J.G. Ballard, 1930-2009

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Various British news sources are reporting the sad news that visionary author J. G. Ballard died this morning. From The Guardian:

JG Ballard, novelist and short-story writer, has died after a long battle with illness, his agent has said.

The 78-year-old author, who was best known for the award-winning Empire of the Sun, a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1984, and his controversial novel, Crash, later adapted into film by David Cronenberg.

His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said it was “with great sadness” that Ballard had passed away this morning after several years of ill health.

In early 2005, Arthur published a recent interview with Ballard by longtime enthusiast and counterculture historian V. Vale, whose Re/Search publishing house was just then releasing a new collection of Ballard interviews (J.G. Ballard: Conversations). Author Michael Moorcock, Ballard’s friend and sometime editor, graciously supplied Arthur with a short introduction for the piece.

Here is what Mike wrote:

J.G. BALLARD: Our Greatest Living Visionary Writer
by Michael Moorcock

(originally published in Arthur No. 15/March 2005)

Born in 1930, J.G.Ballard spent his formative years in a Shanghai civilian prison camp, experiences which form the basis of his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, filmed by Steven Spielberg. In England he abandoned his medicine degree at Cambridge to become a technical journalist. His first stories in New Worlds, Science Fantasy and Science Fictions Adventure from 1956 including “The Voices of Time,” “Vermilion Sands” and “Chronopolis” are in The Complete Short Stories of J.G.Ballard (2002). Three novels, The Drowned World (predicting climate change), The Crystal World and The Drought increasingly reflected his interest in surrealist painting. The Terminal Beach in Science Fantasy (1964) marked a new phase, dispensing altogether with the conventions of science fiction.

Appearing in New Worlds, which by then I was editing, “The Assassination Weapon” (1966) was the first of Ballard’s “condensed novels” where iconographic personalities and events became the basis of narrative. Other stories included “The Atrocity Exhibition Weapon,” “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe” and “Plan For The Assassination of Jaqueline Kennedy” in New Worlds and, increasingly, in literary magazines such as Ambit and Transatlantic Review. His work encountered considerable hostility in the United States, where its irony went largely undetected. Doubleday, the publisher of The Atrocity Exhibition, ordered all copies pulped after it was printed. It eventually appeared from Grove Press in 1970. Meanwhile, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” became the basis of a UK court case, while his “Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race,” “lost” by his U. S. agent, eventually appeared in New Worlds and Evergreen Review.

He remains a seminally controversial writer hugely admired by the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, Angela Carter, Iain Sinclair and most of the best science fiction writers. Described as pornographic and psychotic when first reviewed, Crash (1973) was filmed by David Cronenberg starring James Spader in 1996. Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975) continued similar themes of our psychological and sexual relationship with contemporary phenomena and iconography. The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) and Hello America (1981) are enjoyable satires; his autobiographical The Kindness of Women (1991) was a sequel to Empire of the Sun. Recent novels like Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000) and Millennium People (2003) continue to develop techniques describing his unique experience and his notion that contemporary bourgeousie have become the new slave class.

Today he lives in the same London suburb where he settled some 45 years ago and, as a widower, raised three children, eschewing electronics and still working at his typewriter. Combining the creative insight and originality of a modern William Blake, Ballard is our greatest living visionary writer.

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