JG Ballard (1930-2009)

As Cory noted below, JG Ballard died this morning. Ballard was one of my favorite writers ever and his thinking about culture, art, science, technology, and human behavior had a massive influence on me. He will be missed greatly.
"Picturing the psychology of the future is what it's all been about." --JG Ballard
(photo by Paul Murphy/Catfunt)


  1. So everyone, go watch in his honor the real Crash (1996, based on Ballard’s 1973 novel) rather than that 2004 version that had nothing to do with the book.

  2. Wow, Badger, in what alternate universe did that need pointing out?

    RIP, Ballard, you were one of the best.

  3. Actually, while I intended it as a stupid joke, on the other article about Ballard there are comments by people who have never heard of him, so maybe it *was* needed…

  4. Absolutely one of the sf and proto-slipstream masters. I didn’t like his novels much (his proper form was the short story) but who can forget collections like “The Terminal Beach” and “The Voices of Time?” My favorite JGB comment eventually became one of my most used sig lines – and how prescient it has turned out to be.

    -John Thomas
    “The future will be a struggle between huge competing systems
    of psychopathology” – J G Ballard

  5. ^ Agreed. I’ve heard from people who’re confused between the two “Crash” — so while it may’ve been humorous, it was also helpful.

    RIP Ballard. Didn’t realize how much his profile looked like Angus Scrimm’s until now.

  6. This man should have an estate worth at least the world’s value, given his vision.

    RIP, J.G.B., they’ll never know what hit you.

  7. My brother introduced me to JG Ballard by getting me a copy of The Atrocity Exhibition on RE Search press over a decade ago. Since then, I’ve read everything of his that I could get a hold of. Looking at his Bibliography over at Ballardian, there’s not much I have not yet read, but much I will read again. I have found his work sometimes very challenging, but always rewarding, and his influence on both underground and mainstream culture is deep.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Ballard.

  8. Another author, like David Foster Wallace, whose influence on modern literature and culture I could not help but be aware of, but who I have failed to read. My brother saw him speak, once, and said he was a fantastic human being.

    I guess it can be seen as a fitting tribute to the man if his death prompts me to finally delve into his work. The problem with approaching the work of an author like Ballard – where the hell do I begin?

    A friend recommended starting with The Atrocity Exhibition, but that sounds atypical and pretty hard going.

    Any recommendations?

    Any recommendations?

  9. Well, Crash is a perennial favorite: he mentions cars in almost every sentence, it’s quite a feat! And such wonderfully dead prose! Super-Cannes is fun. Concrete Island is wonderfully dystopian, and hugely, hugely depressing. The Crystal World rocks. Folks adore his short stories. Those should get you started!

  10. Does anybody know if there’ll be an event in New York City in his honor? I feel like there should be a vigil. A gathering. Something to mark the passing of a prophet.

  11. Any of the early collections, Terminal Beach, or Voices of Time, as one of the earlier posters mentioned.

  12. It was my Dad’s tatty Penguin paperbacks of “The Drowned World and “The Wind That Came From Nowhere”, along with the short story compilations edited by Brian Aldiss, that first got me hooked on speculative fiction in the late 70s, when I was far too young to understand them (8 or 9 years old), but I was captivated by the overwhelming power of the imagery in both.

    “Drowned World”, in particular, is begging for a decent film treatment. Every time I drive past Madam Tussauds’ at Baker Street, I picture the divers descending through the weed forests…

  13. “Any recommendations?”

    The Atrocity Exhibition is a collection of “condensed novels” and, I would say, pretty hard going. Personally, I don’t much like them.

    You could try some of his early short story collections, like The Terminal Beach, The Four-Dimensional Nightmare or Vermilion Sands. I think several people would say you’d get a better sense of him from short stories.

    He has a “Complete” short story collection; I got it in one-volume hardback for not very much last year, but I note someone on amazon.co.uk selling it for about $500! It’s also available, at least second-hand, in a couple of pb volumes.

    The Empire of the Sun is his most famous novel in the wider world; being based on his own teenage life in a Japanese internment camp during the war it does “give away”, as it were, a lot of the source of the surreal, wacky and hallucinatory imagery of violence, dislocation and abandonment that he deploys in his sf.

