Editor’s Pick
APRIL 19, 2009 10:40PM

Ballardian Farewell

Rate: 10 Flag




“Ballardian”  adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

Collins English Dictionary


I came late to his work. It was 1984 maybe. I was in my favorite SF fantasy bookstore in Harvard square. It was on the second floor, in between the Wursthaus and Discount Records.  It was owned and operated by the guy who started The Million Year Picnic, my number one source for comics. Only one of these places, The Picnic, still exists. The rest have been replaced by the lowest form of corporate wank palaces. As usual, I was drawn in by the combination of the cover art and the titles: Low flying Aircraft, Myths of the near future, The Atrocity Exhibition (Best title ever). These were collections of short stories about the decay of the world as seen through the lens of the decay of the human psyche. Technology and our own animal nature take their revenge on society. The boundary between technology and the psyche break down.  Bathers march into the sea in response to light reflecting off of a satellite. A burned out writer convinces a friend that he isn’t insane and really has contacted aliens. A  second generation captive test subject in a spaceship simulator knows, and has always known, that he isn’t really in space. If that sounds like standard issue Science fiction crap of the day (1960’s) I can assure you it isn’t. This stuff is subversively weird and it’s because it deals with psychological breakdown and transformation that it is. 


Time was always falling apart in Ballard’s work. The four dimensional nightmare, The garden of time, the Illuminated man. In each, time is slowed, or advanced, or both slowed and advanced so that you experience all of it at once, and of course, there’s nothing you can do about it. The protagonist is always losing his mind. Or is his mind changing to accommodate a new reality? Often, evolution is sped up by radiation or some other technological mishap. Children are born with eyes that see into the ultra violet. People develop the ability to communicate telepathically, and can fuck telepathically, or have to fuck physically in order to maintain their grip on their minds. Insane and fantastic! For a mild mannered, portly and genial guy (I met him once at a book signing), Ballard was the most twisted bastard ever to set hand to keyboard. The Atrocity Exhibition?, Crash?, Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan?!  Sick and wondrous!! 


It’s interesting that in the eighties, when I started reading Ballard, there was a pop music and culture trend into the strangeness of the human-technological interface. I remember some cool stuff and some true shit that I really wish I couldn’t remember. Gary Numan, Ultravox, the Buggles, Joy Division, all were influenced by his work and wrote songs inspired by it. Video Killed the radio star,? Warm leatherette? I want to be a machine? Nevermind.


Ironically, he is most widely known for his most ordinary novel, Empire of the Sun, an account of his life in a Japanese prison camp during WWII. This book, and the movie are both good but reveal only a superficial aspect to this absolutely weird and widely influential writer. The film versions of Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition were less successful but caused at least as much trouble as the original literary works.


  At that book signing in 1987, Ballard, surprisingly pragmatic and fatherly, instructed me to finish my degree before trying to become a writer. That was a long time ago, I never finished the degree but I’m working on it now. If I am a writer at all it is because I sometimes write, not because it is a vocation or profession. If it is ever good it is because of the work of J. G. Ballard and those he influenced, none of whom were quite like him. No one was ever quite like him.


