Magazines & Anthologies
Rampant Loon Media LLC
Our Beloved Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Follow us on Facebook!


Read them free on Kindle Unlimited!





Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

J. G. Ballard: Not a Retrospective or a Eulogy

by Guy Stewart

“…a post-modern provocateur…” (Jason Heller)

“…I didn’t process a Ballardian piece of fiction; instead it processed me.” (Jeff VanderMeer)

“…dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes…” (COLLINS English Dictionary)

“…seems to address a different - and disused - part of the reader’s brain.” (Martin Adams)

“His late novels never flinch from addressing the ‘elective psychopathy’ that increasingly riddles the anaesthetised world we are now beginning to inhabit. It is a fate Ballard had been predicting for half a century. His fiction was perhaps too invariant for him to rank as the greatest literary figure of his generation but of all the writers of significance in the last decades of the 20th century, he was maybe the widest awake.” (John Clute at Boing Boing)

“…celebrates the neglected virtues of the glossy, lurid and bizarre.” (the author himself)

Clearly James Graham Ballard was a base-stone of the pyramid of speculative fiction. He held space beside the others whose work set the foundation for the field today: Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, Frank Herbert, John Brunner, Harlan Ellison, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Andre Norton, Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Vonda N. McIntyre, Kate Wilhelm, James Tiptree, Jr. and others both visible and invisible, on the pyramid’s face and in its depths.

Others have written eloquently of him. He has written eloquently of himself.

I have nothing to add except to relate the experience of reading him as a young teenager. I discovered SF in sixth grade with the book, Spaceship Under The Apple Tree, by Louis Slobodkin. I proceeded from there to Rocketship Galileo, The Zero Stone, A Wrinkle in Time, The White Mountains, and anything else I could find in my junior high library. From the public library, I tried Stranger in a Strange Land, and put it down after about four pages. Dune was daunting and way over my fourteen-year-old head. Star Trek, which I started watching with my dad in 1968, wasn’t in print yet. I saw 2001 in the theater in 1970, and didn’t have a clue, except that the spaceships were cool.

Finally, in 1972, I was allowed to go to the Mall bookstore alone — it was a B. Dalton at the time — and after searching the shelves, I found this:

Intrigued by the cover and the titles of the stories, I bought it and read it.

J. G. Ballard was my first exposure to “adult” science fiction. I don’t remember being shocked (I’d grown up in a blue-collar, culturally Christian, construction worker mentality and vocabulary, sports-mad family. At the time, I wasn’t particularly church-minded and I was beginning to fall in love with science.) I don’t remember being overwhelmed or blown away. Dystopian for me was Gorge Orwell’s 1984, which for my young mind was a scary, definite future only a few years away. Ballard’s visions in Vermillion Sands didn’t shock or startle me.

Reading the book didn’t make me or break me or blow me away or shake my world. What Vermillion Sands did do was usher me into an entirely different part of the pyramid. It was the world of adult SF, a world I inhabit to this day. I suppose you could say that I was never the same again. After Ballard’s book, I began to range into Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day (now there was novel to keep away from adolescent boys!) which I read at fifteen; Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which I read when I was twenty-something; Towing Jehovah, by James Morrow (which alternately irritated me and made me laugh) in my early thirties; and Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) which I read once when I was 18 and again when I was in my late thirties.

While I prefer space opera, adventure and biological SF (like Julie Czerneda’s and C.J. Cherryh’s work), I still step into the literary now and then. Butler’s The Parable of the Sower was full of wonder, Sheri S. Tepper’s Six Moon Dance was entrancing, and Bruce Bethke’s Headcrash was shockingly hysterical.

Without Ballard to usher me into the dark underground tombs of the pyramid, I might have never found my way out of the bright, rough-and-tumble star systems of Drake’s Honor Harrington (whom I enjoy), Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan (whom I adore!) and Brin’s Uplift Universe (the writer I most wish to emulate). While reading them exclusively is neither a bad thing nor something anyone should be ashamed of, the books laid on the part of the pyramid’s foundation that rose above Ballard’s foundation stone are books with vision. Sometimes bizarre vision, sometimes startling vision, and sometimes senseless vision — but they all attempt to look at the world in way no one ever had before.

Therein lies Ballard’s legacy in my small life: he played the part of the lowly usher. He was kin to every other usher in every church in North America on every Sunday morning, who plays a tiny, seemingly insignificant role. Certainly an invisible role and subservient to that played by an organist, pastor or audiovisual director. Yet without the ushers, who would smile in sincere greeting? Who would pass out the directions for worship? Who would escort late arrivers to their seats so that they won’t feel alone? Who would collect the money? Without ushers, people wouldn’t be able to smoothly transition from the material world to the spiritual world.

Without J. G. Ballard, there would have been no one to usher me from the world of juvenile science fiction into the powerful, diverse pyramid of adult science fiction. Without J. G. Ballard, I suppose you could say I would not be the man I am today, so I imagine that after all that work avoiding it, I’ve somehow managed to write a eulogy anyway.

Guy Stewart has sold fiction to Analog, as well as to Christian and youth-oriented magazines. He blogs about Christianity, Faith, Science Fiction, and Writing at faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com.
blog comments powered by Disqus