There have been three major Ballardian "events" since the last of these newsletters appeared nearly a year ago:
(1) The publication of his non-fiction collection A User's Guide to the Millennium by HarperCollins in the UK (January 1996) and Picador USA in America (May 1996). It was generally well received -- see review summaries later in this newsletter.
(2) The appearance of David Cronenberg's film of JGB's Crash, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1996. On general release in France, this has yet to be seen in Britain or America (the US premiere has been put back until early 1997; UK distribution is still in doubt). See further comments below.
(3) The publication of his new novel Cocaine Nights by HarperCollins/ Flamingo in the UK (19th September 1996, £16.99). After reading it in proof a couple of months ago, I wrote to JGB: "I think it is one of your best novels. Crime-fiction enthusiasts should take notice of this one, as I think you play fair by them -- it's a genuine mystery novel, in which you strew clues and keep the reader guessing to the end. The book works as a mystery, in a way which Running Wild didn't, really (for all its merits, that one was too brief, and too obvious from a whodunnit point of view). It's certainly your 'plottiest' novel to date, and probably the one with the most effective dialogue and the most evenly-balanced characterization. At the same time, of course, it's pure ideas-fiction. I like the way you continue your long-term project of bringing science fiction home to the here and now -- writing a kind of sf which isn't sf at all in most people's eyes and yet, in a way, still is. In a notice for Interzone's Books Received I've written: He may no longer be writing what the world regards as sf, but it's becoming increasingly clear, in novels such as this and his last, Rushing to Paradise, that Ballard's is still a fiction which operates on the utopian-dystopian axis which is at the heart of sf: in this case, an apparently utopian retirement resort is in effect the 'villain'."
A fourth event, although of less significance than the above three, was the appearance in March 1996 of the special Ballard issue of Interzone magazine (issue 106, dated April 1996; still available for £2.75 inland, or £3.20 overseas, from Interzone at 217 Preston Drove, Brighton BN1 6FL, UK). This contained JGB's first new short story in four years, "The Dying Fall," together with a reprint of his Ambit vignette, "The Secret Autobiography of J. G. B******," and a selection of his non-fiction which was not included in A User's Guide to the Millennium. It also contained a new interview with the man (see interviews listing, below) and appreciative articles by Takayuki Tatsumi and Roger Luckhurst. The last-named critic's forthcoming book, mentioned as a 1996 possibility in JGBN 24 and in Interzone 106 -- "The Angle Between Two Walls": The Fiction of J. G. Ballard -- is now due to be published by Liverpool University Press in 1997.
Letters from J. G. Ballard on Interzone, Cronenberg's Crash, etc.
20th March 1996
Many thanks for the special JGB number of Interzone. I thought it all came out extremely well and was an interesting mix of old and new. I hope your readers enjoyed it. Takayuki Tatsumi's article was fascinating, and Roger Luckhurst's piece was an interesting view from the other side of those plywood partitions -- I look forward to reading his book. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to decode the art-work on the cover and the strange spacecraft like an inverted duck... Anyway, it was all very interesting, at least to JGB readers, and thank you again.
I have seen a rough cut of Cronenberg's Crash, which is an immensely powerful and disturbing piece of film-making -- nothing in any way like his previous films, but done in a kind of heightened naturalism (like the book, I suppose) -- stunning performances from Holly Hunter and the rest of the cast.
-- J. G. Ballard, Shepperton
22nd July 1996
Thanks for the very generous comments on Cocaine Nights. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and felt that it worked as a mystery novel -- I'll be interested to see how it does. Of course, it is pure ideas-fiction, moving along what you call the utopian-dystopian axis, and I'd love to think that still lies at the heart of sf, though I sometimes doubt it -- I have a feeling, especially when I walk around the lurid sf displays in the nearest Waterstones and Dillons, that my long-term dream of a broader-based sf is pretty quixotic. One of the reasons why I removed all references to sf from my revised intro to the new Vintage edition of Crash is that the kind of "sf" I was talking about in 1973 has pretty well vanished from the scene (except, to its great credit, for Interzone).
Cronenberg's film, by the way, is still creating panic in Wardour Street -- something like 40 countries will screen the film, starting this month (I think) in France, but of course the poor, nervous Brits have to be protected from what they think of as their worst nightmares, though they'll happily swallow Basic Instinct and Usual Suspects... I noticed in Cannes that people left the premiere thinking they'd seen a pornographic film (which really existed only inside their heads). In actual fact there's very little violence and not much more simulated sex. Two of the jury wanted to give it the Palme d'Or.
-- J. G. Ballard, Shepperton
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. 24. Do please inform me if you know of anything which is missing.
1. "Truth or Dare" by Charlotte O'Sullivan and Ruth Fisher, in The Observer ["Review" section] (September 10, 1995): 10. Brief piece in which Ballard and others (Clare Rayner, Zandra Rhodes, Carmen Callil, etc) answer the question, "What would you leave to whom and why?" JGB states: "I would leave Andrea Dworkin my testicles... She could have testicles flambés."
2. "Hydrogen, Treason and Plot" in The Observer ["Review" section] (November 5, 1995): 14. Review of Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes.
3. "Books of the Year" in The Observer ["Review" section] (November 26, 1995): 10. Brief contribution in which Ballard commends Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, and Junk Mail by Will Self.
4. "The Best of Tomes" in The Guardian ["Review" section] (December 8, 1995): 23. Brief contribution in which Ballard commends Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, and Junk Mail by Will Self.
5. "Signs of the Times" in The Observer ["Review" section] (December 31, 1995): 1. Four-paragraph contribution in which Ballard (flanked by David Hare, Dominick Dunne, Fay Weldon, etc) writes about the decade of the 1990s. In the near future, he says, "Nothing will mean anything, and instant religions will flicker and fade like off-peak commercials."
6. "Caught Napping at the Eleventh Hour" in The Guardian ["Review" section] (February 9, 1996): 13. Review of The Day Before Yesterday: Five Million Years of Human History by Colin Tudge.
