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Science Fiction Authors > J. G. Ballard

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I'm still relatively new to J. G. Ballard. So far I've read The Drowned World (my review), which I liked a lot, and Concrete Island (my review), which I absolutely loved. For my next Ballard book, I'd like something similar to Concrete Island. Any suggestions?


message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I just ordered a copy of Vermilion Sands. I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit myself to The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard.


message 3: by Jo (new)

Jo | 1093 comments I started reading Ballard a long time ago but I started with some of his more recent novels which are (for me) more disturbing than dystopic, Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes. I've also read his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. I like his style of writing.

I managed to buy his complete stories (but only volume 2) from a book sale but as it's quite thick and too heavy to carry around in my bag i've not got round to reading it yet.


message 4: by Susan (last edited May 21, 2018 01:05PM) (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I generally prefer novels to short stories, so if I'm reading an author's short stories it's a huge compliment. Nevertheless I tend to get bogged down in even the best short story collections.

From what I gather, Vermilion Sands is a short story cycle and I like that. Reading a short story cycle is almost like reading a novel.


message 5: by Dan (last edited May 23, 2018 09:06PM) (new)

Dan If anyone, like me, wishes to sample Ballard's writing, I found the complete texts of The Drowned World (1962) and The Crystal World (1966) available at archive.org. There's even a free copy of Super-Cannes available if you read Spanish. I think I will start with his "The Time Tombs" (1963), described as a "novelette", and available further down the page in an issue of Worlds of If. I'm hoping it might be less dystopian than the two aforementioned novels. I love a good time travel story.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments Hi Dan, I wouldn't describe Concrete Island as dystopian. I'm part of the way through High-Rise and so far I wouldn't call it dystopian either. Frankly, I wouldn't even call them science fiction.


message 7: by Dan (last edited May 23, 2018 05:57PM) (new)

Dan Right. The word on Ballard is that when he writes SF, he writes a dystopia. He writes plenty of mainstream fiction too. His most famous work, Empire of the Sun, is mainstream (some call it autobiographical) fiction. For me, a question is, can you call a person an SF writer if he/she when writing SF only ever employs one subgenre? For example, Turtledove writes only alternate histories when writing SF. Can he be classified as an SF author? I say, "Sure," in both cases, but it is debatable.


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I wouldn't call those books science fiction, but I wouldn't call them mainstream either. They're too weird. I can see why they would be lumped in with science fiction. A lot of things get lumped in with science fiction that have no fictional science. I suppose it's fair to call them speculative fiction.

I wouldn't say a writer who only writes in one subgenre isn't a science fiction writer. That's just a writer you only pursue if you're really into that subgenre. I have no special interest in dystopian stories. After I read The Drowned World, I liked it a lot but I wasn't sure if I wanted to read The Drought. I wanted to try something different by Ballard and Concrete Island caught my attention. I wish I knew how best to characterize its subgenre, but whatever it is, High-Rise fits in too. There's no science, no fantasy, no alternate reality, but the events that unfold, while not impossible, are too weird to be called realistic.


message 9: by Dan (last edited May 24, 2018 12:39PM) (new)

Dan I heard on NPR today that an academic study (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michae...) proved the human mind retains printed material better than it does words read from a computer screen. So I took the unusual step today of printing out Ballard's "The Time Tombs" (freely available where I said it was in message five above) to read.

It is a short story, fourteen pages long, with two additional pages of Virgil Finlay illustrations, the first of which is absolutely stunning, especially printed out on a full page in color. (Maybe I should frame it.)

People have been waxing on about how memorable and elegant Ballard's high writing style is. If so, I saw little indication of it in this story. I have been a professional editor and believe I know good style when I see it. Ballard makes rookie mistakes everywhere in his prose, at least at this early point in his career.

