Tag Archives: JG Ballard

Sinister in suburbia

Martin Amis pays tribute to the late author J.G. Ballard:

Ballard was a great exponent of the Flaubertian line — that writers should be orderly and predictable in their lives, so that they can be savage and sinister in their work. He lived in a semi-detached in Shepperton, which might as well have been called “Dunroamin,” and there was the tomato-red Ford Escort parked in its slot in the front garden. When I wrote a long profile of him in 1984, I arrived at 11 in the morning and his first words were “Whisky! Gin! Vodka!” He told me that “Crash freaks” from, say, the Sorbonne would visit him expecting to find a miasma of lysergic-acid and child abuse. But, in fact, what they found was a robustly rounded and amazingly cheerful, positively sunny — suburbanite.

As it turned out, the wildest behavior indulged in by the  author of such wildly disturbing works as The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash and Empire of the Sun was to have a glass of Scotch every hour of the day, starting early in the morning. It wasn’t exactly an indulgence: when Ballard found himself a widower with a demanding writing schedule and children to support, that hourly dose was what he needed to stay functional. He also worked to push back the starting time for that first glass.

I wouldn’t recommend that for anybody else. Personally, I’d stick with coffee — or some nice green tea. But it seemed to work for Ballard, and his books worked for me.

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Ballard bundle

I see that The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard is finally going to get a U.S. edition: 1,200-plus pages encompassing 92 stories. Meanwhile, the jg-ballardexemplary fan site Ballardian has links to obituaries and appreciations, as well as reactions from Ballard’s friends, admirers and colleagues, including Michael Moorcock, Christopher Priest and Toby Litt. And in this interview, Ballard talks about his admiration for William S. Burroughs. Curious to think that Ballard and Burroughs each saw their most infamous novels — Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Ballard’s Crash — turned into David Cronenberg films that were ultimately best remembered for their outrageously creative soundtrack music by Howard Shore. And here’s a list of Ballard novels that almost but never quite became movies, including an adaptation of The Unlimited Dream Company that would have starred Richard Gere, and a list of pop and rock groups that cite Ballard’s work as an inspiration.

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J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard died this morning at 79. He was probably best known for his novel Empire of the Sun, a supremely tough and well-wrought tale drawn from his childhood in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, which Steven Spielberg made a brave attempt at adapting for film. I grew up on Ballard’s science fiction work, particularly the mind-warping stories in Chronopolis and Vermilion Sands, but it became clear pretty quickly that “science fiction” was simply a default designation: stories like “The Drowned Giant,” or “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race,” or “The Voices of Time” were sui generis, and Ballard’s work answered to genre conventions only at its weakest.

The violence and alienation in his work put him closer to William S. Burroughs than Robert A. Heinlein — in fact, Burroughs wrote the preface to The Atrocity Exhibition, an outrageous collection of stories and story-fragments Ballard called “condensed novels.” When David Cronenberg adapted Ballard’s difficult and rather repulsive novel Crash into an equally difficult and rather repulsive film, all you could do was marvel at how it had taken so long for the two to come together.

Ballard was better understood and more widely celebrated in the U.K. than the U.S., but I hope the interest stirred up by his death leads to more of his work becoming available.

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