Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard, R. I. P.

Cult author JG Ballard dies at 78
J G Ballard
Ballard was best known for the novel Empire of the Sun

The author JG Ballard, famed for novels such as Crash and Empire of the Sun, has died aged 78 after a long illness.

His agent Margaret Hanbury said the author had been ill "for several years" and had died on Sunday morning.

Despite being referred to as a science fiction writer, Jim Ballard said his books were instead "picturing the psychology of the future".

His most acclaimed novel was Empire of the Sun, based on his childhood in a Japanese prison camp in China.

Ed here: For those of us who were reading "the magazines" (as they were always referred to back then) we recall that J.G. Ballard's work arrived in the early Sixties with the effect of an invasion. Readers of Fantastic magazine had gotten used to stories slightly more sophisticated than those of its earlier pulp days but nothing prepared us for Ballard (or a number of other giants hitting their stride at the same time--see below).

His prose and people struck me the as the equivalent of so many of the European avant-garde films prominent at the time. He used science fiction and fantasy tropes to show us a world of bleak political failure and broken human connections. I remember stories of his in Fantastic that I'd read over and over again trying to understand how he created his somber effects, too young and ignorant to understand that this wasn't about technique, it was about worldview.

I read him throughout his career though the books I treasure most are those published by Berkley in the first years of work hitting American shores.

Fantastic, with little money and a mediocore reputation, became a major player at the time because of one woman. Here's a sketch of her from Wikipedia:

Cele Goldsmith Lalli (1933 – January 14, 2002) was an American editor. She was the editor of Amazing Stories from 1959 to 1965, Fantastic from 1958 to 1965, and later the Editor-in-Chief of Modern Bride magazine.

Goldsmith began working on science fiction and fantasy magazines under Paul W. Fairman. When Fairman left Ziff-Davis in 1958, Goldsmith took over as editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic. Goldsmith was open to new authors and experimentation in writing. Among her discoveries were Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. Le Guin, Keith Laumer, Sonya Dorman (as a fiction writer), and Roger Zelazny. She was also instrumental in bringing Fritz Leiber out of an early writer's-block-induced retirement (a 1959 issue was devoted entirely to his fiction), and was among the first US editors to publish British author J. G. Ballard.


Phantom of Pulp said...

Very sad.

He was a brilliant man.

My favorites were CRASH,HIGHRISE, and EMPIRE OF THE SUN.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Ed. The mention of Sonya Dorman in the Goldsmith piece rang a bell in me. Are you familiar with her (SD)? I remember her as a poet living in Maine (1970s). I believe I reviewed/enjoyed one of her books. I didn't know she also write in SF.
I'll look into JG Ballard's work.

Ed Lynskey

Ed Gorman said...

I remember reading (and admiring) Sonya Dorman's poetry but I remember her chiefly as an sf writer.

Dean Brierly said...

Sad news. One of my favorite Ballard short stories is "End Game," about an ousted politician awaiting execution in a remote villa being guarded by the man who will kill him. A bit different from his more famous dystopian works, it resonates with dark, metaphorical humor as the men play chess and other mind games until the fatal moment. RIP.

Todd Mason said...

Avram Davidson also published some Ballard. The early '60s might've been a weak period for most of the other magazines in the fantastic fiction field, but Davidson and Goldsmith/Lalli were at least among the best editors their magazines have seen. (I wrote most if not all the Goldsmith entry in WIKIPEDIA...I must admit I don't remember how much of that isn't mine.)

Brendan DuBois said...

Empire of the Sun. What a perfect, disturbing book... and an outstanding film as well.

Man... it seems like the best of us are going away at a quick pace lately, eh?