Allow me to provide three of many horribly written sentences by way of illustration. Here is the first sentence of the story, the one writers are the most careful with since it creates the first impression the reader has of a writer's abilities to be worth the reading time:

Usually, in the evenings, while
Traxel and Bridges drove off into
the sand-sea, Shepley and the Old
Man would wander among the
gutted time-tombs, listening to them
splutter faintly in the dying light as
they recreated their fading personas,
the deep crystal vaults flaring briefly
like giant goblets.

Every fifty
yards or so they stopped to clear
the sand that submerged the track,
but slowly they wound off among
the dunes and lakes, here and there
the onion-shaped cupola of a solitary
time-tomb rearing up into the sky
beside them, fragments of the crystal
casements twinkling in the sand
like minuscule stars.

Or, read this for a short example:

Shepley darted forward, put his foot
up on the mono-rail just as it began
to vibrate loudly.

The first problem with Ballard's prose is that it is highly unconventional and thus draws attention to itself, making the reader think more about the way something is being written than being able to focus on the content of the information being conveyed. The second is that he is making a novice's mistake in thinking long sentences equal elegant sentences. Therefore, rather than end a sentence with a period and then begin a new sentence with a capital letter, Ballard just places a comma, and then rams a new, barely associated thought on in order to keep the sentence going. If they're not quite run-on sentences, technically speaking, they're its kissing cousin. The first two examples are one sentence each, though they should be three or four, minimum.

The third sentence is just a conjunction away from being acceptable, but is provided as a stark illustration of Ballard's aversion for your and my friend, that humble punctuation mark known as the period, making commas ubiquitous, causing much need of words ending with -ing, sowing confusion as sentence upon sentence presents itself in the Ballard form.

Enough said on the clumsy prose.

The story itself was quite memorable, despite the writing. The characters were very realistically portrayed, and I felt I knew each of them even though Ballard never told, always showed, by rendering to us their actions and statements. The situation was also intriguing. How does our protagonist, a newcomer to the illegal art of tomb robbing, protect himself against more experienced tomb robbers on his team who are not at all above robbing the protagonist, if allowed? To make things more challenging, the protagonist has only one friend on his side, the easily recognizable Campbell archetype of a hero's journey known as the mentor, only this mentor is not too reliable, and the protagonist has no hero's ally. This is a cleverly told story with decent suspense, complete with not-obvious resolution. Good stuff! I also like a lot of Ballard's almost poetic word choices: "fragments of the crystal casements twinkling in the sand".

So, is this story really SF? Yes, technically, for the sole reason it takes place on a planet named Vergil, of which no meaningful background details are supplied, or needed. The story reads like it could be set in the universe of the television story, Firefly, only with even less SF trappings than there because the story is so short. The SF elements that exist in the story could easily be changed to normal elements without affecting anything at all, which would thus make it fiction. Is the story a dystopia? Perhaps. I don't find the world the protagonist lives in, to the limited extent that it's portrayed, particularly appealing. However, there's little discussion of how things came to be the way they are, certainly no moral to draw. We're also seeing the dark side of the society through the seamy criminal element of the principal characters, who have fallen from professorships, one of whom is addressed by the honorific "Doctor" with no irony intended. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way society-wide, which, if it isn't, would make this story more noire-ish than a true dystopia.

Well, one thing we can agree on so far: Ballard's work defies classification and makes for an interesting reading experience. Like poetry, it is possible to read his stories once all the way through, enjoy them, then read them again right away and see enough new things, facets missed the first time, to not become bored. I'll definitely read more of him.


message 10: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments Dan wrote: "I heard on NPR today that a recently concluded academic study proved that the human mind retains printed material better than it does words read from a computer screen...."

That's definitely true for me. I can surf the internet for hours, but when I want to read a book, I need a paper book.

It took me a little while to warm up to Ballard. The first thing I read was a short story (I can't recall the title) and I thought it was original and clever, but I wasn't sure if I liked it. I'm glad I gave Ballard a second chance.

I don't actually remember the writing style of the short story (which says something about it), but Ballard's style caught me immediately when I read The Drowned World.

