Rushing to Paradise Gets a Muted Reception
Ballard's new novel was published by HarperCollins/Flamingo on 5th September 1994. The writing is as fine as ever, and the book does indeed turn out to be another "imaginative novel," in the vein of The Day of Creation rather than The Kindness of Women. Compared to Kindness, however, the novel has created little stir in Britain -- the reviews have been almost universally respectful, and on the whole favourable, but lacking in enthusiasm. Only a couple of newspaper interviews with the author have appeared, and this time there has been no great "media blitz" for Ballard.
I had intended to fill this newsletter with yet more lists of reviews, interviews, critical essays, etc. -- and in fact there are plenty to report, not just pertaining to Rushing to Paradise, but also to earlier works -- but I think I shall leave all those until next time. I've been very busy recently, which is why this issue is late, and the prospect of synopsizing numerous items daunts me. So let's make this a special "light" issue of JGB News, an anecdotal issue, full of readers' letters and minor but interesting snippets. First, though, here's one bit of hot news which should please you all:
Ballard Non-Fiction Collection Scheduled at Long Last
A volume of JGB's essays, book reviews and occasional non-fiction writings will appear from Flamingo next year, probably in September 1995. A contract has been signed, and Ballard is in the midst of editing the book right now. This will be his first ever non-fiction volume. A title has yet to be finalized, but it almost certainly will not be called Which Way to Inner Space? (a title I first suggested, and floated in this newsletter, a decade ago) -- the 1962 essay of that name will, however, be included. More information next issue, I trust.
JGB News and Interzone Now On-Line
I've bought a modem, have joined the exchange called CIX, and can now send and receive electronic mail. (The e-mail address is: email@example.com). It's already proving a boon, with "instant" letters to and from Australia, California or the Czech Republic at the cost of little more than a brief phone call to London. That's as far as I've gone so far; I haven't explored the cyberspace universe of the internet for fear of the high costs and the loss of time it might entail. But an obvious thought has occurred to me: would some readers like an electronic version of JGB News to be available on the internet? If so, has anyone any suggestions as to how I might go about organizing it?
Ballard's Recent Writings
The following is a list of JGB's published non-fiction writings (all those of which I'm aware) since the list in JGB News no. 21. Do please inform me if you know of anything which is missing.
1. "Junkyard Dreams" in The Times (December 5, 1987): 18. Short article on Eduardo Paolozzi, heralding the Channel 4 television programme about the artist, E.P. -- Sculptor. [Old item previously overlooked; sent to me by Mark Jones]
2. "In William Burroughs Country" in The Washington Post ["Book World" section] (December 27, 1987): 3. Review of The Western Lands by William S. Burroughs. [Old item previously overlooked; sent to me by Dennis Lien]
3. "Just What They've Always Wanted..." in The Guardian (December 24, 1993): 12. Tiny piece in a round-robin on "what writers would give their heroes and villains for Christmas." Ballard says: "I would like to give something to William Burroughs, but I don't know what. I would give James Joyce a word processor."
4. "Animal Gravity Rules" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (January 8, 1994): 4. Review of From Mesmer to Freud: Magnetic Sleep and the Roots of Psychological Healing by Adam Crabtree.
5. "Where Did You Get That?: J. G. Ballard on His Personalised Surrealist Paintings" in The Independent Magazine (January 29, 1994): 45. Short article on two paintings which Ballard commissioned from artist Brigid Marlin. [Possibly edited fom interview material, though no interviewer is credited].
6. "Foreword by J. G. Ballard" in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley. London: Flamingo, paper, January 1994, p.v-vi. Two-page preface to Huxley's book.
7. [The Seven Wonders of the Modern World] in Arena [quarterly magazine] (early 1994?): ?. Short contribution to a symposium on modern wonders, in which Ballard commends the Human Genome project, the Cray supercomputer, the Saturn moon rocket, etc. [Not seen; informant Noel Bateman]
8. "Introduction" in Myths of the Near Future by J. G. Ballard. London: Vintage, paper, March 1994, p.v-vi. Two-page preface to this reprint of his 1982 collection.
9. "Lesson to Last a Lifetime" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (March 5, 1994): 4. Review of The Way of a Boy: A Memoir of Java by Ernest Hillen.
10. "True Confessions" in Daily Telegraph ["Arts and Books" section] (May 7, 1994): 4. Four-paragraph contribution to a series of pieces on famous books or authors that one admits to not having read; Ballard cites Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster.
11. "Tunnel Visionaries" in Modern Review no. 15 (June/July 1994): 31. Brief contribution to a symposium on the cultural significance of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
12. "Mouse That Bores?" in Daily Telegraph ["Books" section] (June 11, 1994): 5. Review of Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot.
13. "Pieces of Hate" in Time Out (June 29, 1994): 22. Short contribution to a symposium on trivial dislikes or "pet hates," in which Ballard lists EuroDisney, the Bloomsbury Group, Jackson Pollock, Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, etc.
14. "Introduction" in Hello America by J. G. Ballard. London: Vintage, paper, July? 1994, p.4-5. Two-page preface to this reprint of his 1981 novel.
15. "Are We Over the Moon?" in Daily Telegraph ["Books" section] (July 16, 1994): 6. Review of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin.
