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J.G. Ballard 1930 - 2009

Beaks here...

Ballardian: (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (J.G. Ballard; born 1930), the British novelist, or his works. (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

You have triumphed as an artist when your aesthetic is so original and so influential, readers have no choice but to coin a word for it. And so as we say goodbye to the great J.G. Ballard, who passed away Sunday at the age of seventy-eight, we should take comfort in the fact that his view of the world will live on not only in his work, but in the works of others. And not just in film and literature. As The Guardian's critics have demonstrated in this must-read overview, Ballard's grim, distanced, paranoid take on the modern world impacted everything from television, music, visual art and even architecture. Having only read CRASH and EMPIRE OF THE SUN myself, I must admit that much of what can be identified as "Ballardian" I have generally attributed to other artists. This is especially true of David Cronenberg, who, before he adapted CRASH, was paying brilliant homage to Ballard with the unsettling likes of THE BROOD, VIDEODROME and DEAD RINGERS. I didn't get around to CRASH until I learned Cronenberg would be making it; when I did, it was something of a "Eureka" moment. It was like discovering Funkadelic after digesting years of hip-hop. "This is where he got it!" As I waded through CRASH, I didn't know whether to be comforted or horrified by the existence of another transgressive artist like Cronenberg. Finally, I grew to accept it. After all, I wasn't devouring these perverse spectacles because I was utterly repulsed by them; there had to be an element of arousal as well. Ballard's come-on was his prose: CRASH is a dazzlingly depressing read. EMPIRE OF THE SUN, while a little more accessible, is still plenty troubling for the way it uses the dehumanizing horrors of war as a backdrop for a boy's coming of age. Like much of my generation, I came to Ballard's novel after seeing Steven Spielberg's film, and was stunned by the disparity in tone. I still love both (and Ballard seemed pleased with Spielberg's take as well), but the book is far more indelible. And that is all I feel qualified to say about Ballard. I hope one day to delve further into his writing. Please share your thoughts in the talkback below.

Readers Talkback
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  • April 20, 2009, 9:09 p.m. CST


    by shodan6672

    Rest in peace. Amazing writer.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:16 p.m. CST

    Well he had a long life. And we will remember him.

    by Cotton McKnight

    I don't think you could ask for anything more out of life.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:16 p.m. CST

    His novel High Rise is one of my favorites

    by toadkillerdog

    Showcasing how quickly and easily Man can cast off his mores when confronted by apocalyptic situations - or seemingly so. <p> He was a major talent and will be missed

  • April 20, 2009, 9:19 p.m. CST


    by codymr

  • April 20, 2009, 9:22 p.m. CST

    Who gives a shit? New Pynchon novel in August.

    by axel fff

    Didn't this guy discover the Titanic wreckage? <p> RIP Guy who found the Titanic

  • April 20, 2009, 9:26 p.m. CST

    I give a shit axel fff.

    by WillardGreensThunderballs

    Fuckstick. <p> This is a tremendous loss.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:27 p.m. CST

    A.) This is late...

    by menstrual_blitz

    ...a day late, but christ you guys. <P> B.) the man wrote so many books and you only mention Crash and Empire of the Sun. I know this is primarily a movie site, but you have a whole department dedicated to Comics and there are music reviews now...maybe we can start throwing books into the mix? <P> Ballard was A, if not THE leading voice of the Science Fiction "New Wave" coming out of the UK. <P> The quintessential, must read Ballard book would have to be Drowned World. <P> Did I mention I don't really like Beaks. <P> Still, Ballard is one of my favorites, and he had such a crazy rough life while still producing unique and amazing literature. <P> This is way too little, way too late.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:37 p.m. CST

    I'm most familiar with the great short stories...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...if you stumble upon a collection grab it up. First one I read was about a guy holding out on some gray rocky island with an anti-aircraft type gun mowing down wave after wave of giant attacking killer birds and going slowly crazy. Another good one involved two guys in a giant machine city who decide to try traveling outside/beyond the city...and are very disappointed.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:42 p.m. CST

    axel fff...I hope every dream you have, have had...

    by FlickaPoo

    ...and ever will have dies a slow and flaccid death. Or that you learn better manners. One or the other.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:42 p.m. CST

