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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 04.21.09] post apocalyptic news book scifi

James Graham Ballard, 1930-2009

The world of the Imagination took a heavy hit the morning of Sunday, April 19 with the passing of literary great JG Ballard, the iconoclastic author of "Crash," "The Drowned World" and "Empire of the Sun," as well as numerous other novels and short stories.

Born November 15, 1930 to wealthy parents in Shanghai’s international settlement, in 1942 Ballard’s storybook world fell swiftly apart after he and his family were interned for three years at the Japanese army’s civilian assembly camp at Lunghua, some ten miles south of the city centre. This experience had a life-altering effect on the young Ballard, as he really never recovered from the spectacle of watching the breakdown of reality as he knew it – he henceforth referred to reality as a "stage set" – and the motif of a psychically-damaged professional finding some kind of personal salvation in an otherwise apocalyptic world repeats over and over in Ballard’s fiction.

Only three major movies of Ballard’s stories have been made – Spielberg’s cheesy adaptation of Empire of the Sun, starring the young Dark Knight, Cronenberg’s Crash, a complete rewrite of the novel, and Solveig Nordlund’s Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude, based on Ballard’s short story, “Low-Flying Aircraft”. Nordlund also made a version of Ballard’s double twist short story, “13 To Centaurus” called Journey to Orion and the BBC produced a 30-minute TV version of the story in the 1970s. You can view them on Youtube.

Ballard’s forays into Science Fiction actually represent just a small portion of his 50-year output. He has perhaps one of two short stories which take place on other planets, but by and large he eschewed outer space for “inner space”, charting out new psychological approaches to speculative fiction, especially during his imaginative and provocative 1960s, when he created the groundbreaking The Drowned World (1962) the experimental styling of “The Terminal Beach” (1964), and ending with the “condensed novels” of The Atrocity Exhibition (1970). In 1984 he was elevated from cult writer to mainstream celebrity with the publication of Empire, a fictional autobiography of his incarceration during the war. Both famous and infamous in England, where his pithy comments, reviews and essays are a mainstay in the British press, Ballard never really achieved fame or any kind of book sales in the United States, where critical opinion was generally iffy and publishers never really promoted his books. With his passing this too may change, and there are early signs of a revival of interest in his work, with Norton announcing the release of a more complete version of his “Complete Short Stories” this September.

Tributes and obituaries have appeared on websites, blogs, newspapers and facebook pages across the world in the last days, and Dr Nathan encourages you to learn more about the passing of this unique and prophetic individual. A good place to start is Ballardian, ( or for a more archival look at the man himself, try the Doctor’s own Ballard website at

In closing, some of you may be well-versed enough with Da Man to recognize my nom de plume as the name of the psychiatrist in The Atrocity Exhibition who attempts to explain the protagonist’s odd behavior. “Reason rationalizes reality”, however, as Ballard says (quoting Freud), so even Dr Nathan shouldn’t be ultimately trusted. Except in this case.

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quietearth (11 years ago) Reply

He was my favorite author... Let's hope they do his books justice. (Hear that Natali?)


WuMing (11 years ago) Reply

Natali? U say Vincenzo Natali? The movies director? What's about Natali?


quietearth (11 years ago) Reply

Natali is slated to do an adaptation of Ballard's Hish Rise next.


entizari (11 years ago) Reply

it's a sad day when such an amazing writer leaves the world.
it's belatedly made me want to get around to reading more of his work, sooner rather than later.

* there's an adaptation you missed:
not sure what I think of it, but it did a fair job at recreating the book.
the R2 DVD even has a commentary by Ballard.

* and speaking of High Rise, wasn't there an adaptation of CONCRETE ISLAND in the works too?


Ben Austwick (11 years ago) Reply

I first read JG Ballard's work when I was in my mid-20s, and it was a revelation to discover that the bland world of motorways, business parks and suburban housing estates held the key to the modern world, not the bohemian inner city of the "radical" authors I'd read up to that point. This switch in perspective had me questioning the world for the first time, rather than regurgitating the found wisdom of my reading.

He inspired me to argue and question. He inspired me to write. He revealed the fallacies of ideology and received morality I'd soaked in in my arts and politics studies, and showed me that the loudest, most attractive perspectives aren't necessarily the right ones.

I owe JG Ballard a hell of a lot. I just wish I'd had the chance to thank him.

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