16. "Introduction" in Concrete Island by J. G. Ballard. London: Vintage, paper, August? 1994, p.4-5. Two-page preface to this reprint of his 1974 novel.
17. "I Wish I'd Written..." in The Guardian ["Music/Arts" section] (September 16, 1994): 19. Brief piece about Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Ends: "It must say something about me that I'm so gripped by this book but can still never finish it."
18. "Britain's Changing Places" in The Guardian ["Society" section] (November 2, 1994): 4. Five-paragraph contribution to a symposium on the subject of changes in Britain's town and countryside. Unlike the other five contributors, Ballard states that his neighbourhood (Shepperton) "has improved immensely during the 35 years I have lived here."
New Ballard Book in Italian
Re/Search: J. G. Ballard, Edizione Italiana. ShaKe Edizioni Underground (v. C. Balbo 10, 20136 Milano, Italy), April 1994, 269p, paper, 20,000 lire. Illustrated non-fiction collection; no editors are named, but it has been put together by a Milanese group who call themselves the "ShaKe" Collective, with the co-operation of Re/Search Publications, San Francisco. Although it purports to be the Italian edition of the English-language Re/Search: J. G. Ballard (1984), this is in fact a very different collection: all the fiction by JGB which appeared in the original edition has been dropped (it is now available in other Italian editions of Ballard's books) and in its place a considerable amount of JGB's previously uncollected non-fiction has been added. Two semi-fictional pieces which appeared in Interzone have been added, "A Guide to Virtual Death" and "Project for a Glossary of the 20th Century" (both 1992); a couple of older interviews with Ballard have been retained, and two newer ones have been added -- the Kadrey/Pringle interview from Interzone and the Paul Di Filippo interview from SF Eye (both 1991). There's also a fully updated bibliography; and there's even a reprinted article by myself from JGB News, "Reality and Invention in The Gentleness of Dames" (sorry, that's a back-translation of the Italian for "Fact and Fiction in The Kindness of Women"); for those Italian readers who are interested in Ballard this all adds up to a wonderful feast of material.
Eleven "Books" About Ballard
I don't regard the Re/Search "Special," even in its handsome new Italian version described above, as a book about Ballard. Since the majority of the contents are by JGB himself, it should be classified as a Ballard collection. However, if one includes pamphlets, chapbooks, etc., and even if one excludes books which are only partially about Ballard such as Colin Greenland's The Entropy Exhibition (1983), then by my count there have been no less than eleven books about Ballard in various languages to date. Here's my chronological listing of them:
1. J. G. Ballard: A Bibliography by James Goddard. Lymington, Hants.: Cypher Press, 1970, paper, 27p. Self-published pamphlet which contains: "Foreword" by J. G. Ballard; "Preface" by John Carnell; "Introduction" by James Goddard; and various lengthy bibliographical listings.
2. J. G. Ballard: The First 20 Years edited by James Goddard and David Pringle. Illustrated by Carol Gregory. Hayes, Middx.: Bran's Head Books, October 1976, cloth and paper, [ix]+99p. Small-press book which contains: "Introduction: J. G. Ballard, Our Contemporary" by Goddard and Pringle; "An Interview, 4th January 1975" by Goddard and Pringle; "The Wounded Land: J. G. Ballard" by Brian Aldiss (1965); "The Fourfold Symbolism" by Pringle (1973); "Modern Metaphors" by Michael Moorcock (1974); "An Honest Madness" by Pringle (1974); "The Greening of Ballard" by Ian Watson (1975); "Concrete Island: A Review" by Peter Linnett (1975); "The Incredible Shrinking World: A Review of High-Rise" by Pringle (1976); "Preface to the First Edition" by John Carnell (1970); "Introduction" by Ballard; "Chronological Bibliography of Published Fiction"; "Alphabetical Index"; "Books in Translation, 1963-1971"; "Non-Fiction Bibliography."
3. Notes on J. G. Ballard by John Foyster. Christies Beach, South Australia: Pentatope Press, August 1977, paper, 36p. Small-press pamphlet which contains: "Foreword" by John Bangsund; "Some Recent Short Stories" by John Foyster (1967); "The Fauve Thighs & Finagles of Mr B" by Foyster (1972); "Three Novels" by Foyster (1967); "Crash and Beyond" by John McPharlin.
4. Earth is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard's Four-Dimensional Nightmare by David Pringle. "The Milford Series: Popular Writers of Today, Volume 26." San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, October 1979, cloth and paper, 63p. Critical monograph in four chapters.
5. J. G. Ballard: Antologia della Critica, Vol. 1 edited by G. Marciano. Vellagrazia: Intercom Press, 1981, paper, ?p. Small-press booklet which contains: "La Terra Ferita" ("The Wounded Land") by Brian Aldiss, and pieces by such Italian and French critics as Maurizio Nati, Jean-Francois Jamoul, Alberto Poggi and Domenico Cammarota. [Not seen; Italian]
6. Hard Copy Special No. 1: Bibliographie de J. G. Ballard by Bernard Sigaud. Saint-Denis, France: Sigaud, June? 1984, paper, 74p. Exhaustive, illustrated, self-published bibliography which contains copious annotated listings. [French]
7. J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography by David Pringle. "Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy." Boston: G. K. Hall, July 1984, cloth, xxxv+156p. Contains: "Preface"; "Introduction"; "Checklist of Books"; "Interview with J. G. Ballard"; "Part A: Fiction"; "Part B: Miscellaneous Media"; "Part C: Nonfiction"; "Part D: Critical and Bio-Bibliographical Studies"; "Appendix 1: Foreign Language Editions"; "Appendix 2: Nonfiction in French"; "Index 1: The Writings of J. G. Ballard"; "Index 2: Critics, Reviewers and Interviewers"; "Appendix 3: Persons Referred to by Ballard and His Critics."