He does indeed favor long sentences, which I like as long as they're done well, but he begins The Drowned World with a simple sentence.

Soon it would be too hot.”

Dan wrote: "Good stuff! I also like a lot of Ballard's almost poetic word choices: "fragments of the crystal casements twinkling in the sand"...."

Yes, language like that is why I'll probably read The Drought and The Crystal World. Here's one I underlined when I read The Drowned World.

... a forest of giant fucus floated delicately from their pedestals, some of the fronds over ten feet tall, exquisite marine wraiths that fluttered together like the spirits of a sacred neptunian grove.”

The imagery is different in Concrete Island and High-Rise, but the style is still recognizably Ballardian (if I can say that based on two and a half books).

I'm curious to see how Ballard adapts the richly descriptive style of The Drowned World to The Drought and The Crystal World.


message 11: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 165 comments Dan wrote: "Right. The word on Ballard is that when he writes SF, he writes a dystopia. He writes plenty of mainstream fiction too. His most famous work, Empire of the Sun, is mainstream (some cal..."

Jeez, you have this idea fixe that Ballard is a dystopian writer. He has not only written that kind of science fiction.

Read his short story collection _Vermillion Sands_. The stories are about futuristic art forms.


message 12: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 165 comments There is a weakness though in Ballard's writing, at least early in his career. Martin Amis, in his introduction to the complete short stories of Ballard, said that Ballard had a tin ear for dialogue.


message 13: by Dan (last edited May 24, 2018 06:51PM) (new)

Dan "Tin ear for dialogue"? I disagree! The dialogue was one of the best things about "The Time Tombs" (1963). I'll give you an example I particularly liked. Shepley, the protagonist, is being pestered by Traxel to accompany him. Sheply would rather not, but can't refuse outright because Traxel is the authority figure.

"Not tonight," Shepley demurred
hurriedly. "I'll, er, walk down to the
tomb-beds later myself.

"Twenty miles?" Traxel reminded
him, watching reflectively. "Very
well." He zipped up his jacket and
strode away towards the half-track.
As they moved off he shouted:
"Shepley, I meant what I said!"

Shepley watched them disappear
among the dunes. Flatly, he repeated:
"He means what he says."

The Old Man shrugged, sweeping
some sand off the table. "Traxel...
he's a difficult man. What are you
going to do?" The note of reproach
in his voice was mild, realizing that
Shepley's motives were the same...

Does that bring the scene to life, or what? I think when Amis wrote his criticism, the style of writing dialogue then may have been more on the nose, characters saying exactly what they mean, etc. Ballard's dialogue sounds more authentic to me because it's what people would really say given situations. I think Ballard may have been ahead of his time in his dialogue writing abilities, something maybe not recognized by Amis.


message 14: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I just finished reading The Drought (review here).

I was drawn into the story immediately, mostly because of the characters Catherine and Philip Jordan. Towards the end of the first part, my enthusiasm waned. The language did not excite me like the language of The Drowned World did, but the novel picked up in the second part and by the third and final part I was as fascinated as I was at the start.

I see improvement in Ballard’s storytelling from The Drowned World to The Drought and now I’m eager to read The Crystal World. However, I’m not sure where to go from there.


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 614 comments If I were you, I'd read Vermilion Sands early on. Stuart describes it as
"a wonderfully languid and ironic view of the strange and sometimes comical lives of the residents of Vermilion Sands. It might be more accurate to call it artistic fantasy than SF, but labels really don’t do it justice. Instead, I suggest you read it for yourself. You will not be disappointed." Amen!
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 16: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments Peter wrote: "If I were you, I'd read Vermilion Sands early on. Stuart describes it as "a wonderfully languid and ironic view of the strange and sometimes comical lives of the residents of Vermilion Sands. It mi..."

