(Formerly “News from the Sun.”)
The Unlimited Hype Company
The forthcoming JGB novel has begun to receive a few advance mentions in the press. The Bookseller for 17th December 1983 carried the news in a column entitled “First Report” by Maggie Pringle (no relation): “A move for J. G. Ballard -- for his new novel Empire of the Sun he is returning to his original publisher, Gollancz... Victoria Petrie-Hay, who bought the novel, says she has never wanted a book more. Empire... is different from anything Ballard has written; it is an extraordinarily powerful account of a child caught up in the war in Singapore and of his time in a Japanese prison camp. It draws on Ballard's own experiences and is a painfully compelling read.” A pity she had to make the mistake of saying Singapore: after all, Shanghai is so much more original -- Singapore has been “done” by others, e.g. Farrell's The Singapore Grip (which I found unreadable). Shanghai by comparison is fresh territory!
Bill Webb had an article in The Guardian, 12th January 1984, entitled “The Other Books of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” in which he glanced through all the publishers' catalogues for the coming season and said: “William Golding, John Updike, Anthony Burgess, Philip Roth, Kingsley Amis, Isaac Bashevis Singer, D. M. Thomas, Paul Theroux, Milan Kundera, Michael Moorcock, Simon Raven: all these and more have new novels out, not to mention new story collections from Saul Bellow, Italo Calvino and Fay Weldon, and the word that both Angela Carter and J. G. Ballard have produced what the trade is pleased to call their 'breakthrough' novels for later in the year. Which should make the Booker a real competition this time.” This is the first occasion I've seen public mention of the Booker Prize in connection with the Ballard novel.
Obviously the competition for the Booker is going to be stiff this year, though one lives in hope... I'd say that William Golding is already out of the running, since his The Paper Men has been getting so-so reviews (in any case they surely wouldn't give him the Booker again immediately after he has won a Nobel). Angela Carter may well be in with a chance, and we had best watch out for that clever blighter Paul Theroux. It would be nice if Mike Moorcock got shortlisted, but since his forthcoming novel is the second volume of a tetralogy I'd say he stands a better chance of winning in a few years' time. Come to think of it, the JGB novel has many of the classic attributes of a Booker winner: it's not science fiction; it's by a writer who has been around for a while but has not won any prizes; it's set in the past; it's based on real experience; and it has “colonial” associations. Bets, anyone?
A full-page article called “Close to the Heart: Graeme of SPK on J. G. Ballard” appeared in the music paper Sounds, 24th December 1983. It describes JGB as “science fiction's greatest living writer” and “one of the few thinkers and commentators on society who can do more than lament lost humanism or morality. He takes his place with Barthes, Baudrillard and Deleuze, with the added bonus that he is FUN to read.”
Who is Graeme of SPK? I turn to the Re/Search “Industrial Culture Handbook” (1983) for enlightenment. He is an Australian, now resident in London, full name Graeme Revell. In 1978 he founded a “group” called SPK (derived from a radical West German reference: Socialist Patients Kollektiv). They have “released two LPs, six singles, two pamphlets, cassettes and a videocassette, and made several tours of Europe and America. Their graphics are graphic -- the front cover of the Industrial Records 45 was a photograph of a shish-kebabed male organ with the title Meat Processing Section by Surgical Penis Klinik. It was not generally displayed in record stores.”
The interview with Graeme featured in the Re/Search book contains one reference to Ballard: “I really enjoyed that short story by J. G. Ballard where he rewrote the horoscope, saying 'We've got to get rid of these Chaldean farmyard animals.' That's a really important realization: that the modern unconscious must be different from the bloodshit-piss-organic-womb-phobias Freudian-associated neurotic gamut unconscious of yesterday. We've still got a large organic hangover.”
The reference, of course, is to JGB's “Zodiac 2000.” By the way, I've heard of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard (more of whom below). Can someone tell me who Deleuze is?
Dear Mr Pringle
I wanted to let you know that I wrote an article which looks at Ballard’s development in the light of some categories derived from the social theorising of Jean Baudrillard and media studies: it deals with “Concentration City”, “Track 12” and Myths of the Near Future in particular. Details are as follows:
Jon Benison, “In Default of a Poet in Space: J. G. Ballard and the Current State of Nihilism” in Just the Other Day: Essays on the Suture of the Future, ed. Luk de Vos (Antwerp Eugene, Oregon: EXA ed., 1984).
The book has yet to be published; it should have articles in English, French, German (and Dutch?), including several on SF. I am currently writing a PhD which works along the lines of the article (though some of my ideas have developed since writing that) and though I live in Norwich I study at the University of Essex, Colchester.
Jean Baudrillard is not really a “literary academic” by the way but a sociologist/philosopher in the way, say, Th. Adorno was, or Herbert Marcuse.