8. J. G. Ballard: der Visionaer des Phantastischen edited by Joachim Koerber. Mietingen: Corian, 1985, paper, 176p. Contains articles by Koerber, Michael K. Iwoleit, Charles Nicol, Franz Rottensteiner and Heinrich Keim, plus three JGB stories, two interviews and a useful bibliography. [German]
9. J. G. Ballard by Peter Brigg. "Starmont Reader's Guide 26." Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, September 1985, trade paper, 138p. Full critical study by a Canadian literary academic. Contains: "Chronology and Canon"; plus eight chapters followed by "Primary Bibliography of Fiction"; "Annotated Primary Bibliography of Nonfiction"; "Annotated Secondary Bibliography."
10. Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard by Sheila Hales. "Teaching Strategies for Literature and Language. Heinemann Fiction Project." Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1989, 48p. Illustrated teaching pack in plastic slip-case. [Not seen]
11. Out of the Night and Into the Dream: A Thematic Study of the Fiction of J. G. Ballard by Gregory Stephenson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, December 1991, cloth, 182p. "Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Number 47." Substantial study, by an American academic living in Denmark, of Ballard's work up to and including the novella Running Wild.
A Slightly Disappointed Reader
2nd October 1994
Please find enclosed cuttings from the Scottish press on Rushing to Paradise. I hope these will be of some interest. [Of course they are, and I'm grateful for all such cuttings; as I said above, I intend to itemize reviews in a future issue -- DP]
For my own part, I am inclined to side with the Scotsman critic, Catherine Lockerbie [who was not keen on the novel]; and I must say, having read several other reviews, she is something of an odd person out. Certainly all the blurb-speak about ruffling feathers of various interest-groups is totally irrelevant. Yes, the book is an exciting read (and there's nothing wrong with that!) and yes, Ballard does carry forward the young protagonist of Empire with conviction, and yes, Doctor Barbara (Moore? as the Radio 4 Kaleidoscope presenter mischievously suggested) is as fine a monster as one could wish -- but, having said all that, I felt as I reached the end that I had been in some rather indefinable way "short-changed": the book fails to deliver at that deep level where the best of Ballard resonates. The writing is at its best as cool and poised as ever, with a further rich seam of Ballardian similes; somehow, however, the landscape of camera-towers and nuclear nicknacks is strangely dead, and even the sunken plane fails to stir the imagination. The feeling remains, despite all the fine things in this book, that the familiar themes fail to glow, that no new revealing light searches out the hidden depths.
-- Gordon Wood, Lasswade, Midlothian
I would disagree with you, Gordon, about those sunken-plane scenes: I thought they were wonderful, if all too brief -- perhaps the best bits in the book. They made me wish that Ballard would write an entire "undersea" novel. I also agree with you about the rich seam of Ballardian similes: there are dozens of them throughout the text. As for the overall effect of Rushing to Paradise, I'm not quite sure as yet: I've read the novel just once, and it's beginning to grow in my memory, as Ballard's works usually do -- his books take time to sink in.
The Unique and Idiosyncratic
8th February 1994
Thanks for keeping me supplied with News of J. G. Ballard. I can't say I'm convinced of the wisdom of pursuing an author's abandoned work, especially early stuff -- though I expect I'd have felt differently about it when I was working on The Entropy Exhibition. Interesting to see how hostile reviewers were to The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, and compare that with the people chiding The Kindness of Women for not conforming to their preconceptions of form, composition or narrative address.
Is it only a residual taste for outlaw chic that makes me glad Jim has not been and will never be comfortably enthroned as "the grand old man of English letters"? I don't think so. Univocal acclaim does not do the unique and idiosyncratic any good at all -- though, actually, having written that, I reckon Jim is one writer who would remain untouched by it. Anyone who could survive the gauntlet of Booker and Spielberg and go on to write The Day of Creation (the most accomplished and glorious of his disaster novels), not to mention The Kindness of Women (which I found myself the other night describing as his best novel) is never going to lose his way.
Having said that, your description of Rushing to Paradise (and Jim's own) made me hesitate. Satire is not what he's best at -- and I'm not convinced he actually understands either feminism or ecopolitics well enough to do it properly. I'd much rather read Ballard on what fascinates him than on what he detests. Well, no doubt the actual book will turn out to be something quite different from this teeny glimpse.
-- Colin Greenland, Harrow
I would agree that JGB is not one of nature's born satirists. (Well, actually, maybe he is in a deep sense, at the level of Swift's "A Modest Proposal," but not in the more everyday sense of, say Spitting Image.) I thought the weakest part of The Day of Creation, the novel you admire so much (as do I), was some of the blather surrounding the character of Professor Sanger -- the satire on TV nature documentaries. Perhaps elements of Rushing to Paradise do bear a resemblance to the "Sanger" strand of Day of Creation, but luckily they don't overbalance the novel.
