This is from The Listener, 14 February 1980, and consists of some extracts from an interview with JGB that had been broadcast on the BBC's Radio 4 programme, "Profile".
James Graham Ballard, the science-fiction writer, was the subject of “Profile” (Radio 4). Rodney Smith said: “A quiet, pleasant fellow of medium height, he looks much more like the family doctor he almost became than the creator of the urban disaster novel -- books like “Crash”, which ex-plores the sexuality of a motor accident, “Concrete Island”, which shows how a person can be completely marooned right in the centre of one of the world's biggest cities. J. G. Ballard started life as a medical student…”
Ballard said: “I began writing in the mid-Fifties. Enormous changes were going on in England at that time, largely brought about by science and technology -- the beginnings of television, package holidays, mass merchandising, the first super-markets. A new landscape was being created. The so-called mainstream novel wasn't really looking at the present day. The only form of fiction which was trying to make head or tail of what was going on in our world was science-fiction.
“It had been too concerned with the future, right from its origins. I wanted a science-fiction of the present day. I am interested in the technology of the present of this world. I am not interested in imaginary alien planets. I am certain you know that the only alien planet is Earth. It is this world that is the strange one. All the extra-terrestrials we need are walking around in these streets.
“I was born and brought up in Shanghai. I didn't leave China until after the war, at the age of 16, and it had an enormous influence. I mean the landscape around Shanghai, paddy fields in the summer, the mouth of the Yangtze -- on the one hand, extremely modern with apartment blocks and office blocks everywhere, American cars in the streets, and on the other hand these huge sheets of water. There were fusions and peculiar inversions -- particularly those that came during the war when Shanghai was suddenly a city of half-empty apartment blocks, of abandoned factories, of empty airfields.”
“Concrete Island,” said Smith, “is the tale of a man's struggle for survival when his car crashes into the waste ground below a motor-way interchange -- the Shepherd's Bush turn-off on the A40 within sight of Television Centre. No one notices him, he is unable to attract the attention of other motorists speeding past, and eventually has to come to terms with his new environment. He learns to live with a sort of sub-culture of waifs and strays… Shortly after I read ‘Concrete Island’, the newspapers carried the story of a teen-ager who'd had a similar accident in the middle of Melbourne, and who had survived in a similar fashion for two weeks in the middle of a thriving city.”
Ballard said. “The systems of technology do break down. Anybody who has flown in a modern airliner feels a profound unease. Are the wings going to fall off? Is this plane going to be hijacked? Will the airport when we arrive In South America, or wherever, be cordoned off because of a plague or a revolution or what have you? All sorts of uneasy fears are moving through our lives. Each of us builds the mythology of our own lives out of the materials that surround us in our everyday streets. The fact is that these huge institutionalised disasters -- the car crash is the classic case -- do take place. We are living with a rather mixed set of values; we tolerate urban breakdown in our municipal high-rises, we tolerate enormous numbers of deaths and injuries on the roads. We tolerate it. There are all sorts of institutionalised disasters built into our lives and I think it is the job of anybody interested in what is going on in the world to look at them closely.”