-- Jonathan Benison, Norwich
Sorry for my ignorance about Baudrillard (see the mention in the eighth issue of this newsletter). I should have remembered that the French do not have literary critics: they have philosophes. Suddenly Baudrillard's name is cropping up all over the place; he is obviously very fashionable, an heir to Sartre, Levi-Strauss and Barthes. Moreover he's a Ballard fan, and he sounds genuinely interesting. Jonathan Benison tells me in a later letter (13/1/84) that “several things have already appeared in English by Jean Baudrillard, most notably two books The Mirror of Production and Towards a Critique of the Political Economy of Signs, both Telos Press, St Louis. A recent article is 'What Are You Doing After the Orgy?' in Artforum (1983); a provocative article by him on 'Implosion of Sense in the Media' is included in a collection entitled The Myth of Information, ed. K. Woodward (1982). Most of the translations appear in American journals.”
Dear David Pringle
Our Ballard publication plans are proceeding well, although we still have some difficulties with translators. We have now acquired also The Four-Dimensional Nightmare, which means that we have now all of Ballard's short story collections under contract. In print with Suhrkamp are now Crystal World, Vermilion Sands, Low-Flying Aircraft, The Disaster Area, Terminal Beach and The Day of Forever. In 1984 will follow The Drought, Hello America and Four-Dimensional Nightmare. (Shouldn't the last-named now be retitled The Voices of Time, as that is the new “official” title?--DP.)
Another Ballard story, “Memories of the Space Age,” is included in my anthology Phantastische Traume (Fantastic Dreams, 1983), a sort of “Best of Fantastic Library,” with some new stories. This is a huge success and will shortly have 150,000 copies in print. In 1984 a similar low-priced anthology will follow, Fantastic Worlds, which will include “Report on an Unidentified Space Station.”
Some Ballard stories have been reprinted here in various magazines and anthologies, and I hear that the Third Programme of the Austrian radio has done or will be doing a complete “Music Box” (an hour of commentary interspersed with records) on Ballard.
I have also included a Ballard story, “The Drowned Giant,” in my forthcoming anthology The Slaying of the Dragon from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which will appear this summer. This is a sort of anti-fantasy fantasy anthology, i.e. a sort of answer to the deluge of fantasy trash, and contains stories by Barthelme, Joyce Carol Oates, Ilse Aichinger, Italo Calvino, Dino Buzzati, Stanislaw Lem, Borges, Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, Mircea Eliade, and of course J. G. Ballard. A small thing, but quite a distinguished company, I think. British publication hasn't been arranged yet.
-- Franz Rottensteiner, Vienna
150,000 copies of an anthology is just amazing. Are you listening, Messrs J. M. Dent and Granada? How about a Best of Interzone, which after all first published “Memories of the Space Age.” If poor old Interzone, or an anthology derived from it, were to sell 150,000 copies we'd be in clover. Seriously: I'm co-editor of Interzone, which has already published stories by Angela Carter, M. John Harrison, John Sladek, John Crowley and many others as well as Ballard, and has stuff up-and-coming from Philip K. Dick (posthumous, unpublished), Brian Aldiss and Thomas M. Disch -- if any publisher is interested in doing an anthology from Interzone (including Suhrkamp) please contact me.
I wondered when I originally saw When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth on TV, if the script/story writer was in fact Ballard. I seem to have a recollection of a credit to G. J. Ballard or something close to that. Anyway, it is one of the better Hammer dinosaur/early man films. I managed to find the following in A Heritage of Horror: English Gothic Cinema 1946-72 by David Pirie, which you've probably not read before (all my other books are not very helpful):
“In 1969 Hammer took the unusual step of commissioning one of Britain's foremost SF writers, J. G. Ballard, to write a treatment for a serious exotic movie. Most of Ballard's material was subsequently lost in Val Guest's clumsy screenplay, but enough of it remained to make When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth a far less predictable and boring film than others in the Hammer series. J. G. Ballard had conceived an account of early life on this planet which would illustrate Horbiger's theories about violent cosmic upheaval and the creation of the moon.”
A fascinating quote, Jim. I wonder what became of the novelization by “G. J. Ballard”? By the way, to set another hare running on the subject of JGB and the movies, somebody told me once that Ballard had been approached to write the novelization of the screenplay of the film Alien. Is that apocryphal, or does anyone have any written evidence?
(Oops-- I've made a “setting error”: the above letter is from Jim Darroch, Edinburgh.)
Dear Mr Pringle
As the editor at Dent responsible for reissuing as many of J. G. Ballard's books as I can get my hands on, I thought I would tell you how much I enjoyed your December News from the Sun...
You might like to know that we have done pretty well so far with The Drowned World -- about 10,000 sold between September and December 1983 -- and have now reprinted it. The Terminal Beach comes out this month, and I want to bring out The Voices of Time to coincide with Empire of the Sun (probably September). Vermilion Sands will follow in Spring '85, with a brand new Preface by JGB. That will be it for the time being, until paperback rights in any other of his books become available...
