J.G. Ballard: Master of Doom

By Stephen Cass | April 20, 2009 4:39 pm

Cover of The Drowned WorldScience fiction author J.G. Ballard died yesterday, aged 78. While most people know of Ballard as the author of the autobiographical Empire of the Sun, which was turned into a movie of the same name, Ballard was the creator of a number of relentlessly dystopic books and short stories. These haunting works were often set in times and places where worldly devastation was reflected in the equally scarred psyches of many of his characters. In a manner reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, he portrayed humans as insignificant beings in a universe filled with terrible forces–civilization was a game of pretend that could come screeching to a halt at any moment. Unlike Lovecraft however, the forces that could irrevocably alter someone’s life overnight were not supernatural in origin—they were generally human or natural forces, amped up to apocalyptic proportions—floods, winds, wars, buildings, cars, and so on. (In choosing environmental and ecological disasters as the engine of many his apocalypses in a time when nuclear war was armageddon of choice, Ballard proved to be well ahead of the curve.) Reading Ballard was always a somewhat uncomfortable experience, but his willingness to explore the dark underbelly of technology and future will be sadly missed.

Image from Wikipedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Apocalypse, Books
MORE ABOUT: J.G. Ballard

Comments (4)

  1. amy

    This sort of thing was done a lot in the 19th century and in the first part of the 2oth century. It is a collection of venerable trops in science fiction. Unfortunately, most people in our culture have little knowledge of the literary history of scicnce fiction.

    Writers do–because they mine it.

  2. amy

    edit: :trops

  3. luca

    Only brushed with Ballard during my teen years, when I read every sci-fi book in the public library. Couldn’t really stomach it. May be I was too young. I loved the premise but found the plot advancing too slowly… I don’t know…

    Bt I’m sorry he went away. I’ll pickup again one of his books to commemorate him. the one about the tropical London, maybe.

  4. What makes J. G. Ballard unique in my mind was his focus on materialism and technology as a commodity and the impact of this on the already schizoid Western man. In Ballard’s worlds the average yuppie or scientist turns into a Colonel Kurtz amidst the “alien” landscape of suburbia. His subject matter disturbs people probably because its so close to home and his visions of the future were so true. Not true in a science and technology progressing to a singularity sense, but in that the “dystopia” comes and goes and we suck it down and it simply becomes enjoyable or even mundane and when its suddenly gone we might go mad. Also, you are never sure if Ballard is presenting this as a moral allegory or as erotica. And isn’t there something beautiful in a aircraft runway, a trainyard, a shopping mall, especially when its reclaimed by nature?


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