J.G. Ballard, RIP
From the JGB-Death-Tribute-show:
"JG Ballard is gone, wheels-up from the abandoned airstrip of our imaginations, but his coiled brilliance will lie in waiting for just the right unsuspecting teenager — and there’s always one, in every suburb — who opens Crash to read the unforgettable lines, “Vaughan died yesterday in his last car crash. During our friendship, he had rehearsed his death in many car crashes, but this was his only true accident.” She will read those lines, and 224 pages later, close the book dazedly, firm in the knowledge that her worldview has been shattered and wired back together, and for the darker better.
The sci-fi novelist William Gibson was one such teenager.
“I was so young when I first discovered Ballard’s work,” he told me, in an interview for my L.A. Weekly review of Ballard’s memoir, Miracles of Life. (The interview ended up on the cutting-room floor.) “Thirteen, fourteen. I probably read him before I read Burroughs, but only by a few months. I seem to remember Burroughs baffling me at first, too many moving parts, but Ballard seemed to have the keys to the kingdom. In retrospect it was like a lot of great foreign cinema that I hadn’t seen yet. Long pans without actors. I remember finding it all enormously welcoming, and calming somehow. He became a literary hero of mine without my ever having to think about it.
[...] Most ‘influence’ questions just cause me to shrug, but Ballard? Huge. And durable. More than anyone else, really.
My first work of fiction, ever, consisted of a single faux-Ballardian sentence: ‘Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, [ ] came to perceive the targeted numerals of the academy leader as hypnagogic sigils preceding the dream state of film.’ I worked on that for so long, months, that I’ve never forgotten it.”
Gibson’s unindicted co-conspirator in the cyberpunk insurgency, Bruce Sterling, offered his thoughts.
“He’s truly a great science fiction writer,” he told me, by e-mail. “One of the few. Lovecraft is also a great science fiction writer, and creates the same intensely visionary world, the same kind of lasting, all-devouring, even bewildering appeal. But Ballard certainly writes much better than Lovecraft. He’s a better artist.” Even so, noted Sterling, he remains a cult figure — ”globally notorious,” a “persistent critics’ darling” with a swelling following, but a cult figure nonetheless. “Ballard’s intelligence and surreal worldview simply intimidate readers,” said Sterling. “Most people who might read Ballard pick up one of his books, forge 30 pages in, become baffled and obscurely terrified, and never dare to open another one. Of course he’s a good writer, but he’s the strong stuff; nobody picks up six-packs of Laphroaig.”
"""It is also a drily funny score-settling with Little England, whose rattletrap cars he described as “coal scuttles,” on first seeing them after moving back to Britain from China, and whose morose, “putty-faced” people had won the war but acted, he thought, as if they’d lost it. Ballard was perversely fond of America in the way that, say, Kafka or Baudrillard were; he regarded the U.S.A. with a kind of horrified delight, and loved best all that is worst about our theme-parked nightmare, which he reimagined in Hello America as a post-apocalyptic disaster zone, presided over by a President Charles Manson. And he cordially detested the class-conscious, parochial England of Prince Charles’s Poundbury and the Boy’s Own Paper, refusing Commander of the British Empire honors in 1993 with the withering quip that such “Ruritanian charade[s]” help “prop up our top-heavy monarchy.”
Bruce Sterling described BallardSpeak fairly effectively. To reiterate: “Ballard’s intelligence and surreal worldview simply intimidate readers,” said Sterling. “Most people who might read Ballard pick up one of his books, forge 30 pages in, become baffled and obscurely terrified, and never dare to open another one. Of course he’s a good writer, but he’s the strong stuff; nobody picks up six-packs of Laphroaig.”
Ballard's Vermillion Sands presented an odd, organic sort of sci-fi, quite different than the space operas and heroics of a Heinlein or Asimov. With Ballard, we did not need to be transported to Mars, or galaxy Andromeda, but could contemplate futuristic colonies in the Sonoran desert, with aria-singing orchids, and holographic gardens....His later books grew darker, yet remained eloquent and "British"--perhaps too eloquent, though Brit writers, sci-fi, or trad., generally creep out 'Mericans. Really, the nightmare of Hello America with President Manson, or the auto-dystopia of Crash do not seem that "surreal" in this day of Cho's, supercarriers, and LAPD GPS-guided paramilitary ops.
PK Dick--not to say Orwell--understood dystopia, yet at times PK Dick lacked what film dweebs call verisimilitude (though PKD's police state hallucinations ala A Scanner Darkly were generally entertaining). Ballard had more of an objective vision, similar to Orwell in ways--though as Sterling hinted at, with a Lovecraftian vibe. JGB understood dystopia, or maybe it's psychopathology (though not necessarily the Parisian marxist sort), and depicts it authentically--scaring the phuck out of those in Consumerland who manage to crawl through his labyrinthes.
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