Author J.G. Ballard died of prostate cancer yesterday, at the age of 78. Ballard wrote over a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories. Ballard is probably most famous for his 1984 epic Empire of the Sun, which draws heavily on his childhood experiences during WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai, but here at the Biblioklept we love his dystopian visions the most. Ballard’s early books like The Drowned World and short-story collection The Terminal Beach extend traditional adventure novels into strange dystopias and bizarre thought experiments. From the get-go, Ballard’s “sci-fi” (if you want to call it that) was less concerned with alien intelligences than it was with our internal and collective psychologies, and how we react to an increasingly mediated world. Hence novels like Crash, where human sexuality melds into technological fetishism, or The Atrocity Exhibition, a fragmented novel exploring the intersection of celebrity and Armageddon. Later novels like Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes respond to an increasingly paranoid and disconnected world, with a sardonic humor that is ultimately more frightening than soothing. Ballard never sought to alleviate or mock or answer to an increasingly complex and increasingly absurd world–he just dissected it and extrapolated it beyond most of our dim imaginations.
Ballard belongs to a select counter-tradition of writers and artists, fitting neatly between William Burroughs and William Gibson. Like his strange brothers Philip K. Dick and Thomas Disch, Ballard will always have a place in the avant-garde sci-fi cannon, and it’s likely that that place will only grow. Ballard was still writing up to his death, and his last novel Kingdom Come, a book that detailed the descent of consumerism into a type of fascism was as relevant as ever. Indeed, Ballard was far ahead of his time; as our world catches up to his visions, we will surely find an increasing relevancy in his body of work. He will be missed.