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Reader’s Den, Biblio File

"The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard"


Sex x technology = the future.

 Welcome to the Reader’s Den! 

This month’s selection is the formidable tome, The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard.

The late, great Ballard died only last year: April 21, 2009. His NY Times obituary is here, and, as it states, “The prescience of Mr. Ballard’s work and its harsh conflation of the present and the future often resulted in comparisons to writers like Huxley or Orwell."

I would like to caution against such easy appraisals. While Ballard undoubtedly originated and developed as a “science fiction” (or SF, as he would have it) writer, his thematic material and subtle, caustic wit allowed him to transcend the weak and underdeveloped classifications typical of genre-writing. Rather, in both style and content, one can read Ballard’s short stories and bear witness to the authentic Aufhebung, or sublation, he forged between his imaginative visions and his life’s work.

Let’s not digress too much—we’ll get to discussing Ballard’s writing plenty. If his name sounds vaguely familiar to you, there’s probably a good reason for it: Ballard’s distinctive aesthetic has proved to have enormous impact in music, television and the arts, and two of his books were produced into major Hollywood films (1996’s Crash and 1987’s Empire of the Sun). Also, a Ballard-inspired art exhibition just debuted in London this past month.

For more biographical background, you may view a video on Ballard’s early life and experience in a Chinese interment camp, here.

The late, eminent and controversial French philosopher Jean Baudrillard described Ballard’s novel Crash as “neither fiction nor reality—a kind of hyper-reality has abolished both,” and “the first great novel of the universe of simulation, the world that we will be dealing with from now on”. Baudrillard's critique of Ballard's fiction in relation to the "condition" of postmodernism is a worthwhile read!

Once you get your copy of The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard and start reading, I think you’ll understand just what Baudrillard is talking about.

Because of limited time, we will only be reading selections from the Complete volume. While I encourage you to read as much as his stories as possible, and of course to investigate his novels and memoirs, we’ll just be going over these disturbing gems this first week:

  • Introduction by Martin Amis
  • The Concentration City (p. 23)
  • Now:Zero (p. 96)
  • The Last World of Mr. Goddard (p. 196)
  • Mr. F is Mr. F. (p. 255)
  • The Man on the 99th Floor (p. 405)
  • The Subliminal Man (p. 412)
  • The Venus Hunters (p. 495)

Feel free to read as many or as little you like: Enjoy!


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Can you really describe Baudrillard's comments as "critique"? He doesn't seem to be doing that. Rather, his piece seems to almost eulogize Ballard's novel for its distinctiveness from cliched Sci-Fi and how it seemingly re-thinks how we can write science fiction, in terms of content and theme. Indeed, it was his essay that turned me onto Ballard and his great work in the first place, though it seems Ballard wasn't too enthused to return the compliment to him.

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