7. "The Long March Forward" in Sunday Times [section 7] (February 11, 1996): 6. Review of Real China: From Cannibalism to Karaoke by John Gittings.
8. "Great Minds Sink Alike" by Kim Bunce, in The Observer ["Review" section] (May 5, 1996): ?. Brief contribution in which Ballard (along with Jeremy Reed, Nigel Williams, Iain Banks, Fiona Pitt-Kethley and others) responds to research suggesting many writers are mentally unbalanced. Novelists "deliberately disorder their senses," he claims, "and drive themselves mad."
9. "J. G. Ballard's Comments on His Own Fiction" in Interzone no. 106 (April 1996): 19-25. Chronological rearrangement and slight editing (by David Pringle) of previously published material from numerous sources, all of it pertaining to JGB's fiction -- mainly his short stories.
10. "Movie Memories" in Sight and Sound ["Movie Times" supplement] (May 1996): 14-15. Five-paragraph contribution in which Ballard (along with Peter Greenaway and others) responds to the questions, "If you could preserve just one film ... which would it be?" and "What is your earliest memory of going to the cinema?" JGB mentions various films, but plumps for Citizen Kane ("having gone over the top by the end ... Welles decided that he liked the view"); his earliest memory is of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ("it scared the wits out of me").
11. "Losing It at the Movies" in Sunday Times [section 7] (May 12, 1996): 6. Review of Going Mad in Hollywood by David Sherwin.
12. "A Case of Pre-Millennial Tension" in Sunday Telegraph [section A] (August 24, 1996): 7. Review of The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium by Damian Thompson.
13. "Brute Force and Ignorance?" in Sunday Times [section 7] (September 15, 1996): 6. Review of Screen Violence edited by Karl French.
The Dangers of Muzak
Here's an older Ballard snippet that I missed before now. It appears in Elevator Music, a book by Joseph Lanza (publishing details unknown, but probably New York, 1994) -- apparently a study of Muzak, or background mood-music. This quotation was disseminated on the internet, by Ed Fitzgerald, and it reads as though it's an extract from an interview with JGB conducted by author Lanza. Ballard states:
"For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airplanes and phone companies themselves, with strident non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly."
Did you see Ballard selecting a scene from Sunset Boulevard as his favourite movie moment on "Close-Up" (BBC 2, 3rd April 1995)?
-- Gerald Houghton, Irthlingborough, Northants.
Missed it at the time -- but I have now caught up with this five-minute TV programme on its repeat, approximately 18 months later, in September 1996. Fun for movie buffs.
4th July 1995
An addition to your list of blurbs supplied by Ballard (at least, I don't think it's extracted from a review) is one for a reprint of Hebdomeros by Giorgio de Chirico. On the back cover this runs:
"One of the seminal documents of surrealism, Hebdomeros takes its place with Dali's Secret Life in the invisible library of the twentieth-century imagination. Dreamlike, heroic and mysterious, Hebdomeros perfectly evokes the poetic and twilight world of Chirico's greatest paintings."
Full details of the book are -- Giorgio de Chirico, Hebdomeros: A Novel, translated from the French and with an introduction by Margaret Crosland, with drawings by the author; London, Peter Owen. Copyright details seem a little complex. It is copyrighted "1964 Flammarion" and "1964 First English translation Peter Owen Ltd." It is also copyrighted "This edition 1992 Peter Owen Ltd."
-- Mark Jones, Birmingham
I ran a list of such book endorsements by Ballard in JGB News no. 19 (with a couple of supplementaries in JGB News no. 20), Yes, I remain interested in any others that I've missed. And here is another that has come to light:
Endorsement of Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews edited by Mike Gane. London: Routledge, March 1993, cloth; seen in the publisher's "Media and Cultural Studies Booklist 1993":
"Baudrillard Live is a superb introduction to the most important and original French thinker of the past 20 years. Here Baudrillard speaks frankly of his modest family background, his apprentice years in the French university system, his continuing sense of himself as an outsider, his dispute with Foucault and his ambiguous response to his sudden fame in America... Vast and intriguing." *
12th February 1996
I know you are interested in any current media information. I'm sure you're aware already, but Ballard did a roughly ten-minute-long interview on BBC Radio 4's Kaleidoscope about a month ago. From my none too accurate memory, he talked about the death of science fiction, Empire of the Sun, the 1950s and A User's Guide to the Millennium.
-- Paul Leaver, Chingford, London
Thanks. The interview was aired on Tuesday 9th January 1996 at 4pm, according to another of my informants, Matthew Dickens.
21st February 1996
The enclosed citation [photocopy of pages 99-100 of The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche by Joseph Lanza, New York: St Martin's Press, 1995] may be the first cocktail or drinks book ever to cite J. G. Ballard. (When not reviewing sf, I also review books about drink for Beer: The Magazine and other publications...)
-- Martin Morse Wooster, Silver Spring, Maryland
It's that man Lanza again! He was also author of the book Elevator Music, quoted above, and is evidently a Ballard fan. The relevant passage in Lanza's The Cocktail comes from chapter 10, "The Olive in the Hourglass," and goes thus:
"Circadian rhythms, based on how the brain responds to light, may explain why the human desire for cocktail time's artificial darkness parallels the sandhopper's automatic dash for the sea at the first hint of moonlight. Author J. G. Ballard explores the link between animal instincts, human compulsion, and cocktails at dusk in his short story 'The Delta at Sunset.' Camping outside an ancient Toltec city, an ailing archaeologist gets relief from his constant fevers only when he sits outside his tent at sunset. He sips whiskey sodas and watches the nightly brigade of interlocking snakes wriggle toward the beaches."
21st May 1996
I recently saw issue no. 24 of your Ballard newsletter. Under "Interviews and Profiles" was a citation for a piece with Ballard in Women's Wear Daily appearing April 1, 1988. You noted that this article was "not seen" by you. It's been some time since the newsletter appeared and I don't know if anyone sent you a copy of the interview. But assuming that you may not yet have had a chance to see it, I'm sending you a copy. Better to have two of them than none at all.