    As for sf novels, The Drowned World is fairly central. Unlike in many sf novels, though, his protagonist is not trying to fix the problem or save people; as the Wikipedia article puts it he is someone “who, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, is enraptured by the chaotic reality that has come to replace it.”

    I haven’t read Crash for more than 25 years, but I remember the book as being more intense, colourful, oppressive, claustrophobic, fetsihistic and heatwaved than the rather cool, blue-hue feel of the Canada-shot movie.

    Apparently the publisher’s ms reader (who didn’t know who’d written it) suggested the author should have psychiatric help. Its mixture of cars, injury, sex and death made it seem odd in the 1970s but the death of Princess Diana in 1996 – fantasy woman, death, fast car, media landscape – was complete and utter Ballard.

  14. #10

    I would start with Crash, which is based in part on Ballard’s 1970 exhibition of crashed cars. It was pure genius:
    How JG Ballard came to write Crash

    I also really enjoyed his novels The Crystal World, High Rise, Concrete Island and Super-Cannes. You probably can’t go wrong with any of the available short story collections. The short stories that come to mind are “The Terminal Beach” and “The Voices of Time”.

    I recommend listening to My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents by Jawbox while reading your JGB. J. Robbins was a huge Ballard fan.

  15. #10

    I failed to mention Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women at first, because you will likely feel compelled to read these autobiographical works after sufficient exposure to his fiction.

  16. Like #10, Ballard is someone I’ve constantly been aware of, but just have not read. I’ll get down to reading his books as soon as I can.

    I live in Shepperton, and I know he was a resident here as well. It’s odd to see someone from your home town is so widley recognised.

  17. I like him even more after reading this:

    “He refused a CBE in 2003, pouring scorn on the honours system as a “Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up our top-heavy monarchy”.”

  18. I love his dust filled cities, desolate wastelands and broken perverted characters. His ravaged worlds containing harsh criticisms of capitalist society are my favourite. His prescience was remarkable. RIP Mr Ballard.

  19. Ballard was possible the first “adult” author I read, when transitioning from YA to Adult works in my pre- and early teens.

    His works very much painted the walls of my isolated, highly medicated teenage years and various institutions I spent time in. F r the incredible stimulation and inspiration he provided me in my own creative endeavours I will be eternally grateful.

    For those who have never read his work: you must! Simply must! A supurb author and human being, his insight and attitudes on so many contentious issues will be missed.

  20. #1: I really enjoy Cronenberg’s film – was quite the DC junkie in my younger years, but Crash is a shitful film that does little justice to the book.

    James Spader could well have be playing the role for laughs, without anyone else on set realising. Hard to tell.

    Read the book, then watch the film. It’s hardly long – some of Ballard’s best works are novellas, and Crash is one of them.

  21. Very sad news.

    I’ve actually recently read Cocaine Nights, and am halfway through Drowned World now. Drowned World, in particular, is a quite brilliant and wonderfully written novel.

  22. It would only be appropriate to conduct an autopsy in an empty swimming pool at Cape Canaveral (or Vandenberg), then, as the Arriflexes roll, a neurotic opera singer with insects for eyes crashes a ’57 Cadillac into the pool. Commemorate it with a book of anatomical drawings, excerpts from the Cadillac shop manual and the DSM-IV, and a print of the film.

    You will be missed, sir.

  23. For tributes etc–http://www.ballardian.com/
    The House of Sabbah is in deep,deep mourning.

  24. What a loss. It’s because of him that I notice the decay in cities and people.

    For the beginners, check out reams of Ballard works here: http://www.jgballard.ca/

    Or get the Collected Short Stories and start at page one. By the time you finish (in a month or so), you’ll be hard pressed to find an alternative, so you’ll want to start at page one again.

  25. Wonderful visionary thinker/author/provocateur. It’s difficult to pick a favorite. Certainly Crash is twisted brilliance, but so is High Rise. The Drowned World and The Crystal World are beautifully rendered. Vermilion Sands, too. And The Unlimited Dream Company is flat-out genius. I’m still ploughing through the later works. And The Atrocity Exhibition is about as challenging as lit gets.

  26. A true genius…
    I can’t think of a comparable modern writer who has constructed such a unified vision of this world of ours…
    R.I.P Ballard
    Rus Brockman

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