The only thing I've read by Ballard is The Drowned World. It was good, but it had some issues. It didn't encourage me to read more Ballard. Is he worth reading? What would be my best choice for my next Ballard novel? Vermilion Sands?


message 17: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments So I just read the full thread of this topic, above. I guess I'll need to decide for myself how good he is. Anyhow, I'd still like suggestions on the best Ballard to read next.


message 18: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 165 comments Buck wrote: "So I just read the full thread of this topic, above. I guess I'll need to decide for myself how good he is. Anyhow, I'd still like suggestions on the best Ballard to read next."

I think that Ballard is very good in the short form.

The Complete Short Stories by J.G. Ballard

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/sho...


message 19: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments Peter wrote: "If I were you, I'd read Vermilion Sands early on..."

I started reading Vermilion Sands a while back and I just wasn’t getting into it, so I laid it aside after only two stories. I hope to pick it up again someday when I can appreciate it more.


message 20: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments Buck wrote: "So I just read the full thread of this topic, above. I guess I'll need to decide for myself how good he is. Anyhow, I'd still like suggestions on the best Ballard to read next."

I think The Drought is a good follow-up to The Drowned World. My feeling was that the descriptive and metaphorical language was better in The Drowned World, but the story and the characters were better in The Drought


message 21: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 614 comments My other Ballard favorite is his semi-autobiographical "Empire of the Sun", which gets pretty intense. But you will see the source for a lot of those odd books he sold as SF/F early on. I much prefer the source!


message 22: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments Peter wrote: "My other Ballard favorite is his semi-autobiographical "Empire of the Sun", which gets pretty intense. But you will see the source for a lot of those odd books he sold as SF/F early on..."

Great suggestion Peter. I see the same themes in all of the novels I have read. I think he’s someone I’d like to get to know.


message 23: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I just finished reading The Crystal World (review here). I didn’t like it as much as The Drowned World or The Drought, but it had its moments.


message 24: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments I’ve read one J. G. Ballard novel every year since I discovered him. I did not intend to read one per year. It just turned out that way. But I like it so I’m now in the process of choosing a Ballard novel for 2021.

2016 The Drowned World
2017 Concrete Island
2018 High-Rise
2019 The Drought
2020 The Crystal World


message 25: by Susan (last edited Jun 12, 2022 11:13AM) (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 130 comments My 2021 review of Hello America .

My 2022 review of Running Wild.


message 26: by Steven (new)

Steven | 32 comments Of J.G. Ballard, I’ve read:
Concrete Island
Crystal World
High Rise
Crash
Running Wild

Concrete Island is an unusual novel where a guy got stuck on a “concrete island” where it is in the center of all cars coming and going. I don’t he was really stuck. But it does seem that way.
Crystal World is interesting in concept of what might happen when it came to climate change. There is a crystal cave situated somewhere in a Latin American country. The temperature in the cave is hot. Large crystals were razor sharp if you’re not careful in your explorations.
High Rise is a spooky novel where anyone living in high rise apartment building could turn tribal and have their little societies.
Crash is a novel about an obsession of car crashes as a sexual exercises in carmageddon. Either you love it or hate it. It’s a good one. Not exactly for everyone but…
Running Wild is a good and unusual short mystery novel about the people living in a gated community getting whacked. People from law enforcement sent a guy to investigate. They figured him for a bland, dumb, fall guy who will turn in an a report full of blandishments. But from the report he wrote, he’s sharper than they thought. Interesting deduction when you read it. My favorite scene is where a lady running a treadmill getting electrocuted on one.


message 27: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 614 comments I'll stick with his "Empire of the Sun" as my Personal Favorite. In fact, it's working its way up in the Periodic Reread list! I have more comments upthread....


message 28: by Steven (new)

Steven | 32 comments I’ve yet to read Empire of the Sun. I’ve other Ballards I’ve yet to read as well.


message 29: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 614 comments I DNFd a lot of the older ones. "Empire of the Sun" grabbed me right from the start. If memory serves I've read it twice -- & may read it again, a rarety for me. Outstanding (if rather grim) book.


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