-- Patrick Clark, St Paul, Minnesota
No, no one else had sent this item to me, so I'm most grateful to you. It's a fairly ordinary little piece, but Women's Wear Daily must be one of the most unlikely titles ever to run a JGB interview! (It wasn't an April Fool...)
JGB'S Interviews and Profiles
The following list of published interviews/profiles follows on from the similarly titled list in JGB News number 24. Thanks again to all those who have helped me with information.
1. "Conversations: J. G. Ballard" by Will Self, in Junk Mail by Will Self. London: Bloomsbury, October 1995, cloth, p. 329-371. Interview conducted in August 1994. Touching on many topics, this is perhaps the best JGB interview since Thomas Frick's Paris Review piece in 1984.
2. "Don't Crash: Psychosis, Euthanasia, Apocalypse and Other Fun Ideas: An Interview with J. G. Ballard" by Lukas Barr, circulated on the internet, circa November 1995 (copyright "KGB Media, Inc."). Wide-ranging 3,000-word interview touching on a number of 1995's current events -- the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma, the O. J. Simpson murder trial, etc.
3. "Un Monde englouti" by Sylvain Bourmeau, in Les Inrockuptibles [sic: French magazine] (November 15, 1995): 28-30. Interview to publicize the French edition of Rushing to Paradise (La Course au paradis, translated by Bernard Sigaud). Touches on many subjects; in explaining the British New Wave sf of the 1960s, JGB compares himself to Sergio Leone creating a new form of Western in reaction to the Hollywood model. [French]
4. "L'utopie selon Ballard" by Robert Louit, in Magazine Litteraire no. 338 (December 1995): 73-75. Short interview to publicize the French edition of Rushing to Paradise. [French]
5. "Passions: J. G. Ballard" by Gillian Ferguson, in Scotland on Sunday ["Spectrum" section] (January 7, 1996): 2. Short interview presented without questions, and intended to publicize A User's Guide to the Millennium. JGB makes left-wing statements: "The class system is an instrument of political control, a means by which the large majority of working class people are kept down... And, of course, at the pyramid of the class system sits the monarchy which should be abolished instantly, as should the House of Lords... I'd also like to see public schools eliminated as they are a huge engine of class difference..." [Note for non-Brits: "public schools" = private schools.]
6. "A Crash Course in Realism" by Pat Kane, in The Scotsman Magazine (January 9, 1996): 13. Interview intended to publicize A User's Guide to the Millennium, but mainly commenting on the forthcoming film of Crash.
7. "The SFX Interview: J. G. Ballard" by David Pringle, in SFX no. 9 (February 1996): 44-51. Interview conducted in November 1995, commenting mainly on the subjects of film and television.
8. "'Think of Ocean Liners, Art Deco Hotels, Midnight Blue Skies': J. G. Ballard Interviewed" by David Pringle, in Interzone no. 106 (April 1996): 12-16. Interview conducted in November 1995, the "other half" of the SFX interview done on the same date, this one devoted mainly to literary matters.
9. "Britain Turns Back on Smash Hit of Cannes" by John Harlow, in Sunday Times (May 12, 1996): 3. Account of the controversy surrounding the forthcoming premiere of the movie Crash at the Cannes Film Festival, incorporating brief interview snippets with JGB: "'The Die Hard series and similar Hollywood action movies create glamour out of car crashes. I show the mutilation, pain and madness that car crashes really cause,' he said. 'Our film producers have become terribly timid. They fear many things -- sex, violence, but, most of all, seriousness,' said the author."
10. "Shock Value" by Jonathan Romney, in The Guardian (May 20, 1996): 8-9. Short interview with David Cronenberg and JGB to mark the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the movie Crash.
11. "Surrealist of Suburbia" by Mick Brown, in Telegraph Magazine (September 14, 1996): 34-38. Interview to publicize Cocaine Nights.
JGB's Critical Coverage -- Reviews
The following list of reviews of Ballard's books follows on from the column of the same title in JGB News number 22 -- which covered material up to October 1993. As usual, I'm grateful to all those persons who have sent me cuttings or photocopies, and hope that they will continue to do so.
1. Self, Will. Untitled review of The Atrocity Exhibition (annotated edition) in Time Out (December 29, 1993): 45. Describes the book as representing "the zenith of the experimental novel in English." Adds that "Ballard's marginalia are a tour de force, a wholly original work in their own right."
2. Boyd, William. "Too Much Sense" in Literary Review (September 1994): 46-47. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Says that JGB's style is "instantly recognizable, not just from the peculiar cadences of the prose but also from the assemblage of classic Ballardian tropes" -- which function "as if he has discovered some short cut to our subconscious, tapped the hidden circuitry of our dreams." Mentions the "delight with which we approach a new Ballard novel... Ballard fans know that the conventional ingredients of the conventional realistic novel -- story, character, verisimilitude, plausibility -- are not of prime importance. These elements function as a kind of mulch upon which the epiphanic Ballardian moments and metaphors may flourish and grow." Describes the present novel, which "marks something of a change," and concludes: "The classic Ballard novel is not designed to make 'sense' ... but there is a new pedagogic note in this one that seems to be striving towards some sort of message that may be deliberately designed to be as iconoclastic and as politically incorrect as possible (not reprehensible motives) but which, candidly, seems half achieved and alien to Ballard's remarkable and particular talent... Ballard, like a great composer, is producing major work in the last quarter of his artistic life... After the two great symphonies of Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women this new novel (for all that I read it with rapt fascination) seems to be a minor work... The wonderful Ballardian melodies and themes are there to be discerned but the timbre seems discordant and at odds with his real strengths."