15th March 1994
It's occurred to me (rather belatedly!) that I have a few Ballard items that are not mentioned in the lists in recent issues of JGB News, so I enclose photocopies of them. One is an extract from an interview with Paul Mayersberg, scriptwriter of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. It comes from a book called Fragile Geometry: The Films, Philosophy, and Misadventures of Nicolas Roeg by Joseph Lanza (PAJ Publications, New York, 1989) which is endorsed by Ballard on the back cover: "This brilliant and fascinating study of Nicolas Roeg is as close as we are ever likely to get to understanding this most mysterious of present-day film directors. Mr Lanza is shrewd, clever, and always entertaining."
-- Robin Davies, Hertford
Here is the Lanza/Mayersberg interview extract which Robin Davies kindly sent:
"You did a screenplay for J. G. Ballard's novel High-Rise. That sounds like the ultimate Roeg-Mayersberg collaboration.
"I made it into a story about a man breaking into the building. He was a computer man. I placed it quite differently. In my version, the building existed in the middle of a desert in Arizona. It was like a totem. When he looked at it, he saw two buildings, but when he arrived there, he found only one. It was just a sight. People would come along, look at it, then go away again. Inside it there was just decay, and the man came in to try and find out what was going on. I delved into character vignettes, overlapping lives and relationships... It wasn't a project for Nic, though. Some producer came to me and asked me to write a script. He didn't like it. The rights reverted. Once again, it didn't fit the narrow genre standards."
Crash! Bang! Cronenberg!
John Brady sent me a small piece which appeared under the above heading in the London Evening Standard, 21st April 1994. It says:
"Producer Jeremy Thomas's long-cherished project to film J. G. Ballard's Crash!, the novel about 'the sexual opportunities of the automobile crash,' is building speed. Canadian director David Cronenberg, who carved out a horror niche for himself before filming William Burroughs's The Naked Lunch, is slated to take the wheel of Crash! as soon as he has fine-tuned the script.
"There'll be no back-seat driving from Ballard, who approved Cronenberg as director and scriptwriter. 'Ballard thinks David's the only one who can do it: you need someone who can understand deep levels of weirdness,' says Chris Auty of the producers, the Recorded Picture Co. Filming for Crash! gets into gear later this year."
Well, another six months have gone by and I've heard no more. Does anyone have any further news, or is this years-old project going to stay in limbo indefinitely?
James Wood, the Guardian's "Chief Literary Critic" (a title which I find curiously objectionable, though I can't quite say why) and one of this year's Booker judges, published a piece on 7th October 1994 entitled "Well-Read, Eh?: James Wood takes some time out from judging Tuesday's Booker Prize to list the books you really should have read." His listing of the hundred or so Best Books since 1945 (including poetry, plays and literary non-fiction) contains one Ballard title, Concrete Island. An odd selection, though welcome nevertheless. Empire of the Sun would have been the conventional choice; Crash would have been the daring one; an sf fan might have gone for The Drowned World (an American sf fan would have plumped for The Crystal World); some of us might have chosen a collection of short stories, The Terminal Beach, say, to represent Ballard's oeuvre. But James Wood went for one of the lesser works.
A brief review of the Vintage paperback reissue of Concrete Island, in the same paper a couple of weeks earlier, said: "Ballard's parable, or allegory, of modern life as a hell formed by intersections of the Westway (we know it's hell early on, because the hero is a Dante-like 35), reads as well as it did in 1973; better, in a way, partly because of his critical rehabilitation (and the public acknowledgement by writers of his influence on them), and partly because all good representations of hell are, like hell itself, timeless."
Critical rehabilitation? I hadn't known Ballard was in need of it. And what's this that the Guardian reviewer says about "public acknowledgement by writers of his influence on them"? I presume the writers referred to include such as William Boyd, Geoff Nicholson, Jeremy Reed and Will Self, all of whom have "come out" as Ballard fans in recent years. Are there any other younger novelists who have been praising JGB lately?
And here's a snippet from the Sunday Times "Books" section's unsigned "Diary" (4th June 1994): "In Creation Books' new catalogue, the entry for poete maudit Jeremy Reed's Black Starlight, a double biography of Rimbaud and Lautreamont, brandishes generous praise from J. G. Ballard. No surprises there: Ballard has become Reed's regular blurbmeister, infallibly supplying a quote for each of his books." Talking of which...
Reed's Diamond Nebula
15th March 1994
I've been meaning to send you an account of Diamond Nebula, the Jeremy Reed novel (Peter Owen, £14.99, I think). The book could almost be subtitled "Son of The Atrocity Exhibition," as it is fairly heavily influenced by the Ballard volume. The setting is some kind of deserted hotel/town/complex with adjacent beach/ sand. There are characters, although they may be to some extent facets of one central character -- their names include Zap, Arc and Marilyn. The figures of Ballard, David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust and Andy Warhol are also major characters in a sense. Warhol seemed to me to be a rather vague and ghostly presence compared to the other two, but I suppose that is actually quite fitting.
