Monday, May 4, 2009

RIP J. G. Ballard

I came late to J. G. Ballard. Like many, my first introduction to him came when Spielberg turned his semi-autobiographical memoir Empire of the Sun into a terrific film starring a young (and presumably less potty-mouthed) Christian Bale. I didn't go looking for it, but when I ran across a copy in a used bookshop, I didn't hesitate to pick it up.

The film itself pays remarkably fealty to the novel, with the exception I suppose that the book takes things just a bit further, with young Jamie saying farewell to China and moving to England (a country both he and the young J. G. Ballard had never been to.) I was delighted to learn there was a sequel. I found a paperback copy of The Kindness of Women in that very same used bookshop and it is to this day one of the best books I've ever read.

After that came the easy ones that can be found in most any bookstore: Rushing to Paradise, in which a group of idealistic environmentalists decide to create their own society on a tropical island with disastrous (and predictable) results, Crash (later made into a film by David Cronenberg) in which Ballard himself is the main character, who becomes strangely fixated on (and stimulated by) automobile crashes, and Concrete Jungle, a brilliant updating of Robinson Crusoe, in which a man's car veers off a heavily traveled highway and down into a ravine.

Some of his earlier works were more difficult to find. I bought High Rise on ebay, a horrific tale in which the somewhat laconic main character watches his condominium building turn into an adult and urban Lord of the Flies. Paperbacks of The Drowning World, The Burning World, and The Wind from Nowhere soon followed, and here I learned that Ballard's earliest work established him as one of the finest apocalyptic writers of his day.

I picked up book club editions of Chronopolis and The Crystal World, collections of short stories, from my trusty used bookshop. The Crystal World has a wonderful Max Ernst cover, enhancing the value of the first edition if you should be lucky enough to have one.

The last Ballard I picked up was his collection of essays A User's Guide to the Millennium, in which he opines on topics as varied as Andy Warhol and the Marquis de Sade.

At any rate, there are still some Ballard's I have yet to absorb, and for that I am grateful.

This reader will miss him.

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