    Concrete Island

    by knowthyself

    Gotta read more of his stuff. I've only read Concrete Island.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:48 p.m. CST

    beaks weirds me out

    by TheExterminator

    when he mentions hip hop. i want to give him abuse but then i remember he likes hip hop and i can't. pretty derivative really eh beaks

  • April 20, 2009, 9:49 p.m. CST


    by Bastard_In_A_Blanket

    He died yesterday.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:49 p.m. CST

    Cronenberg missed the point.

    by kabong

    Cronenberg, in his movie version of the novel, used automobile crashes as stimulation for the sex lives of the characters. In the novel, the crashes become substitutes for sex. Characters getting their heads crushed into steering binnacles were committing coital acts. <P> Then, to my dismay, J. G. Ballard himself praised Cronenberg's movie as well done. <P> I can only conclude that not only did I understand that novel better than Cronenberg did but I understand it better than Ballard did. <P> Now . . . with Stephen Hawking in hospital, I'll probably take over his Cambridge cosmology duties.

  • April 20, 2009, 9:54 p.m. CST

    Cronenberg gargles balls...

    by shmu65

    Ballard is a God however.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:01 p.m. CST


    by darthSaul666

    I read a few of his books over the years. That's some sad news.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:02 p.m. CST

    Big fan

    by sfgeek

    Crash and Concrete Island are my favs, but he was an amazing writer. Some really effed up ideas and philosophies, but I could dig 'em. And now there are authors who try and mock his style and just do not have the same umph. Such is life... so it goes. Farewell Ballard.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:06 p.m. CST

    Cronenberg missed a good opportunity with Crash

    by Montag666

    He kind of pussed out of showing some of the more interesting aspects of the novel. I can understand leaving out Elisabeth Taylor (eventhough that's one of the more surreal aspects of the novel), but he really fucked up by not including the climactic acid trip and replaced it with that stupid medical tattoo scene. Ironically enough his other movies, especially Videodrome are more Ballardian than his only Ballard adaptation.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:07 p.m. CST

    One thing about Crash the book vs. the 1996 movie

    by darthSaul666

    The book had a plot that never was translated on film. To this day I wonder why you would cut the plot out of a story? Was that suppose to make it better?

  • April 20, 2009, 10:14 p.m. CST

    As a Ballard

    by kesoze4

    I do like the term "Ballardian". With that and Paul Ballard kicking ass, us B-Men are one down but doing well repwise.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:21 p.m. CST

    Thank You, J.G.

    by Cobbio

    For your unswerving, powerfully impactful take on modern times. I read "The Crystal World" a few years back and was blown away by the mind-twistingly vivid imagery of the African River forest. I sometimes found myself having to look away from my book to get my boundaries back. And the story itself... strange, poetic, and movingly unique.<p> Thank you for your advancement of the genre. You'll be missed.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:32 p.m. CST

    Pahlaniuk ripped off Ballard

    by ReportAbuse

    I hadn't thought of this till today but it seems like Chuck Pahlaniuk ripped off Ballard's idea from Crash for his novel "Rant," about a wacky character named Rant Casey (= Tyler Durden redux) who gets involved with, among other things, organized street derbies where participants deliberately crash into each others' cars for kix. I mean, I enjoyed the novel but now I'm wondering what else Pahlaniuk used as "homage."

  • April 20, 2009, 10:53 p.m. CST


    by LongIslandMan

    Your opening statement is so true. Damn. To have a style of writing named after you? RIP Mr. BALLARD.

  • April 20, 2009, 10:54 p.m. CST

    Rant reminded me more of LARPing.

    by gotilk

    And less of Crash. The similarity is obvious, but to mention it and ignore the BILLIONS of murder mysteries clogging the shelves that share almost identical concepts... just makes the comparison seem pointless to me on some level. Rant was a GREAT read and if you've read it you'll know that the similarity ends there.

  • April 20, 2009, 11:13 p.m. CST

    A MAJOR loss—

    by blakindigo

    —another visionary gone. He forced us to confront the anomie that challenged us at end of the 20th Century. Ballard's short story collection "The Terminal Beach” should be required reading, along with his powerful novels. RIP James Graham Ballard and thank you for opening our eyes.