The language and images of the book are impressive, although I shall reserve judgment at the moment as I found myself tiring of it as I "progressed." While the novel is obviously heavily influenced by Atrocity Exhibition, it has something of the claustrophobic intensity of Crash. Whether that is a strength or a weakness is probably open to debate.
One disappointing aspect of a book in which Ballard figures large is that I did not feel I had learned anything new about JGB at the end of it. While I'm not asking for the novel to be semi-lit. crit., I would have felt more satisfied if some new sense of the significance of Ballard had emerged more clearly and forcefully. A footnote to all this is that Interzone gets a mention in Reed's novel. At one point it is said that a room contains a pile of copies of the magazine. Is this the first recorded commemoration in a published novel? Is it also a sign that you have truly achieved cultural significance?"
-- Raymond Tait, Cambridge
I heard somewhere that Reed originally called his strange novel Ballard/Bowie/Warhol, but that the publisher demanded a more conventional title. I have yet to see the book. Glad to hear about the mention of Interzone, but then we did steal the magazine's name from cultural icon William Burroughs...
The Cult of Self
The reason for this quick missive is to wonder whether you caught (or were interested in) Will Self's discussion/review piece on Ballard's Crash on Radio 1 -- Thursday night, 19th May 1994, on "Out on Blue Six." Only a few minutes, as the first of an occasional series on cult books. Unfortunately, we didn't think to tape this, but someone else may have done, if you're interested in the text for your JGB newsletter.
-- Steve Jeffery ("Storm Constantine Appreciation Society")
No, I'm afraid I missed that, as I never listen to Radio 1. So, does anyone have a recording of it? By the way, Will Self, in a review of the new edition of The Atrocity Exhibition (Time Out, 29th December 1993), has described that book as representing "the zenith of the experimental novel in English."
10th February 1994
Thank you for your excellent investigation into the "lost J. G. Ballard novel" in JGBN 21 -- and it was fascinating to read JGB's reply in the following issue. Your remarks on the Second Coming motif sent me back to re-reading the splendidly comic-ironic variation on that theme in "The Index," with Henry Rhodes Hamilton as the ubiquitous "hero," a text full of delightful shafts of humour -- and, with particular reference to "You and Me and the Continuum," our hero is arrested by the Special Branch in Westminster Abbey!
Did you catch a feature broadcast on Radio 4 "World at One" at the end of last year where novelist Will Self was challenged on the intellectual, anti-populist nature of his work, with particular reference to the violent nature of his most recent novel? "There is," he said, "more mutilation, laceration, etc., in J. G. Ballard's Crash of 20 years ago than in my work." Well... hardly!
-- Gordon Wood, Lasswade, Midlothian
Origins of the 1984 Re/Search "Special"
Martin Morse Wooster sent me a Washington Post clipping of a profile of Andrea Juno and V. Vale, founders of Re/Search Publications (and readers of this newsletter -- hi!). Journalist David Streitfeld states: "In 1980, Juno met Vale at the bookstore City Lights, San Francisco's famed outpost of the avant-garde. A film student, she was looking for a replacement copy of The Subliminal Man [sic; presumably he means The Impossible Man], an obscure Ballard volume she had lost on a bus. Vale, a clerk at the store, was also a Ballard fan, so they hit it right off. Search & Destroy evolved into Re/Search, a publisher of oversized paperbacks. The partners have done the definitive treatise on their hero Ballard, a compilation of interviews, bibliography, art montages and critical articles..."
Delany's Review of Ballard
23rd June 1994
Dear David Pringle:
Thanks very much for the copy of JGB News 22. I do indeed find it very interesting, and would definitely like to receive the next issue. Please find enclosed a copy of the Samuel R. Delany review of The Day of Creation you had marked "not seen." [Although he strives to be fair to it, Delany didn't much like the Ballard novel; but then he is an author/critic who has always seemed to have difficulty in reading non-American books; I recall him once, many years ago, saying that he found H. G. Wells unreadable -- DP.]
I was amused to read the letter from Austin Reeve regarding your book J. G. Ballard: The First 20 Years  and its availability at the Hunting Raven Bookshop for £2.95. Amused, because I had picked up a copy a year or so previously for £10: I've even seen copies going for as much as £20! Despite its age, I think that it is still the best source of Ballard bibliographic information available. The "bibliography" printed in the Ballard issue of Re/Search is quite useless, and I have been able to locate no others. [You obviously haven't seen my 1984 G. K. Hall publication, J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, although that too is now very out of date -- DP.]
Please allow me to ask a bibliographic question of you: I am somewhat in the dark as to the extent of Gollancz's hardcover reissues of the mid-1980s. I own or have seen reissues of The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (retitled as The Voices of Time), The Terminal Beach, and The Overloaded Man (The Venus Hunters), all of 1985-86. My question is this: did Gollancz also reissue The Day of Forever? [Yes, more or less simultaneously with The Venus Hunters, as I recall -- DP.] I've always wondered why Cape didn't bring Day of Forever and Venus Hunters out, since they published everything else Ballard wrote at the time. Did Gollancz reissue any others? [No, unless you count The Drowned World, which they've kept in print on and off for 30-odd years now. Back in 1967, Cape did not publish Day of Forever and Overloaded Man because they were doing a hardcover Ballard collection called The Disaster Area that year; Gollancz didn't do them because they had "lost" Ballard to Cape; the enterprising Panther Books are to be commended for doing them as humble paperback originals -- DP.]