3. Glendinning, Victoria. "No Fairy-Tale Endings" in Daily Telegraph (September 3, 1994): 7. Review of Rushing to Paradise (along with Peter Carey's The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith). Gives precedence to the Carey novel, a "disturbing fantasy," and finds Ballard's "new fantasy ... not so much disturbing as unpleasant." Describes the novel in brief, concentrating on the character of Dr Barbara: "She is the wicked queen of fairy tales. She is an extended mother-in-law joke." Concludes: "In today's fairy tales there are no happy endings. There is too much animus -- not to mention anima -- and too much disgust around."
4. Morrison, Blake. "Unnatural Selection in Eden" in Independent on Sunday ["Review" section] (September 4, 1994): 34. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Professes to find "the autobiographical key" to JGB's work in Empire of the Sun: "The worry ... was that in appeasing his childhood ghosts Ballard might also have closed the mine of invention: where could he take us now that we knew where he came from? His answer, at the start of his new novel, is a move in the direction of contemporary satire." Describes the book in some detail, claiming that it is only in the second half that the author "focuses on his real theme... Ballard is at his best here, energised by disintegration, and bringing to a B-movie plot ... the motifs one associates with books like The Drowned World." Concludes: "Ballard's line is surprising, but never merely grumpy or paranoid. Rushing to Paradise is not a tract against women but a study in megalomania -- and in the dangerous discipleship which Utopian gurus can incite. Fearful of zealots like Dr Barbara, Ballard is careful not to rant himself. His novel is most alive when its premise least affects it, when Ballard explores the Pacific atolls, secret reefs, wrecked fuselages and oil-stained beaches of his imagination."
5. Dunmore, Helen. "Dreams of Death in a Terrible Utopia" in The Observer ["Review" section] (September 4, 1994): 16. Review of Rushing to Paradise. States that "Few writers have a more unflinching eye than Ballard," and praises the "strange, luminous beauty" of his imagery. Describes the plot, and comments: "The book's blurb hints that this novel will 'ruffle the feathers' of feminists and environmental campaigners. But surely Ballard is after something else. Dr Barbara is not a feminist, but an opportunist who will use any ideology and exploit any campaign if it will satisfy her own obsessions." Finds parallels between this novel and Golding's Lord of the Flies, and concludes: "In a century of dictators [Dr Barbara] is not as improbable as one would like to believe. Through Neil's reactions to her, Ballard probes the mystery of how a Hitler or a Charles Manson first seduces and then dominates his followers until the dream of death becomes real."
6. Horspool, David. "Green Dream Turns Black" in Sunday Telegraph (September 4, 1994): 10. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Gives plot synopsis, then states: "Ballard's eye ranges far in this sinister and disturbing novel: over the symbiotic relationship of activism and the media; the easy interchangeability of different forms of extremism...; the effect of isolation on the norms of social behaviour." Likens Dr Barbara to "the Branch Dravidian cult leader, David Koresh."
7. Hornby, Gill. "Ghastly Green Crew" in The Times (September 5, 1994): ?. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Describes characters and plot at some length, commenting: "as always with Ballard, this book is a combination of extravagant, imaginative plotting, anchored by cool, rather solid prose."
8. Thomson, Ian. "No Hope Atoll" in The Guardian (September 6, 1994): 11. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Refers to the author as "a magician of the contemporary scene and a literary saboteur... Ballard's fantastical landscapes are among the most haunting in English literature." Describe this latest novel as "a Wellsian drama of extremity and isolation which marks a departure from his hard-edged fantasies of motorway mayhem and tower-block madness." Refers back to The Kindness of Women, which "contained some affecting tributes to the emotional and erotic consolation provided by women... There was a new tenderness, a quickening warmth ...; the women in Ballard's earlier fiction had been either Pre-Raphaelite enchantresses or psychotic demons out of Delvaux or Dali. But Dr Barbara is the most unpleasant of Ballard's female creations to date." Concludes: "This book is distinctive Ballard; it goes far beyond the stockades of conventional science fiction ... to present a melancholy world of loss and surrender. Images of drowned aeroplanes, disused runways, deserted blockhouses have a fierce and wayward beauty. No one else writes with such enchanted clarity or strange power."
9. Battersby, Eileen. "The Island of Dr Barbara" in The Irish Times (September 10, 1994): ?. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Gives an account of JGB's career and obsessions, referring to him as "Britain's most consistently imaginative writer." Describes the new novel, saying that "Ballard's relentless intelligence and wildly irreverent absurdist humour collaborate in creating comically satiric sequences." Concludes: "Ballard, in an amusing if heavy-handed satire weighted with too much intent, is making a barbed joke at the expense of extremism and has certainly issued a body blow to the pretensions of our century."
10. Eaves, Will. "Ecocidal Island" in Times Literary Supplement (September 16, 1994): 21. Review of Rushing to Paradise. This, by a critic one has never heard of, is perhaps the most interesting review the novel received, and is particularly good on the role of the boy hero. Describes the book, alluding to earlier works, then says: "Ballard shows how the innocuous notion of the island retreat can be at once infinitely aggressive and recessive... This is not a novel about the evils of environmentalism or feminist extremism, but a brilliant forensic examination of self-deception and the violence of the political animal's greed for privacy." Points out that the novel is "very close to the metaphorical shorelines of The Drowned World. Once again, Ballard crouches by the water's edge: the uterine moat that channels the species' deepest metabiological fears and loathings. Through these island waters of submerged memory, Neil swims to escape Dr Barbara and to break a dropsical fever with which he has been injected. There is, however, a promissory innocence in his underwater forays that contrasts vividly with the wreckage of cars and silted streets glimpsed in Ballard's first aquatic fantasy. For Neil, it is implied, is properly amphibious: a wise holy fool who neither indulges nor denies his subconscious. The critical issue is agency and responsibility. Phantasmagoria of one sort or another are easy to come by: Dr Barbara daubs the walls of a fetid cave with blood and entrails and conjures up water-borne diseases; exotic fish gather in a finned ecstasy around the drowned bodies of two Dutch visitors; but Neil alone can hunt for food and establish a practical relationship with the primal element. Ballard's prose style is similarly fluid. His dialogue, generally speaking, is less sparkling than the commentary. Too many ellipses ... lead us unknowingly into the symbolic selva oscura, but his ear for the descriptive cadence is unerringly acute, and while his imitators can only struggle to render violence explosively literal, Ballard remains a profound elegist of decay: 'A skein of hair attached itself to the rigging. It freed itself from the halyard and slipped away into the darker water, a gliding wraith that sailed towards the closing doors of the deep.'"
