J. G. Ballard, 1930-2009

One of the greatest and most peculiar SF writers has died. Henry Farrell’s post at Crooked Timber is a concise look back:

I preferred his early novels, and (even more) his short stories to his later work. I read “The Voices of Time” (probably in one of the old Spectrum SF collections) when I was seven or eight, and didn’t understand it at all, but somehow, it caught me and haunted me. Much of his later work read like different versions of the same novel. But they were often very funny–his over the top plotlines with their garden-turned-into-chaos and insane reformer-cum-dictator-wannabes were intended to be satirical. I have a particular fondness for Super-Cannes, if only because of how it jumps up and down in glee on the corpse of the notion of social capital. His work had its problems–most obviously in its depiction of women which was at best chilly, at worst rather worse than that. But he was genuinely a great writer, in the sense that Borges described Kafka as being a great writer–he created his own precursors (but these summoned ancestors were to be found less in literature as such than in what he perceptively called “invisible literature”–all the bureaucratic forms and minutiae that define our lives). We all live in the decaying aftermath of the Space Age that he, better perhaps than anyone else, described. If he was a novelist who was better at describing landscapes and extreme social situations than people, he captured, as a result, something important about an era in which individuality simply doesn’t mean as much as it once seemed to. There are bits of the world (and not-unimportant ones) that are Ballardian–if you’ve read him, you experience the shock of recognition when you see them.


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