J.G. Ballard

Ballard didn’t go to cons, do speeches, or hang around with the literary crowd. He mostly stayed home. The only exception was a tour for The Day of Creation. He came up to the office for an interview and lunch in May 1988 (his publicity handler was a close friend of mine). It was the only time I met him. He was friendly, answered questions, and even liked lunch. He talked about his relationship to SF and how he considered himself an SF writer even when not writing SF. Here are some quotes:

I’ve always thought of myself as a science fiction writer, and I’ve admired a great number of SF writers over the years. I’ve always believed that science fiction was immensely important, more the true literature of the 20th century…

Science fiction is part of a larger stream. The way the imaginative writer sees the world is the way the SF writer sees the world. So a book like The Day of Creation, which isn’t science fiction, or even Empire of the Sun, which clearly isn’t, nevertheless does have the same kind of unconscious mechanism at work, generating novels, as in earlier books of mine like The Drowned World and The Crystal World…

SF writers tend to work in a cautionary mode, to put up street signs saying, ‘Danger: Trends ahead.’ That’s an important social and imaginative function, undervalued by mainstream critics, who are full of praise for great masters like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, and with justice, but they’ve tended to underestimate the function of modern science fiction in providing a continuous running commentary on what is going on. Over the last 40-50 years, even if the average reader is unable to name a single SF writer, most people have absorbed the overall warnings, the overall picture of the future that SF writers have been conveying…

But I’ve wished science fiction could enlarge its scope, its pool of ideas and vocabulary and ambitions. What I regret is the way that in recent years –- maybe I’m showing my age here –- the science fiction of the ’50s (much of which would have difficulty getting published these days), that sort of realistic concern for what is going on, is rather out of tune with all the sword and sorcery and futuresque sagas masquerading as science fiction…

Not only the realism of the ’50s, but also the special enthusiasm of British SF in the ’60s, seems to have departed from the field today…

It was a wonderful afternoon, and I’m sorry it ended so soon.

One thought on “J.G. Ballard

  • May 8, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I’ve always loved Ballard’s work…recently reread “The Wind From Nowhere” which the critics seemed not to like, but which I found thrilling.”The Drowned Giant” is classic.

    Did you prepare a birthday cake for JGB when he visited? It seems to me you had
    a cake with a bloody knife stuck in it, or something similar…?


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