J.G. Ballard

By: Peggy Nelson
November 15, 2012

The early years of J.G. BALLARD (James Graham Ballard, 1930–2009) rival anything in his books for science fictional dystopias. Born in Shanghai to English parents, Ballard was only 12 when he was interred with his family in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, leaving him with an unshakable belief in the shakiness of reality. Discarding psychiatry and medicine for a career in science fiction, much of his prolific output investigates what lurks just below our allegedly civilized constructs. From the sampled simulacra of The Atrocity Exhibition to the twisted steel erotics of Crash, from the monstrous medicinal manipulations of Super-Cannes to the delicate aesthetics of Vermillion Sands, from a childhood hijacked by the war machine in Empire of the Sun to a “new normal” of superstorms today in The Drowned World, Ballard plumbed the multistory mediascapes of our carparks and ourselves. But despite his diverse dystopias he embraced their silver-screened linings: liberation can be destabilizing, but destabilization can be liberating. Propelled by dark humor and acute insight, and truculently semi-detached, Ballard lived to see his name adjectivally appended to the 20th century. His message still resonates: Far beyond genre or even pages, it’s images all the way down.

GOLDEN-AGE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: Golden Age Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1934–1963 | Robert Heinlein | Karel Capek | William Burroughs | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Clifford D. Simak | H.P. Lovecraft | Olaf Stapledon | Philip K. Dick | Jack Williamson | George Orwell | Boris Vian | Bernard Wolfe | J.G. Ballard | Jorge Luis Borges |Poul Anderson | Walter M. Miller, Jr. | Murray Leinster | Kurt Vonnegut | Stanislaw Lem | Alfred Bester | Isaac Asimov | Ray Bradbury | Madeleine L’Engle | Arthur C. Clarke | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.

NEW WAVE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: 75 Best New Wave (1964–1983) Sci-Fi Novels | Back to Utopia: Fredric Jameson’s theorizing about New Wave sci-fi | Douglas Adams | Poul Anderson | J.G. Ballard | John Brunner | William Burroughs | Octavia E. Butler | Samuel R. Delany | Philip K. Dick | Frank Herbert | Ursula K. Le Guin | Barry N. Malzberg | Moebius (Jean Giraud) | Michael Moorcock | Alan Moore | Gary Panter | Walker Percy | Thomas Pynchon | Joanna Russ | James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) | Kurt Vonnegut | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Luke Rhinehart.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).