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Ballard watching over my desk April 20, 2009

Posted by Michael Kowalski in whatever.
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People coming into my office often ask whether that framed portrait hanging over my desk is a picture of my dad. Er, no. It’s JG Ballard.

I will miss Ballard. One of my favourite writers, both for his distinctive stylistic voice (a matter of cadence as much as anything) and for his often remarkable and original subject matter. He wasn’t, mostly, a science fiction writer, but it’s easy to see why he was so often mistaken for one—like them, he worked in the literature of ideas. Just this year in the Guardian, a caption to a picture illustrating a piece on exoplanets used the phrase “some alien world JG Ballard might have dreamed up”. But he wasn’t in the business of dreaming up alien worlds, believing the psychopathology of our own was interesting and bizarre enough.

Going by today’s obits, journalists by and large only read the (fictionalised) memoir; but that was not The Work. If by chance you’ve never read any Ballard (or ONLY read the Shanghai memoir), then the beginning is as good a place to start as any. The Drowned World is his first novel. It’s one of a series of “apocalypse fiction” novels from his early period. Like Philip K Dick, a writer with whom he much in common, Ballard’s work went through a number of “periods” where he would obsessively explore a set of themes and ideas, almost rewriting the same book multiple times. 

I’m guessing Ballard’s work will outlast that of most of his British contemporaries. He wrote engagingly and thoughtfully about contemporary subject matter that nobody else would touch, and that will trump any amount of elegantly written social realism.

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