  • April 20, 2009, 11:16 p.m. CST

    Rest in peace, Mr. Ballard.

    by LoneGun

    I read EMPIRE OF THE SUN back in high school along with a series of other famous war novels. I wrote a report about them. EMPIRE OF THE SUN easily ranks with the greatest classics of this genre. It is truly one of the finest novels to come from the experiences of the Second World War. And I agree with Beaks. Spielberg's hugely sentimental film didn't come near the book.

  • April 20, 2009, 11:37 p.m. CST

    Concrete Island

    by The Drude

    One of his best. And I DO like Spielberg's EOTS...

  • April 21, 2009, 12:09 a.m. CST

    Running Wild

    by MaxCalifornia.

    Don't think I understood it, yet I liked it. that possible?

  • April 21, 2009, 12:12 a.m. CST


    by m_reporter

    I'm ashamed to say I haven't read any of his works, but just seeing the list of stuff he wrote makes me feel that the world suffered a great loss.

  • April 21, 2009, 1:02 a.m. CST

    It's sad when

    by Ogmios_the_Eloquent

    you learn of such a prolific and talented artist only when he dies. I feel i need to pay tribute by reading his material now. Althought i don't know his work, i feel it's a great loss for us all. RIP good man.

  • April 21, 2009, 2:05 a.m. CST

    Visionary, original and pushed the boundries. A huge loss.

    by G100

    A truly unique voice has gone. RIP.

  • April 21, 2009, 5:02 a.m. CST

    He shall henceforth be known as...

    by BurnHollywood

    ..."the Author who's CRASH didn't suck ass".

  • April 21, 2009, 5:15 a.m. CST

    axel fff

    by WavingFlagsInSpace

    For your comment you deserve to have the term "twat" thrown in your general direction.<p>J. G. Ballard was one of the most approachable 'famous' writers I have ever had the privilege to meet - he also used to reply to any letters sent his way, which said a lot about him, in my book.<p>'Super-Cannes' and 'Cocaine Nights' are both fantastic reads, and I am delighted that IMDB lists 'High-Rise' as a project in development.

  • April 21, 2009, 5:17 a.m. CST

    EMPIRE great film

    by Six Demon Bag

    unjustly forgotten in spielberg pantheon

  • April 21, 2009, 8:25 a.m. CST


    by Giant Ape Balls

    Try Highrise and Drowned World. They rock.

  • April 21, 2009, 8:42 a.m. CST


    by Yeah I Wrote That

    Awesome news about High Rise in development. I hope it opens with them eating dog.

  • April 21, 2009, 9:11 a.m. CST

    The man sure could describe

    by Series7

    What its like to see your wife beaten up to look like she was in a car accident while having sex with some hobo in the back seat of the car you are driving. And his description of the glistening pearls of cum afterward is something you'll never forget.

  • April 21, 2009, 9:17 a.m. CST

    May He Rest In Peace.

    by maliswan

    What he died from (prostate cancer) took an ugly form the last year or two of his life. I hope he was at least comfortable in the end. Someone help me out but I think his first book "Drowned World" was the first "idea" of our world under water - Basically what "Waterworld" and "A.I." would use for their settings. I could be wrong, but I think he was the first to introduce this image. Also - I think a case could be made for "Concrete Island" being a pre-cursor to "Lost". My thoughts to his family...

  • April 21, 2009, 9:25 a.m. CST

    Concrete Island is an AMAZING book

    by Klytus_I.m_Bored

    What a shame that we've lost Ballard. A truly amazing imagination.

  • April 21, 2009, 9:42 a.m. CST

    The Crystal World - weird but interesting

    by BenBraddock

    Read it years ago but still remember it well.

  • April 21, 2009, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Yes, Beaks, you have to try his other books!

    by quentintarantado

    He's trippy, psychedelic and he has absolutely wonderful prose. I read Concrete Island (guy gets trap in a traffic interchange, and with time grows less and less interested in leaving it), Day of Creation, Empire of the Sun, High Rise (civilization falls apart and the lower half of the building battles the upper half) and many of his short stories, including this freaky one (possibly Garden of Time) where a mob wants to kill this guy and he temporarily holds them back by plucking a crystal rose and time moves backward a bit, till he runs out of roses... Or the one where this scientist examines what happens when you eliminate sleep from people. He finds out it induces a peculiar psychoses....

  • April 21, 2009, 10:05 a.m. CST

    The Atrocity Exhibition

    by Dataset

    I got into Ballard through Joy Division, and he never disappointed. He was a solitary voice, up there with Dick, Burroughs, and Burgess. He will be missed.