11. Bradfield, Scott. "Dead Astronauts and Albatrosses" in The Independent (September 17, 1994): 26. Review of Rushing to Paradise. States: "Nobody can fault either the intensity or the conviction of J. G. Ballard's obsessions." Describes the book, and comments: "Unfortunately, though, characterisation has never been one of Ballard's strong suits, and this motley crew never quite comes together. In fact, in many ways, Rushing to Paradise often recalls examples of Ballard's better stories and novels without achieving any of the same resonance." Concludes: "The satire feels awkward and the dialogue contrived. To judge by Ballard's recent work -- The Kindness of Women or the story collection War Fever -- his stride has not weakened over the years, but in this particular novel it seems to have decidedly faltered."
12. Jacobs, Eric. "She's Going to Eat the Albatross" in The Spectator (September 17, 1994): 38. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Describes plot and characters, commenting: "Ballard invites us to have second thoughts about many things: eco-campaigning, euthanasia, feminism. From any programme for our improvement, he seems to be telling us, cruelty is never far... But Ballard is not preaching. He is too much and too good a storyteller for that. And he is an extremely convincing one as well. So deft and skilled a writer is he that he catches you up in his fiction and carries you with him every inch. He captures a mood or a scene in very few words. There is no word in excess and none out of place."
13. Adair, Tom. "Sex, Death and Albatrosses" in Scotland on Sunday ["Spectrum" section] (September 25, 1994): 14. Review of Rushing to Paradise, among others. Says that JGB "hits sweet form" with this novel. Quotes briefly from the text, and states: "Thus Ballard keeps buoyant, and often sends up, a thematic dark swirl of crazed obsessions, manipulations and deceits. He prompts the action to unfold with the deftest touch, and his glassy prose is never intrusive."
14. Kaufman, Gerald. Review of Rushing to Paradise in Manchester Evening News (circa September 1994): ?. "A delight to read, a combination of scary humour and grim obsession -- one of the top novels of the year." [Not seen; quoted on the back cover of the Flamingo paperback edition of the novel, 1995]
15. Lockerbie, Catherine. "Darkness Fails" in The Scotsman (October 1, 1994): 14. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Calls JGB "the great Booker prize-winner that never was," praises Empire of the Sun, and gives an autobiographical anecdote of her own: "I first stumbled across Ballard in a ludicrously dream-like spot: a semi-abandoned British Council library in a drought-stricken oasis in the western deserts of Sudan. When the wind blew hard, the endless sand would sometimes reveal a forgotten swathe of tarmac buried beneath, an eerie reminder of the British Empire days -- a perfect Ballardian setting." Disapproves of The Kindness of Women -- "a disappointing, self-indulgent, semi-pornographic sequel" -- and states that Rushing to Paradise "returns to the territory of yore, a domain where popular genres -- sci-fi, thriller -- are filtered through the maze of his serpentine literary sensibility." Describes the plot, and comments: "There is enough murder to satisfy the crime addict; sufficient shades of Lord of the Flies to satisfy the Golding groupie; as much insight into the power and dynamics of obsession as any reader could wish... And yet, and yet. In the end this book isn't enough, doesn't lodge in uncomfortable quarters of the mind in the way that vintage, visionary Ballard does... The favourite motifs crop up in an almost join-the-dots manner... Ballard, a born storyteller, is on automatic pilot here; let's hope the next book reveals the engines re-firing, blasting into new skies."
16. Murray, Charles Shaar. Untitled review of Rushing to Paradise in Time Out (November 30, 1994): 51. Finds the novel's blurb "less than encouraging" and asks: "Has Britain's most distinguished radical of the imagination joined Kingsley Amis for a harrumph-and-soda in the snug of the Old Bigot's Head?" The answer is: "Fortunately not." Describes the book in brief, and concludes: "Conventional wisdom states that Ballard is no longer a genre writer because he has 'transcended' SF. This is hooey. Ballard has not only been working in the same genre since his first novel, but he's been writing more or less the same book. He's a grandmaster because he inhabits a single-seater genre to which no other writer has been granted admission, and because that one book never ceases to tell us something new."
17. Lovegrove, James. "The Unkindness of Women" in Interzone no. 90 (December 1994): 57-58. Review of Rushing to Paradise, among others. States: "A new novel by Ballard is always an event, and Rushing to Paradise -- his first full length, non-autobiographical work since The Day of Creation (1987) -- does not disappoint." Describes the plot in some detail, concluding that the book is "about the lengths to which a visionary will go to preserve a flawed dream and the readiness of weaker souls to be drawn into the cold glow of fanaticism like kitchen flies to the ultraviolet lamp behind the electrified grille... Not science fiction, then, but nevertheless a glimpse of a possible future in microcosm, Rushing to Paradise takes the feminist claim that women couldn't do a worse job of running things and extrapolates it to a conclusion that is both plausible and, for anyone with a conscience, but especially those of us with a Y-chromosome, alarming."