-- Chris Jensen, Minneapolis
Did anyone see a book called Through the Jade Divide by Keith Huxley? It was due to be published by Sinclair-Stevenson in May 1993, and, assuming it appeared, it's possibly out in paperback by now. I've heard nothing more of it, but I tore the description out of the publisher's catalogue at the time:
"On the night of 22 May 1944 five British civilians cut through the double thickness of eight feet high barbed wire enclosing the Lunghua Civil Assembly Centre in Shanghai and disappeared into China. They faced appalling odds...
"Forty-six years later, the son of one of those escapees set out to retrace his father's route to freedom, some 3,000 miles from Shanghai to Kunming. Keith Huxley's past is inextricably linked to that of China; separated from his father at the age of seven, his journey was an attempt to understand his father and an effort to help his father understand him."
Another Lunghua connection which has come to light is that the film-and-television actor Peter Wyngarde ("Jason King") was also a juvenile detainee in the same prison camp as the Ballard family. How about that.
The Leys School, Cambridge
Last year, JGB News reader Raymond Tait, who lives and works in Cambridge, did some "research" in the library of the Leys School, where Ballard was a pupil from 1946 to 1949. Alas, it seems JGB did not contribute any stories or essays to his school magazine, The Leys Fortnightly, although Raymond did come across a few references to Ballard therein. He explains: "The magazine was more a record of school activities than a vehicle for anything more creative. It was full of accounts of various sporting encounters, and I can confirm that Ballard played for his house rugby team on 9th December 1947, when they lost 31-0: not, I fear, a telling biographical detail! I did have a brief spurt of excitement when in the space of two pages he was mentioned twice: firstly, for winning the lower-sixth English essay prize; and then because he had been elected to the committee of the Essay Club. Subsequent editions of the Fortnightly recorded the activities of the club but the author of these pieces was always another of the committee members. The club got together to listen to essays being read out, and although most of the committee members seem to have contributed to this Ballard was never referred to again. And so the trail ran out."
I passed the above paragraph from Raymond Tait on to J. G. Ballard, and asked him if he had any recollections of that prize-winning school essay. Could it have been published anywhere? Might it still exist? JGB replied on 20th December 1993: "As for the school essay-prize, I think this was awarded more for the year's overall work -- we wrote an essay a week for the English master (Mr Pesketh, I think his name was) who was remarkably enlightened even for a Nonconformist school like the Leys, and tolerantly put up with my 'experimental' efforts."
JGB and Mr Chips
Inspired by Raymond Tait's small findings in the library of the Leys, I decided to do a little bit of further research myself, not at the Leys (which I have never visited) but in books by or about other alumni of the same school.
It happens that the Leys School had two famous literary pupils before Ballard -- James Hilton (1900-1954), author of the "classic" school story Goodbye, Mr Chips as well as the memorable fantasy Lost Horizon, and Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957), author of the modernist masterpiece Under the Volcano. The former ended his days as a screenwriter in Hollywood, and the latter famously drank himself to death in Mexico (see Albert Finney's impersonation of him in the John Huston film version of Volcano).
In a bookshop, I dipped into the latest Lowry biography (HarperCollins, 1993; I'm afraid I forget the author's name), and was interested to note that there is a passing mention of Ballard. I don't have a record of the exact wording, but it goes something like this: "Apart from Lowry, other writers who attended the Leys include James Hilton, the creator of Mr Chips, and the Booker Prize-winning novelist J. G. Ballard." (Spot the error! A kind of mythology of Ballard "winning" the Booker in 1984 seems to arisen over the past decade.)
It's surely a fine irony that both Lowry, that brilliant drunken adventurer, and Ballard, the most intransigent of modern imaginative writers, should have attended not just any old minor English public school but the very same minor English public school which James Hilton used as his model for "Brookfield" in the sentimental Goodbye, Mr Chips. (Americans, in particular, should love this connection -- at any rate, those who remember the weepy 1939 movie starring Robert Donat.)
I bought a less expensive book on Lowry, a second-hand copy of Malcolm Lowry Remembered edited by Gordon Bowker (1985), and gleaned a few points of interest from it. Lowry was at the Leys 20 years before Ballard, but it's amusing to note: (a) unlike Ballard, he did contribute copiously to The Leys Fortnightly; (b) the editor of the Fortnightly in Lowry's day was none other than the model for Mr Chips himself, one William Balgarnie; (c) this Balgarnie chap didn't die until 1951, two years after Ballard left the school (though of course he would have been retired for some time), which means he still must have been something of a living legend there in Ballard's day; (d) Lowry was a song-writer while at school, and the first song his brother recalls him writing was called "I've Said Goodbye to Shanghai"; (e) two extremely tenuous connections with science fiction: Lowry was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan when very young, and his best friend at the Leys was none other than the actor-to-be Michael Rennie, star of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
I believe Ballard has mentioned Lowry only once, in his 1983 interview with Thomas Frick for the Paris Review. The relevant passage goes as follows: "I haven't really any private fantasies about an alternative life, even in a daydream sense. I rather like the idea of ending my days drinking myself to death on a mountainside in Mexico. I went to the same school as Malcolm Lowry, the Leys in Cambridge, and curiously enough, in September 1939, while waiting with my parents for a boat back across the Pacific to Shanghai, I lived in a rented flat on the same shoreline near Vancouver and Victoria Island where he had his shack -- we spent a couple of months at a time when he was there. His father came from the same Manchester cotton-industry background as mine. Bigger mythologies have been built on smaller grounds."