  • April 21, 2009, 12:55 p.m. CST

    CRASH the film was great

    by FleshMachine

    just brilliant cinema IMO. (not that other shitty crash)

  • April 21, 2009, 1:01 p.m. CST

    Cocaine nights was awesome

    by npjs55

    tragic end and never to be able to read a new Ballard book.

  • April 21, 2009, 1:45 p.m. CST

    Damn it....

    by kadayi

    I'm not sure whether it's still in print but I highly recommend the 'Vermillion Sands' short story collection if you can find it. It was my first real introduction to Ballard (I've been a voracious consumer since) and it really is quite brilliant. High Rise, Crash and Cocaine nights are also sublime works as well.

  • April 21, 2009, 6:28 p.m. CST

    Roland Emmerich stole everything from J.G.

    by zinc_chameleon

    Read 'The Drowned World' or 'The Wind from Nowhere' and you'll get the point. There aren't heroic happy ending's in Ballard's works; shit happens and things stay that way for ever after.

  • April 21, 2009, 6:42 p.m. CST

    Fucking unprofessional, dying like that

    by Thunderbolt Ross

    Get it together man, fuck sake.

  • April 21, 2009, 7:30 p.m. CST

    Rest in Peace Jim...

    by morGoth

    ...may you ride that big Cadillac of the Sky forever.

  • April 21, 2009, 9:11 p.m. CST

    The Drowned World is still one of my favorite reads

    by Mr Willi

    Got to admit I was surprised to learn he still was alive. Still, it was a great writer, and some of his early sci-fi work is fantastic. He was a sci-fi writer back when sci-fi writers actually know how to write.

  • April 21, 2009, 11:36 p.m. CST

    I want to share this

    by darthSaul666

    I just dug out my copy of the "Unlimited Dream Company" that I picked up a couple of years ago from a second hand bookstore. I have to share something with this community since this level of sentiment is reasonable on this site. I was a HUGE fan of Ballard a few years ago. I read CRASH, CONCRETE ISLAND, COCAINE NIGHTS, and few shorts stories consecutively. Don't let the alliteration dissuade you. Ballard's work is literary GENIUS!!! I had a bit of burn out because I read a lot of his work immediately. When I reflected on his passing I realized that that was a book of his I picked up and thought might have been his best work ever but never finished. I never read Empire of the Sun but had it on special order at my local Indigo Books. I never went back to pick it up because of the aforementioned burnout. Now that the burnout is gone I'm going back to The Unlimited Dream Company mainly because the man was wellspring for genre fiction.... Shit!!! elements of his novel CRASH had elements that were in Stephen King's Misery a decade before that book was published. Anyone remember the conspiracy to kill Elizabeth Taylor..... The plot to the novel Crash? I spoiled a book, but that was in the synopsis of the copy I bought. Ballard's prose was like a looking at paintings in a gallery. Culture, as it exists today, lost a forefather. PS... Axel fff Stick to miscasting flamings of Scar Joe in Iron Man 2... And I will say you're full of shit.

  • April 22, 2009, 1:16 a.m. CST

    Peace to Ballard and condolences to his

    by Dingbatty

    family and friends. Readers will miss his uncompromising, unique vision.

  • April 22, 2009, 10:06 a.m. CST

    if you can at all

    by emeraldboy

    go to the channel 4 website and on thier news section watch the interview with martin amis about JG ballard. Ballards writing was precient not like welles or dick but he more than any other writer shaped the world around us and wanred us all about the consequences. his whole life was shaped by the things, truly horrific things he saw in shanghai as a young boy and young teen.

  • April 22, 2009, 12:07 p.m. CST

    Ballard = my favorite writer

    by Friendo

    To the uninitiated I always recommend his short story collection. I think the short story shows Ballard at his best and I have reread them many times over the years. -

  • April 22, 2009, 12:39 p.m. CST

    Rip Mr Ballard

    by klag

    Kindness of women is a beautiful book.Thank you sir.Rest in peace.

  • May 20, 2009, 9:02 p.m. CST

    one thing that's cool about Ballard...

    by The Amazing G

    is if you at Christian Bale at the end of Empire Of The Sun and you see how crazy he looks, well that kid grew up to write crazy science fiction stories!