Monday, 20 April 2009

JG Ballard RIP

Even though I knew he was terminally ill, I still feel very sad at the news that JG Ballard has died, at the age of 78.

I always associate JGB with that period of my life around the age of 15-20, when my horizons expanded from a small-town working-class childhood and I developed an almost insatiable cultural hunger.

I came to Ballard through Michael Moorcock. Having read a bit of MM's fantasy stuff, I discovered his Jerry Cornelius material and was immediately captivated. Reading around the subject (in those black-and-white pre-internet days), I soon became aware of the history of New Worlds, and got drawn to that "sci-fi that wasn't sci-fi".

While the imagination and pop sensibility of the Cornelius stories lit up my brain in one way, Ballard's clinical prose style and exploration of "inner space" exerted a hypnotic hold over me. His work subsequently led me to Burroughs and the surrealists, and later to the notion of psychogeography, sparse electronic music and writers like Will Self and Magnus Mills.

I remember getting The Atrocity Exhibition out of Chorley library when I was around 16, as part of the pile of books I would take to Ireland each summer. Even though a lot of the subtext was beyond me at that age, I knew somehow that the fragmented narrative and jagged imagery were drawing a map of the mind that I found strangely compelling. Later, the images that conclude The Unlimited Dream Company stuck in my imagination like few books before or since.

I returned to JGB fairly recently, after The Drowned World featured prominently on The Martians and Us - a three-part look at British SF on BBC Three. Along the way, I discovered the perfect soundtrack for his writing: Selected Ambient Works Vol. II by the Aphex Twin. Just try it, and you'll know what I mean...

(Image taken from - a fantastic resource that "attempts to formulate a world view refracted through the writings of an author who has continually and accurately predicted the bewildering pace of change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries")

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