I'm not aware that JGB has ever mentioned James Hilton, but, as I say, it's ironic that Hilton should have attended the same school as Ballard (and Lowry). I've read Hilton's lengthy introduction to his book To You, Mr Chips (1938; a sort of sequel to Goodbye...) and he talks about his schooldays there during the First World War. He doesn't mention the Leys by name (he refers to it by the fictional appellation, Brookfield), but it is undoubtedly the Leys that he has in mind. It's interesting to discover that Hilton was originally a grammar-school boy, and when his father came into some money he himself chose to go to the Leys at the age of 14. In a sense, Hilton willed "Brookfield" into existence for himself -- no reluctant schoolboy (as one gathers Lowry and Ballard were), but someone who loved the place, someone who almost (one might say) invented it, and who was later to go on to create the most enduring English public-school myth since Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown.
So there we have it: Ballard went to the same school as "Mr Chips." But has it left any trace on his writing? I think not.
The Imperial Imagination
I wondered if you'd seen this gem of an analysis of Ballard? It's from The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire by Thomas Richards (Verso, 1993). You really have to read the whole chapter to understand how anyone can tie together Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker and Ballard to make a coherent argument. And it works too.
-- Roger Luckhurst, Hull
Roger has sent Chapter Two of the book he mentions, entitled "Archive and Form," which moves from a consideration of Carroll and Stoker to a detailed discussion of Ballard's The Crystal World. Odd and provocative: more details when I next do an annotated listing of critical essays.
Vance's Beauty Contest
Allan Kausch of Lucasfilm THX, California, has kindly sent me a copy of "Meet Miss Universe" by Jack Vance, the 1955 short story from Fantastic Universe magazine which directly inspired Ballard to begin writing science fiction (see his comments in the last newsletter). This piece was reprinted in Vance's small-press collection Lost Moons (Underwood-Miller, 1982) and has never, to my knowledge, been published in Britain. It's about an interstellar beauty contest, and, yes indeed, JGB's "Passport to Eternity" does bear a strong resemblance to it. Particularly analogous are Vance's lists of alien contestants, planetary environments, etc. The Vance is an ingenious, pleasantly written, inventive little story -- and utterly lightweight.
Fame in the 20th Century
Did anyone notice the "Ballardian" elements in Clive James's 1993 TV series, Fame in the 20th Century? It featured all those iconic public figures who have appeared in JGB's fiction and non-fiction, not only the obvious John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan, but also the aviator Charles Lindbergh, the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes, the "15-minute" Andy Warhol and probably dozens of others...
I enjoyed what I saw of the series (although it was generally mauled by ungenerous critics) and I shall certainly watch it again if it's repeated. There was much lovely archive footage, and some of the editing, as when a ranting Hitler segued into Shirley Temple singing "Good Ship Lollipop," was highly entertaining. And at the very end of each episode, up popped an intriguing credit line: "Produced by Beatrice Ballard."
I picked up a copy of Clive James's accompanying book (BBC Books; now out in paperback from Penguin) and turned to the first page of the author's introduction. Clive James states quite unequivocally: "Not all books are collaborations, although some are. All television programmes are collaborations without exception. So there is no use in my writing an introduction to this book -- essentially the book of the series -- as if it were all my own work. The book wouldn't exist without the series and the series wouldn't exist without its Producer, Beatrice Ballard. Fame in the 20th Century started as an idea by her. It took her three years of fanatically dedicated work, supervising every detail of its immense effort in scripting, research, editing and administration, to make the idea a reality."
So, in a sense, Fame in the 20th Century is Beatrice's book. Of course, JGB is mentioned nowhere and it may be he had no direct input into the project whatsoever; but, without wanting in any way to detract from Beatrice's achievement, I can't help speculating that it's possible she might never have conceived this series, nor carried it out as effectively as she did, if she had not happened to be her father's daughter.
The Lure of the Desert
The narrator goes in search of a reclusive character called Tallis, who lives in the American desert. On the way, he sees landscapes such as this: "Out there, on the floor of the desert, there had been a noiseless but almost explosive transformation. The clouds had shifted and the sun was now shining on the nearest of those abrupt and jagged buttes, which rose so inexplicably, like islands out of the enormous plain... Between a shadowed foreground and a background of cloudy darkness they shone as if with their own incandescence. I touched Bob's arm and pointed. 'Now do you understand why Tallis chooses to live at the end of this road?'"
The above reads like an extract from Ballard's "The Waiting Grounds" or "The Screen Game," but no, it's from Aldous Huxley's Ape and Essence (1948), a novel which JGB mentioned in his letter in JGBN 22. Undoubtedly, it is one of the literary origins of Ballard's obsession with deserts. Recently, I picked up two books about the desert, both of which mention JGB. The reference in Reyner Banham's Scenes in America Deserta (1982) is fleeting: "The effect of acres and acres of this petrified vegetable sculpture is extremely sinister and disturbing -- to me it looked like the scary zoomorphic sculptures of Germaine Richier but most people are struck by the resemblance to landscapes described in science fiction tales like J. G. Ballard's The Crystal World."