-- Robyn Sisman, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London
Why don't you try to get the rights to the short-story collection The Day of Forever? Granada have not reprinted it since 1971, a lapse of 13 years now (among younger collectors of JGB's books it's probably the rarest of his titles). It contains some excellent stories. I've now seen the Dent “Everyman Fiction” edition of The Terminal Beach, and very handsome it is too. It has an intriguing cover painting of a winged fish arising from a fossil, by James Marsh. This is just the sort of quality-paperback presentation that Ballard has long deserved (why did Penguin Books not think to include JGB in their “King Penguin” series while they still had the rights?). Anyway, it now seems that others are getting in on the act. I've also heard from Nick Austin, Editorial Director of Granada Publishing, who tells me that they will be publishing Myths of the Near Future as a “B format (or trade) paperback” in the Autumn. There's a possibility that they may be reissuing Crash in the same style.
JOHN WOLFERS RETIRES
Ballard’s agent since the early 1970s, John Wolfers, has now handed over all his business to Maggie Hanbury (who has worked with him for some time). He expects to leave the country around Easter-time and take up residence in France. Apart from Ballard, the most famous novelist he represented is the Nobel Prize-winner Elias Cannetti. Most of his clients have been authors of non-fiction.
I am very grateful to John Wolfers for the help and encouragement he gave me in the period 1979-1982 when I was compiling J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (due from G. K. Hall, Boston, in July 1984). I wish him all the best in his retirement.
You will have noticed I've decided to change the name of this newsletter to the simple, functional and descriptive JGB News. I've been unhappy with the title News from the Sun for some time: it's fine for a story but it ill suits a news-sheet such as this. Keep it plain and simple is my motto. Talking of which...
The incredible Bernard Sigaud has struck again, and is now publishing a fanzine under the excellent title of Hard Copy. You guessed it -- Hard Copy is almost entirely devoted to JGB and the bits that aren't about Ballard are about Burroughs. I feel I've been instrumental in loosing on the world a new art form: the Ballard fanzine. Soon they'll be springing up all over the place...
Well, “art form” is an absurd term for JGB News, but it can be applied to Hard Copy, which has imaginative visuals by Bernard in addition to a far-out text. The first issue (January 1984) is a slim affair which contains “Testing Reality,” an interview with JGB which Bernard recorded on 13th December 1983. It's mainly about the films The Day After and The Right Stuff, and (in all truth) it contains more of Sigaud than it does of Ballard. Hard Copy no. 2 (February 1984) is bulkier, and has a detailed account by Bernard of his search for the “missing persons” in Ballard's “Generations of America”; plus a snippet on Raymond Roussel, a translation back into English of JGB's Foreword to the Norwegian edition of Vermilion Sands (quite different to that which appeared in the British edition), an item on the Italian comic strip RanXerox which plagiarizes JGB's Crash, a description of Sam Scoggins's film The Unlimited Dream Company, a comparison of Ballard and Burroughs, and much more.
Bernard Sigaud resides for now at Sibly Hall, Reading University, (where he is actually being paid by the British Council to study Ballard full time). Write to him if you're interested in seeing Hard Copy.
A WORD FROM UNCLE BILL
Steve Taylor wrote to me from Oxford in December, enclosing “a snippet from the book A Report from the Bunker with William Burroughs, a compilation of taped conversations by Victor Bockris:
SUSAN SONTAG: ... I can think of hardly any writers I even admire in England. The whole thing has become so genteel and diluted. I like Ballard.
BURROUGHS: He's good.
Praise indeed coming from WSB!
Another reference occurs in a WSB interview in Ambit 95 (published December 1983). “The Burroughs Workshops,” conducted by John Bassett, touches at one point on the subject of science fiction. Burroughs says: “I've just about given up on science fiction” and “I can't tolerate any?thing whimsical.” Then there's the following brief exchanges:
J.B.: How about J. G. Ballard?
W.B.: That's not really science fiction, but yes, I like his work very much and I've met him.
THE ALGEBRA OF NEWS
Jon Benison has sent me a curious item, an article called “The Algebra of News” by Sylvere Lotringer which appeared in something called ZG Magazine (1983). It's an article on the news media and information overload. Apart from the now-obligatory references to the works of Jean Baudrillard, it takes as its “text” JGB's little-known short story “The Air Disaster” (Bananas No. 1, 1975). Lotringer recounts the plot of the Ballard story at great length and adumbrates its message in an overblown style.
Incidentally, “The Air Disaster” has recently been translated into German. It appeared in Franz Rottensteiner's anthology Polaris 7 (Suhrkamp, 1983). To the best of my knowledge it has still not been reprinted anywhere in English. It's virtually a “lost” JGB masterpiece. One wonders how Sylvere Lotringer came across it -- perhaps in the French translation in one of Maxim Jakubowski's anthologies?
