don’t do it justice. Instead, I suggest you should read it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Overall, Vermilion Sands contains J.G. Ballard’s most virtuoso and light-hearted writing. Unlike much of his darker, melancholy works about lonely astronauts, despondent scientists, and troubled adventurers, there is a sense of playfulness and moments of outright humor. It is also the most unique depiction of fantastical future art forms I have ever encountered, and combined with the decadent and desolate desert backdrop of this strange community with its sand yachts and living houses, it promises to be an unforgettable reading experience.


SHARE:  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart’s reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle’s 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

View all posts by

4 comments

  1. I loved these stories!

  2. I’m putting this on my list of books to buy at my favorite local used book store. This looks like just my thing!

  3. I’m so glad you liked this collection!

  4. I love that you chose the wildly pulpy cover art from the Panther paperback edition. I don’t remember any characters remotely like that, but it does grab your attention.

Leave a Reply to Jana Nyman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add your own review

Rating