James Graham Ballard 11/15/1930 - 4/19/2009




This site:  Scriptorum is a thorough account of ballard's career 

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What a powerful tribute to a powerful writer. I had no idea of the depth and breadth of his work. Warm leatherette, indeed.
Ballard was whacked, and I mean that in the most supremely complimentary of ways. No one wrote like him. One of a kind, and he'll be missed (I didn't even know he was ill). Nice tribute HF.
Beautiful. What a great opportunity to get to know his work through your tribute.
Oh bitter irony...I just get finished ranting via comments about how I think that Editor's Picks are shite and that any random cute cat video can get one and then this. This was hastily scrawled and I am not worthy of singing the praises of J. G. Ballard. All I can say is that his work was way ahead of its time, bizarre, and fearless. I hope that anyone reading this post goes out and reads some of his work. Start with the short stories as you might be nauseated by Crash without any preparation.
I'm glad you liked this "editors" but it's not my best work
I had no idea he passed. He was a superb writer and a briliant thinker.
Congrats on the EP and cover! LOL
Science fiction was probably 90% of what I read between the ages of 8 and 28 (or was that 38?) so I kind of over-saturated myself and haven't ready any in a while, but Ballard will always be one of my favorite authors, in any genre.
Rated. My first exposure to Ballard was his short story "Chronopolis," where draconian time management rules eventually lead to a backlash--it is illegal to wear a watch or hold anyone to notions of punctuality. It's still probably my favorite Ballard story, though all of the stories in the collection Terminal Beach are outstanding, cover to cover.
Thanks for the memorial to Ballard. I always loved his work, starting with those dreamy apocalyptic books -- The drowned World, The crytsal World, The Draught,The Wind from Nowhere. When I think of him its always the odd, surreal quality of his sentences, particular eerie sentences, that comes to mind:

"Toward evening, when the great shadow of the Palladian villa filled the terrace, Count Axel left his library, and walked down the wide rococo steps among the time flowers."

"Later, Powers often thought of Whitby, and the strangfe grooves the biologist had cut, apparently at random, all over the floor of the emptty swimming pool."

"All summer the cloud-sculptors would come from Vermillion Sands and sail their painted gliders above the coral towers that rose like white pagodas beside the highway to Lagoon West."

"The island is a state of mind," Osborne, one of the biologists working in the old submarine pens, was later to remark to Traven.

That strange world is extinct now, but we still have its fossils and relics. I'll be enjoying them, I'll be confused and troubled by them, for the rest of my life.
Ballard knew how rock out as they say, with his words and view on life.
Thanks everyone. I wrote this in a hurry but even if I took a lot of time I couldn't do justice to Ballard's work. Thanks Steve Axelrod for all of those great quotes. Thanks to all of you science fiction fans hip enough to know Ballard. I always think of his work anytime I see an abandoned industrial area with weeds growing up through the cement and the sun beating down. The Ballardian landscape.
Wonderful elegy M. So glad to see it make the front page and it's not even sensationalistic!!!!! Kudos my friend and well done.
Don't act the innocent, Axeman. It didn't much of your scientific acumen to figure out that next to YouTube clips and tall call girl tales, Sci Fi is the *only* thing that stirs Z out of his zzzzz's ;-).

Data: any post about Battlestar Galactica, any post by "Professor" Paul Levinson about whatever's showing on the SyFy channel, heck, even a post about some burly, dead, tattooed guy named Thomas Disch! All cover material.

In fact, one of the few that didn't make it was titled "Harlan Ellison on Getting Paid" which I bet would have made it retitled "Harlan Ellison on Getting Laid."

Good piece. Didn't have the foggiest who Ballard was, and now I do.
And anyone who wanted to fuck Ronald Reagan (at least in one sense of the word) couldn't be half bad!

C3, I wondered where you'd been. Speaking of complete crap getting editor's picks, did you see that shaggylocks has another front page video, which, I'm just guessing, he didn't produce himself. If you read this shaggylocks, my issue is not with you or your posting videos, knock yourself out. I'm taking issue with editors equating finding a video with actually creating something, which I think is complete fucking crap!
C3, do you remember the SciFi bookstore I mentioned? The proprietor had glasses about three inches thick and eyes that looked as if they were donated from a mounted game fish.
You might like Ballard's work. He's probably the only writer who could make Harlan Ellison squirm.
Don't remember the Sci Fi store. Even the Picnic is way after my time! The Wurstthaus and Discount records, of course. Both gone. The Orson Welles: that probably burnt down while you were still around. Harvard Square theater is now a Lowe's multiplex (no Mass. Ave. entrance -- I think it's a 7/11 -- enter from Church St.). The Brattle seems to go off and on -- I think it's back on now. The Coop doesn't have a record section any more -- but does have a Starbucks!

I think shaggy is twitting both the Eds and us -- though this one had a coupla line of deeply analytical prose attached.