Feeds

JG Ballard — 1930-2009

Sci-Fi giant leaves this Ballardian world

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

JG Ballard, self-confessed visionary of “the psychology of the future” and author of works such as Crash and Empire of the Sun, died on Sunday morning after a long illness. He was 78.

Ballard outgrew the ‘cult author’ tag to cross over into the mainstream. His novels were widely read, beyond the boundaries of the oft-derided science fiction genre. His popularity and the post-modernist themes of his work attracted critical acclaim and bestseller status. He is also rightly recognised as having predicted many of the themes of modern urban life in his dark, dystopian images of the present and near-future.

Ballard was born in Shanghai and spent his early years in the privileged international sector of the Chinese city. In 1941 Shanghai was overrun by the advancing Japanese forces and the family were sent to an internment camp. The experience, its brutality filtered through Ballard’s childish eyes, informed all of his future work. Empire of the Sun, his partly-autobiographical account of life at the camp, was later turned into an Oscar-nominated film by Steven Spielberg.

After returning to Britain in 1946, he went to Cambridge to study medicine, intending to become a psychiatrist, but he abandoned his studies to concentrate full-time on writing. He later described Cambridge as an “academic theme park”, but the examination of the dark recesses of the mind became another constant factor in his later work.

From here he went to the University of London to read English Literature, but was forced to leave before the end of his first year. He then joined the RAF and was stationed to Canada, where he was introduced to science-fiction through American pulp magazines. He left the RAF in 1954, after only two years.

After the publication of numerous science fiction short stories and his first novel, The Wind From Nowhere, over the next few years, in 1962 he wrote The Drowned World. Long before the idea of the Greenhouse Effect became common scientific currency, The Drowned World pictured a tropical London submerged underwater after the melting of the polar ice caps. Although in Ballard’s world this was the result of solar flares rather than global warming, the novel, with its post-apocalyptic themes of isolation and mental disintegration, could be seen as a prototype for his later novels.

Always controversial, and sometimes even considered pornographic, (The Atrocity Exhibition was banned in the USA for obscenity, and the accusation was repeated at various times throughout his career,) Ballard became a cult figure for his sharply rendered visions of a dystopian present and near-future. Crash, High Rise, Concrete Island and the later trilogy of Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes and Millennium People all concentrate on the violence, perversity and desperation bubbling under the surface of modern urban life. Crash was later turned into a successful film, directed by David Cronenberg, which was criticised for the depiction of a couple who were sexually stimulated by car crashes and the injuries resulting from them.

Although often condemned on their release, Ballard’s obsession with celebrity, mental collapse and the suppressed violence of modern life have since been more than borne out by the similar obsessions of the modern media.

Anyone who witnessed the hysteria and fetishistic coverage surrounding the death of Princess Diana in a car crash, the broadcasting of Jade Goody’s funeral or the media frenzy around the recent G20 conference would recognise the themes foreshadowed in Ballard’s writings. The voyeurism of YouTube is also strangely Ballardian, a word which appears in the Collins English Dictionary and meaning “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.”

He will be missed, as the world turns more Ballardian by the day. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Are you a fat boy? Get to university NOW, you PENNILESS SLACKER
Rotund types paid nearly 20% less than people who didn't eat all the pies
Emma Watson should SHUT UP, all this abuse is HER OWN FAULT
... said an anon coward who we really wish hadn't posted on our website
Japan develops robot CHEERLEADERS which RIDE on BALLS
'Will put smiles on faces worldwide', predicts corporate PR chief
Bruges Booze tubes to pump LOVELY BEER underneath city
Belgian booze pumped from underground
Oz carrier Tiger Air takes terror alerts to new heights
Don't doodle, it might cost you your flight
Amazon: Wish in one hand, Twit in the other – see which one fills first
#AmazonWishList A year's supply of Arran scotch, ta
Let it go, Steve: Ballmer bans iPads from his LA Clippers b-ball team
Can you imagine the scene? 'Hey guys, it's your new owner – WTF is that on your desk?'
Oi, London thief. We KNOW what you're doing - our PRECRIME system warned us
Aye, shipmate, it be just like that Minority Report
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.