****NEWS FLASH****NEWS FLASH****NEWS FLASH****NEWS FLASH****NEWS FLASH****
'EMPIRE OF THE SUN' SOLD TO USA
I've just heard the good news that Ballard's new novel has been sold to Simon and Schuster for a very large advance. It will be the first of his books, to be published in America since The Unlimited Dream Company was issued by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1979. And Ballard's old editor at Holt, Don Hutter (now working for Simon and Schuster), is the man who has bought Empire.... Good on him. I believe S&S own Pocket Books and the “Timescape” science fiction line: does this mean that much of JGB's other work will now be reissued in US paperback editions by Pocket? I hope so...
Angela Carter says Empire of the Sun “may well be that great British novel about the last war for which we've had to wait forty-odd years,” according to Malcolm Edwards at Gollancz. He says they've also got a nice quote from Graham Greene, and “more to come.” (In order to whip up advance interest Gollancz have gone to the expense of photocopying the manuscript, reducing it to half size and binding it up in a paper cover as they do with the uncorrected proofs of a printed book -- I believe there are about thirty such copies in existence, and it will make a very handsome collector's item for those lucky enough to possess one.)
PUBLISHERS' MUSICAL CHAIRS
Malcolm Edwards also tells me that he is now Ballard's editor at Gollancz, as Victoria Petrie-Hay (who bought Empire of the Sun) is leaving to go to Weidenfeld. Congratulations, Malcolm. I never cease to be amazed at the way people in the publishing world shift around so rapidly. For example, Andy McKillop, who used to be JGB's editor at Granada and who had a letter published in News from the Sun some issues back, is now working for Corgi Books. Bye bye, Andy.
BALLARD IN THE SOVIET UNION
The coming issue of Foundation (No. 30, March 1984) contains an article called “The Category of Time in the Writings of J. G. Ballard” by Vladimir Gopman. It also contains a (belated) review by Michael Bishop of Myths of the Near Future.
What makes the former piece particularly interesting is the fact that it is by a citizen of the USSR. Vladimir Gopman lives in Moscow and he says “in 1981 I presented a dissertation on 'The Works of J. G. Ballard' and got a degree of Candidate of Science (Philology).” Unfortunately, little of JGB’s work has been translated into Russian, although Gopman says:
“Five of his stories have been translated and published in various sf collections and anthologies: 'Minus One' (1969), 'Chronopolis' (1970), 'The Subliminal Man' (under the title 'Will You Buy, Doctor?', 1970), 'The Reptile Enclosure' (1974) and 'Deep End' (1979). Four of Ballard's books have been reviewed in the magazine of literary criticism Foreign Literature Abroad. They are The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (1964, No. 9), The Disaster Area (1968, No. 6), Concrete Island (1974, No. 4) and High-Rise (1976, No. 4). Professor Valentina Ivasheva devoted some pages to an analysis of Ballard's works in her book on modern English literature (What Time Saves: English Literature, 1945-1979, Moscow, 1979). Although only five of Ballard's stories are translated in our country, his reputation is very high. It rests primarily on ‘Chronopolis’, and there is no real sf fan in any part of the country (and I have talked with a considerable number) who, even if he forgets the name of its author, does not recall the story immediately.”
ILLUSTRATED BOOK ON JGB
I'm afraid I am still awaiting the arrival of the Re/Search J. G. Ballard Special, described in the last of these newsletters. It is being published by Vale, Re/Search Publications, 20 Romolo, Apt. B, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA. I recommend that North American readers contact that address if they wish to know more (the book may well be out by the time you receive this).
British and European readers may be able to obtain copies from me in due course. I have asked Vale to send me a good supply. I'm not sure at present what the price will be, though the last Re/Search Special (the “Industrial Culture Handbook” referred to on page 1 of this issue of JGB News) cost $9 postpaid -- which would probably work out at somewhat more than £6 at current exchange rates. It should be worth every penny, though.
AND OVER IN FRANCE...
Another publication I'm still awaiting a copy of is the first issue of Science Fiction (January 1984), a new magazine issued by JGB's Parisian publisher, Editions Denoel. It is edited by Daniel Riche, late of Orbites magazine, and apparently the premier issue is devoted to Ballard. It contains French translations of my Foundation interview with JGB (“From Shanghai to Shepperton”, 1982) and Catherine Bresson's interview with the man (first published in English in Metaphores, 1983), as well as Ballard's Interzone story “Memories of the Space Age.” A minor feast for French readers of JGB. I understand that Denoel have accepted Empire of the Sun with cries of joy, and it is currently being translated with a view to publication at around the same time as the English edition. JGB’s editor and translator at Denoel is Elizabeth Gille.