18. Wolfe, Gary K. "Locus Looks at Books" in Locus no. 411 (April 1995): 19, 48. Review of Rushing to Paradise, among others. "Like much recent Ballard fiction, it is neither SF nor fantasy, but it does investigate utopian impulses (in the same elliptical way that Conrad or Golding did), and it gradually transforms itself from a satirical comedy of manners into something approaching a horror novel, complete with overtones of Jim Jones and Guyana. It's full of the kind of trademark Ballard images ... that tend to make his fiction seem like SF even when it isn't..." Describes the narrative, and comments: "Despite considerable touches of humor in the early chapters, Rushing to Paradise is finally a pretty grim novel which, like much of Ballard, relies more on carefully measured exaggeration than on SF-style extrapolation. (Put another way, ever since the 'Concrete Island' trilogy he's been fascinated with exploring extremes of behavior without crossing the line into SF, as though he wants us to see our own world as a kind of SF construct)." Concludes: "Dr Barbara earns a memorable place in the gallery of Ballard's obsessives, but in stealing the show she also shifts the focus away from the very issues she comes to represent. Like Frankenstein or Mr Kurtz, she makes a better monster than symbol."
19. Harrison, Carey. "Vision of a World Without Men" in San Francisco Chronicle [section E] (May 9, 1995): 6. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Describes the plot, concentrating on the "anti-feminist" theme, and comments: "Ballard's contemporary fable is an alarming one, but the racy shallows of his prose leave little time to explore relationships, and the accelerating melodrama only muddies a number of important questions." Later adds: "Only the undersea world seems to arouse Ballard's prose powers, as he describes he cliffs of dead coral 'that rose like encoded palaces through the dim water,' and 'the dark edge where the volcanic crater shelved into abyssal chill.'" Concludes: "To the author's credit, Rushing to Paradise gives little comfort to woman-haters, despite its plot... The ciphers Ballard has created offer little purchase to the vengeful imagination... [It's] worth tracking down. But it's a bird's-eye view of sexual warfare, not a close-up."
20. Dunn, Katherine. "Birds of a Feather" in Washington Post Book World (May 21, 1995): 2. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Summarizes the book as "A savage, sometimes hilariously cold-blooded satire of overzealous environmentalists, animal rights activists, feminists and fanaticism in general." Adds: "The tale is couched in a form coldly reminiscent of classic boys' adventures, from Treasure Island to Lord of the Flies," then describes the narrative in detail. Mentions Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner," and speculates: "The name 'Dr Barbara' is surely a twisted echo of 'Major Barbara,' that zealous warrior against poverty and sin, who was created by an earlier British critic of false romanticism, George Bernard Shaw." Finds that, "The sustaining imagery of this novel, as in much of Ballard's work, is the dream and its power," and concludes: "Ballard's recurring rubble landscape -- the cracked pavement, shattered towers, abandoned equipment and neglected concrete ruins -- displays the ugliness of the failed or evil dream... Rushing to Paradise is a brisk and cautionary tale of the malevolent complexity of good intentions."
21. Upchurch, Michael. "The Cataclysmic Jauntiness of J. G. Ballard" in Chicago Tribune ["Books" section] (June 4, 1995): 3-4. Review of Rushing to Paradise. "Ballard is a writer fueled by paradox. For over 30 years, he has offered chilling, cautionary yet strangely exhilarating tales about humans who gamely follow their own worst instincts... Ballard's speculative fiction mixes corny insouciance with cataclysmic endgames in ever surprising ways... And his latest novel ... finds him brilliantly true to form. Indeed, it reads like a merry synthesis of all the most provocative elements in his earlier work..." Describes characters and situation, and comments: "Ballard has rarely played his we-have-seen-the-enemy-and-they-are-us theme so deftly, and in Dr Barbara he gives us the kind of strong-willed, menacing charlatan of whom Waco infernos and Jonestowns are made... Ballard offers his usual maverick brand of streamlined, heady prose... And his subversive wit permeates the book." Concludes: "Rushing to Paradise is a superb piece of story-telling, filled with supple turns and twists, as murder mystery, dystopian fantasy and nuclear-age Bildungsroman blend into one..."
22. Latham, Rob. "A Paradise Botched" in Necrofile no. 17 (Summer 1995): 10-13. Review of Rushing to Paradise (along with Dan Simmons's Fires of Eden). The most sustained and eloquent attack on JGB's novel. Finds both books under review to be "tales of ecological catastrophe," but: "Unfortunately, despite the apocalyptic rhetoric and culminating biocidal holocausts, the only real catastrophe in these novels is the ugly spectacle of two brilliant talents crashing and burning." After lambasting the Simmons novel at considerable length, the reviewer turns to the Ballard: "While the novel is embarrassing for a lot of reasons, it is not an exercise in vapid trashmongering; rather, it is a pointed and quite ambitious critique of the dark millennialist impulses purportedly animating international 'green' movements... Unfortunately, in his zeal to combat what he perceives to be their dangerously facile utopianism, Ballard -- a writer I would not before have considered remotely conservative -- winds up displaying an almost Panglossian complacency regarding things-as-they-are. Ultimately, his book reads like the angry backlash of a fat-'n'-happy male carnivore provoked by the lean-'n'-mean vegetarian feminists who've been militantly rattling his cage. Alas, this roused literary lion seems to have grown all but toothless, at least judging by how readily his efforts at vigorous satire lapse into exhausted self-parody." Describes the characters at length, commenting: "Ballard, ever the good Freudian, depicts Dr Barbara's crusading moralism as a screen for deeply irrational impulses, her seeming reverence for life in fact disguising a profound fascination with death and destruction... In short, she is a complexly divided figure, a weird amalgam of Mother Teresa, Simone Weill, Dr Kevorkian, and Typhoid Mary. The fact that, despite this oppressive freight of allusion (much of it quite explicit) and the author's consistent efforts to undermine her with corrosive satire, Dr Barbara manages to emerge as a powerful and commanding presence in the text is a testament either to Ballard's novelistic skills or to the ethical force of the causes she champions even in the face of her creator's contempt." Finds the narrative "lumbering," and comments: "what might have been a genuinely nightmarish portrait of a collective descent into barbarism -- along the lines of Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar (1989) or Ballard's own High-Rise (1975) -- becomes instead, due to the author's pompous satirical animus, a cheap lampoon of eco-feminism's alleged pretentions." Concludes: "Ballard's best work, I would argue, ranks with the best of living English writers. But ... Rushing to Paradise is a shipwrecked fable, a Tempest in a teapot, its grand ambitions scuttled by smugness, its rigging a tatter of recycled thematic and narrative material whose seaworthy days may be reaching their end."
