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J.G. Ballard

Updated on April 05, 2014

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind -- mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of

J.G. Ballard is a British author, whose writing inhabits a space in science fiction or speculative fiction that is all his own.  His stories often focus on characters having an inner journeys or metamorphoses acted out against a juxtaposing backdrop of utter normalcy and middle class life gone out of kilter.

His semi-autobiographical novel EMPIRE OF THE SUN was adapted and filmed by Steven Spielberg and his 1973 novel CRASH was made into a movie by David Cronenberg. Many other stories of Ballard's are the periodic focus of Hollywood. It's rumored that Chritian Bale would like to film CONCRETE ISLAND, and it looks like Ballard's first novel THE DROWNED WORLD just might hit screens sooner rather than later.

Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, something he didn't reveal until his autobiography MIRACLES OF LIFE was published in 2008. He passed away on Sunday, April 19, 2009 at the age of 78.

How I Discovered The Writing of JG Ballard - Sand yacht on a thermal roller, we were never there....

When I was in junior high, I was into a group called the Buggles. They are known for their song "Video Killed The Radio Star" being the first video ever shown on MTV, but that event was still at least a year away. Actually, in 1980 the Buggles had sort of disbanded and been absorbed into the band YES.

My best friend and I were very much into THE AGE OF PLASTIC, the first Buggles album that came out in 1979. We read in some music magazine interview that Trevor Horn was a big fan of J.G. Ballard and that not only could you find themes and references to his stories in the Buggles lyrics, but supposedly the story "The Sound Sweep" was the inspiration for the song "Video Killed The Radio Star."

So, of course we started to look for J.G. Ballard. Listened to lyrics and read a lot of short stories. I certainly think there are some parallels in there. Ballard wasn't very much in fashion at the time. I found a few beat-up paperbacks in used bookstores and so did my friend, and we swapped books back and forth too. It was enough to get me hooked.

My serious Ballard "score" came in July 1985 when I got to visit England as a present for my high school graduation. I just hit a London bookstore and got my hands on all sorts of titles that you just couldn't get in the US at the time.

I'm also in possession of a copy of the second Buggles record album, ADVENTURES IN MODERN RECORDING. (not a lot of folks know they did a 2nd album even) The Ballardian influence can still be hunted.

You can give the music of the Buggles a listen and then decide for yourself if there are Ballardian themes in the lyrics.

Story ---------------------------------- > Song

The Sound Sweep .......................... Video Killed the Radio Star

Cry Hope, Cry Fury ......................... Vermilion Sands

Billenium ....................................... Inner City

Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography - J.G. Ballard's genuine autobiography

In early 2008, Ballard gave an interview about his latest book, a work of non-fiction: his own genuine autobiography. He also revealed that the reason he's spent the previous year writing his autobiography is that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2007.

Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography
Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography

Read Ballard's real-life story by ordering this title via third-party sellers.

 

Understanding Ballard via Seinfeld - an interesting exploration of a classic Ballardian theme.

Ballard's Op Ed Pieces - Some of Ballard's non-fiction writing

In the last few years, Ballard has produced a steady stream of opinion pieces for the British paper the Guardian. His thoughts on politics and pop culture are as sharp as ever, especially as his own predictions come to life.

Semi-autobiographical Stories

Two of Ballard's novels draw so heavily from actual events in his life that they are semi-autobiographical. His young childhood was spent in Shanghai, and his family was actually imprisoned in a POW camp with other British citizens during part of WWII. His experiences from that time are woven into THE EMPIRE OF THE SUN.

After the war, his family was liberated and they returned to England. His young adulthood, his marriage and the death of his wife are the basis for THE KINDNESS OF WOMEN.

In both books, the main character is named Jim Ballard. Telling what events are drawn from reality and which are fictional is not actually possible aside from a few hints that Ballard has given in personal interviews.

HELLO AMERICA

this is excerpted from a reivew by Rachel Schwarz that she wrote for graduate school in 1994

J.G. Ballard seems to have his finger on the subconscious pulse of America. In 1967 he predicted the Regan Presidency. His 1981 novel HELLO AMERICA predicts many fascinations of 90s America: Charles Manson, military technology, the presidential office, and Las Vegas.

Ballard's America of 2130 is a ruin. Energy and oil crises led to economic collapse and reverse migration back to Europe. A few radioactive clouds drift across the Atlantic and an expedition is sent to investigate. John Wayne is a 21 year old stowaway. His obsession is to find a scientist who vanished on a similar expedition 20 years earlier who may be his father.

America is not empty as presumed. Tribes of nomads roam. They are named by fragments of the past: the Executives, a NY tribe wear 3-piece suits; the Gangsters are from Chicago; the Divorcees are all-women. The natives talk about earthquakes. Leaving the captain and crew behind, the group goes to D.C. A quake happens in Boston, and the physicists determine it was a nuclear detonation. The group decides to head in the "American direction," west.

In Las Vegas they meet President Charles Manson. Actually a refugee, Manson has recreated himself as a blend of Manson, Nixon and Howard Hughes. He has dreams for rebuilding America, and an army. Wayne finds Fleming, a man who might be his father. After helping Manson gain control of cruise missiles, Fleming has developed solar-powered gliders. After the violent final confrontation, the gliders allow he, Wayne, some others to literally ride off into the sunset.

As with all of Ballard's writing, the bulk of the books is lush exposition. Some sections are written in the form of Wayne's journal. The littlest details and references create dense realistic imagery. However Hello America isn't so much about the physical journey across the land as it is about the character's personal voyages within their own minds. Ballard is a fan of mass media and champion of the imagination. These elements, filtered through an interest in surrealism, are what he uses to create his worlds. Within the mass media, people compete for recognition, struggle to create the most memorable image. In Hello America, crowded heavily rationed Europe is the mass. The members of the expedition are all struggling for an identity. They want fame and fortune: the classic American dream. From his place in middle-class England, Ballard expresses his belief that all we have to fear in the future is boredom.

Global Disaster Novels

Early on in his writing career, many of Ballard's novels addressed a theme of global disaster. The crisis was often due to a force of nature, and frequently, the story takes place once the disaster has already occurred, focusing on how the characters have adapted or not to their changed lives.

Movie Adaptations of Ballard Books

So far, two books by J.G. Ballard have been adapted into movies.

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ballard's semi-autobiographical account of WWII, THE EMPIRE OF THE SUN, was the first Western movie to be given permission to film in mainland China. It also marked the film debut of a very young Christian Bale, who played Jim Ballard, alongside Miranda Richardson and John Malkovich.

Empire of the Sun (1987) - IMDb.com

These next references are related to the movie adaptation of Ballard's CRASH, as written for the screen and directed by David Cronenberg. The film starred James Spader as Ballard, Elias Koteas as Vaughn, Holly Hunter as Helen and Rosanne Arquette as Gabrielle.

J.G. Ballard : David Cronenberg's Crash : An interview with spike magazine - SPIKE magazine's interview with JG Ballard about the controversy surrounding the film Crash.

Crash (1996/I) - from IMDb.com

Ballard, in his own words - video interviews and more

Upcoming Movie Adaptations

Since Ballard's death in April 2009, Hollywood and the movie industry has been buzzing about a variety of adaptations of his literary work into films.

The Ballardian Context - critiques and commentary

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