My first connection with the work of Ballard was via Blue Peter. Seems odd that one of the greatest novelists and philopsophers of the twentieth century should end up on a children’s programme in the 80s. The fluff piece didn’t talk about Ballard’s dystopian views or anger at growing consumerism. The bitter irony was that it was selling a lifestyle. A boy had been ‘plucked our of obscurity’ (yes, children’s programmes once delved beyond the monosyllabic) to play the lead role in the adaptation of Ballard’s ‘Empire of the Sun’.
It was a very young Christian Bale and when I saw the film I was mesmerised by the powerful imagery, performance and themes that ran throughout. This was a character that was thrown into a horrific world. A character robbed of their childhood, banished from being an adult by people who thought they knew better, and was used, manipulated and abandoned by every adult around them. What big ideas, what a big film! An underrated piece of cinema.
As in many cases, the film led me to the book and the book was even more powerful, detailing JG Ballard’s childhood in China, the invading Japanese army and the POW camps, the death marches and the coming of the atomic age. There is no doubt that Ballard owed his ability to tackle dystopia to this point in his life. What is surprising is that he wrote at all after such a terrible point in our history.
I will miss Ballard’s writing. I am such a Ballard fan that I have a first edition of Interzone which includes an insert with a Ballard story. This is rare! Very rare! And very good. Ballard led me to other writers, Olaf Stapledon, M.P. Shiel, Christopher Priest and John Christopher. Yet, it is such books as ‘Empire of the Sun’ and ‘The Drowned World’ that will always stick with me. Regardless of the genre Ballard wrote in, he constantly looked at the folly of man, in their growing consumerism and disengagement from everything around them. He dealt with these themes on a level we could all access, he placed his characters in our shopping malls, our motorways, our cities, towns and homes. I will miss not being able to read any new work from him.
You can read the obituary here.