23. Di Filippo, Paul. "On Books: The Cruelty of a Woman" in Asimov's Science Fiction no. ? (October 1995): 164-166. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Describes the characters and set-up, and comments: "In Parts II and III of the novel, what began as an acid satire on witless nature-lovers, the gullibility of the public, and the lust for fame ... devolves into a scenario that could best be described as Dr Kevorkian-on-Gilligan's-Island-trying-to-build-Biosphere-II. Echoes of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), McEwan's The Cement Garden (1978), and Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954) also resound. But the pleasure of reading Ballard derives in large part from non-plot, aesthetic, almost subliminal play of metaphors and patterns... If there is a simple moral to be taken from such a typically multivalent Ballard book, it is that man is no longer a part of nature in the same way that a bird or a fish is. Burdened by a cortex, lost without society, a man -- a woman -- can no longer fall back into the lap of nature..."
24. Lezard, Nicholas. "Empire of Women" in New York Times Book Review (November 5, 1995): 26. Review of Rushing to Paradise. Believes "there are strong similarities, in both the mise en scäne and the treatment, between William Golding's most famous novel and Mr Ballard's most recent one." Recounts the plot and quotes a couple of brief passages, commenting: "This rather crude piece of editorializing is unrepresentative of the measured, deliberate flatness of Mr Ballard's style." Concludes: "It will certainly upset ecological, feminist literalists, who will take the novel as yet another attack on them. This would be to miss the point, and to forget that Mr Ballard has a remarkable track record, not just as a subtle ironist but as an anticipator of human obsessions. Dr Barbara is a monster, but an oddly attractive one..."
25. Le Bris, Michel. "Apräs Ballard, le dÇluge" in Le Nouvel Observateur no. 1621 (November 30, 1995): 110. Review of La Course au paradis (Rushing to Paradise). [French]
26. Gerrard, Nicci. "It's Life, Jim..." in The Observer ["Review" section] (December 31, 1995): 10. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Calls the book a "rattlebag of opinions," but: "it is his fascination with antic sexuality, the weird shapes of our post-Freudian demons, our affectless alienation, that gives a kind of truth to his book's ridiculous title. Ballard has always been millennial, even in the dead centre of the century." Finds some of the pieces "merely pleasantly competent," while others are "dashingly oblique." Describes a number of pieces, and concludes: "His reviews do not often open new windows on a subject -- I rarely felt that shock of pleasure one gets from an original insight. But they do open a small window on J. G. Ballard. He is getting old now, but he does not write like an old man. He may live in suburban Shepperton, but he still has the cruel glare of Shanghai in his soul."
27. Thwaite, Anthony. "Still a Child of War" in Sunday Telegraph ["Review" section] (January 7, 1996): ?. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. "A publisher's traditional reward to a successful author is to allow him ... a hardback collection of bits-and-pieces. Such gatherings of fugitive journalism almost never pay their way..." But sometimes "such a collection can yield insights into the 'real' work through which the writer made his reputation. So it is with J. G. Ballard." Describes some pieces, concentrating on the reminiscences of Shanghai, and adds that some of the author's remarks are "truculently daft." Concludes: "But Ballard, though often provocative, is usually better than that... His bits-and-pieces underline again and again the importance of that Shanghai wartime childhood..."
28. Sutherland, John. "Rebel With Applause" in Sunday Times [section 7] (January 7, 1996): 6-7. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Describes JGB as "a canonical writer capable of the most amazing narrative feats -- but not quite house-broken." Refers to this book as "journeyman work done to turn an honest penny... In general, his tone as a reviewer is an Orwellian mixture of good sense and keen critical discrimination. But every now and then a subversive Ballardian dissonance breaks through." Gives examples, and continues: "Ballard is a superbly competent reviewer, from whom any practitioner of English prose can learn," and he is "a master of the pithy review." Gives several more highly approving examples of JGB's bon mots.
29. Bell, Ian. "Hack of Beyond" in The Scotsman (January 20, 1996): 19. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. The most disapproving review the book attracted: "The hardest thing to know about this volume of critical chaff ... is why it was published at all." Concedes that "the emotional dissonance of his fictional world is, at its best, one of the most memorable things English literature has to offer," and therefore "any journalism is likely to seem workaday and mundane. Yet A User's Guide to the Millennium (a title ripe with unmet expectations) is so much less even than that. This isn't to say these reviews are bad, just that they are irredeemably slight." Gives some quotations, saying, "Ballard can still turn a good line, of course, though that is scant excuse... From time to time Ballard attempts to put the same sort of imaginative spin on reality as he puts on fiction, but somehow the effect jars, as though, deprived of the structures of his fiction, his artifice is too obvious, his intention too predictable..."
30. Rees, Jasper. "A Black Box of Dystopic Trifles" in The Times (January 26, 1996): ?. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Another negative reaction: JGB has "roped in a lot of old pieces under a banner title that works overtime to justify their resuscitation... In 30 years of being invited to write about the moon landings and 'whither-the-sci-fi novel?' (about which, surely, fewer people care than he imagines) he couldn't possibly get away with not repeating ideas and phrases... At least his repetitions have a mighty breadth. If any modern thinker can claim to have a foot in both of Cyril Connelly's [sic] cultures, then it is Ballard." But the review concludes, disapprovingly, with various minor quotations.
31. Herbert, Roy. "From Here to Milton Keynes" in New Scientist (February 17, 1996): 39. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Although "nothing [is] more liable to appear dated, even pointless, than a collection of journalistic pieces," this reviewer finds that "Ballard is never less than trenchant and accurate, in the Cyrano de Bergerac manner." Concentrates on the pieces that deal with science and science fiction, finding that JGB "is at his best in an essay on SF written for New Worlds in 1962... I could have done with Ballard's thoughts on today's SF to round of this section." Concludes: "This book does not disappoint. Originality and provocativeness are the chief tools in Ballard's literary kit..."