The references in Geoff Nicholson's Day Trips to the Desert (1992) are more frequent and substantial. In the long chapter describing the author's Australian desert journeys there occurs this anecdote: "We saw there was a place nearby called Lake Ballard. I had always liked the writing of J. G. Ballard even before he started accepting my 'experimental prose' for Ambit magazine. So, for no better reason, we decided to go... Lake Ballard is... a long stretch of wet and dry salt lakes, mostly the latter. There are huge expanses of flat, crusted sand, a few distant sheets of still, glassy water, and at intervals there are rocky and sandy outcrops. There was one particular hill, very symmetrical, triangular in profile, that stuck up out of the dry lake bed like a cone."
For desert buffs, I can recommend both these books.
Who Are the Other Ballards?
There have been other writers called Ballard (and, oddly enough, they all seem to be American). Here are a few who preceded JGB, and who sometimes have been confused with him by library cataloguers and the like:
BALLARD, James (1921- ) American novelist and short-story writer, active sporadically from the 1940s. A native of Tennessee, he once served in the US Strategic Air Command. He is a serious writer, whose stories have appeared mainly in literary quarterlies. Obviously, since he is nine years older than JGB and has been writing for longer, he has priority on the use of the name. Novel: The Long Way Through (date unknown); collection: Rolling All the Time (1976).
BALLARD, K. G. Pseudonym used by American crime novelist Holly Roth (1916-1964), a former model girl. Novels which carried the "KGB" byline are The Coast of Fear (1957), Bar Sinister (1960), Trial by Desire (1960) and Gauge of Deception (1963).
BALLARD, P. D. Pseudonym used by Willis Todhunter Ballard (see below) on the crime novels Age of the Junkman (1963), End of a Millionaire (1964), Brothers in Blood (1972), Angel of Death (1973) and The Death Brokers (1973).
BALLARD, Willis Todhunter (1903-1980) American writer of numerous mysteries, westerns and other pulp fiction under his real name (though sometimes his byline was abbreviated to W. T. Ballard) as well as many pseudonyms -- which included P. D. Ballard, Parker Bonner, Sam Bowie, Brian Fox, John Hunter, Neil MacNeil and John Shepherd. He was a contributor to the legendary Black Mask magazine from 1933, and one of his minor claims to fame is that he created the Tinseltown hero Bill Lennox: there has been a book about his work entitled Hollywood Troubleshooter: W. T. Ballard's Bill Lennox edited by James L. Traylor (Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1984).
Despite all the above Americans, the name Ballard is of course English. According to a dictionary of surname origins I once looked at, it is a Hampshire name (if I remember correctly) and it began as a nickname meaning "bald-head."
In the last JGBN I promised to give a fuller mention of John Davey and D. J. Rowe's Moorcock fanzine, a publication of the International Michael Moorcock Appreciation Society. It's called The Time Centre Times, and the latest issue to hand, Vol. 3, No. 2 (full number 11), dated Oct./Nov. 1994, is a 40-page stapled magazine with quite high production values. Both in appearance and content, it couldn't be more different from JGB News. It contains fiction by Moorcock, "The Affair of the Seven Virgins," an open letter from MM (signed "Your Pal, Michael"), a "Book Choice" article by MM which is reprinted from Waterstone's Guide to Books 1989/90, and much more. The books article has a mention of JGB's Empire of the Sun, of which MM says:
"In many ways this is Ballard's apotheosis, possessing the visual intensity and density of metaphor of his early trilogy which began with The Drowned World. Basing the book firmly on his own experience as a child prisoner of the Japanese, Ballard is at his most inspired and subtle in depicting all the various ways in which his characters learn to survive the horrors of conquest and occupation. The Japanese are viewed as sympathetically as the English and Americans, which caused some unseemly complaints from Bournemouth and points West, where many retired colonels failed to see how an English prisoner could even want to understand the point of view of a war-crazed enemy. Read this Ballard in conjunction with High-Rise or The Crystal World and take pleasure in the imagination of this country's most original and creative writer."
The Time Centre Times is available from D. J. Rowe at 18 Laurel Bank, Truss Hill Rd., South Ascot, Berks., at £10 for four issues. Cheques should be made payable to "Nomads" (short for "Nomads of the Time Streams," which seems to be an alternative name for the MM Appreciation Soc.). Enquire of the above address for US and other overseas rates.
I intend to continue producing this newsletter at approximately twice-yearly intervals. If you want to receive the next issue, please send me relevant cuttings, photocopies or a letter of comment. If in doubt as to whether I may want a particular item, please phone me on 0273-504710, or send me an e-mail message (firstname.lastname@example.org). Failing that, but if you still want the next issue, please send £2 (£3, or US$4 overseas) to help defray my costs. All back issues, nos. 1-22, are available at £1 each from me (£1.50, or US$2, overseas).
SEASON'S GREETINGS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
David Pringle, 217 Preston Drove, Brighton