32. Houghton, Gerald. "Cold Print" in The Edge [small-press magazine published in Chelmsford, Essex] vol. 2 no. 2 (February-March 1996): 23-24. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. A lengthy and well-informed appreciation of the book. "In 1977 Ballard wrote one of his most experimental and most brilliant short stories, 'The Index.' Did the attached book ever actually exist? Was it all a figment of some deranged imagination? All that remains of this autobiography is a collection of names and page numbers; tantalising nudges and winks, like a road-map with the motorways rubbed out. It's a game we can play with A User's Guide To The Millennium: Hitler nuzzles up to Mae West, Dali to Nancy Reagan, Derek Jarman with Walt Disney, Lee Harvey Oswald and the young Jim interred in the Japanese camp." Gives several quotations, refers to the volume as "this excellent book," and concludes by praising "Stuart Haygarth's superb dust-cover collage."
33. Stern, Michael. "An Eye for Humbug and a Tooth for Pop Culture" in San Francisco Sunday Chronicle ["Review" section] (May 12, 1996): 3, 8. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Gives a resume of JGB's career, referring to Empire of the Sun and "his brilliant short stories." Finds the new book "a rather different but equally entertaining and informative aspect of Ballard ... it fits together like a short story collection, unified by Ballard's literary personality and his obsessive reworking of key themes." Remarks on "the warmth of his voice as an essayist, the almost cozy intimacy he strikes up with his reader. His clear vivid prose, his unerring eye for humbug and his immersion in popular culture as both the lifeblood and deadly enemy of his art recalls Orwell. Just as Orwell insisted on facing up to the facts of his time -- fascism, genocide, Communist thought control, the emergence of totalitarian techniques in 'liberal' societies -- Ballard adamantly confronts TV, Disneyland, consumer goods, advertising and the popular films that are swallowing up literature and critical thought..." Describes a number of the essays and quotes several bon mots, concluding: "What Ballard's work tells us is that to survive life in post-industrial society, one must learn to welcome its horrors to have any hope of transcending them."
34. Bellamy, John Stark, III. "Ballard Essays, Reviews Mostly Dated" in Cleveland Plain Dealer (May 16, 1996): 7-E. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Begins by claiming that "J. G. Ballard is not exactly a household word among American readers," and blames this partly on "his chosen concentration in science fiction." Briefly describes the author's career, then states that the present book "isn't likely to make Ballard famous on these shores," adding that "it suffers from the usual defects of such anthologies: datedness, parochialism and lack of focus." Concedes, however, that "Ballard is a good writer, an interesting person and has the ability to write entertainingly on virtually any topic he takes on," and that the collection has "two saving graces. He is an inveterate contrarian... and his gift for finding unexpected resemblances ... is clever and sometimes hilarious." Concludes: "One more reason to sample this mainly indifferent collection is its inclusion of two autobiographical pieces on Ballard's horrific Shanghai childhood. His recall is tender and total..."
35. Walton, David. "Books in Brief" in New York Times Book Review (May 26, 1996): 14. Short review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. "Ordinarily, collections of newspaper reviews are inherently passe, but Mr Ballard ... sidesteps that difficulty by leaving whatever book he's reviewing virtually unmentioned, extracting its meat and recasting its subject into his own lively and eclectic style." Adds that the volume "presents a surprisingly cohesive view of what Mr Ballard considers the future icons of our time..."
36. Nugent-Wells, Kerry. "Bookmarks: Nonfiction" in Boston Phoenix ["Literary" section] (June 1996): ?. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. Begins by praising JGB's fiction, and states that in this book he "takes a nonfiction spin through the same disquieting landscape. His essays portray our century's psychic cataclysm as a descent into a kind of hyper-rationality from which madness may be our only escape." Points out that "a lighter tone prevails" in some pieces, and concludes: "For all his critical distance, Ballard never loses his sense of humor or descends into academic jargon. Even as he assaults the barricades of everyday perception, his language remains sweetly avuncular -- appealing and accessible in a way that brings his cultural critiques close to home."
37. Davis, Richard. "Nonfiction Reviews" in SFRA Review [publication of the Science Fiction Research Association] no. 223 (June? 1996): 27-28. Review of A User's Guide to the Millennium. States that the volume "isn't quite what I expected" but that nevertheless it "does succeed in presenting what I suppose all 'author's collected reviews' volumes aim for but rarely deliver: personality. Ballard's saucy essays and reviews are truly engaging, but not so much for what they explain about the objects at hand as for what they tell us about the interesting figure of Ballard." Describes the book, saying that his favourite piece is the essay on Dali, and concludes: "Throughout these writings Ballard adopts a narrative stance familiar to SF readers: something of an outsider who grasps the bigger picture, which for Ballard is likewise an inner picture. Yet far from being introverted, his is also an exhibitionist stance, making A User's Guide to the Millennium a voyeuristic reading experience..."
38. Profumo, David. "Fly Me, I'm Ballard" in Literary Review (September 1996): 18-20. Review of Cocaine Nights. Says JGB is "one of the few world-class British writers alive today, and if he has ever written a dud book it has not come my way." Describes plot and characters, adding: "Quite aside from its intriguing storyline... Cocaine Nights is a brisk and delightful read, not only for its keen irony but also for that visual acuity that seems to set Ballard apart. So often at the sentence level one relishes his prose verbatim et literatim -- 'a sluggish sea lapped at the chocolate sand of the deserted beaches' -- as much for its flat, symptomatic tackiness, its last-minute ducking from lyricism, as anything else. And it is in his descriptions of place that the chief glories of this novel lie." Gives further description of the characters, and concludes: "The corruption of the narrator is one of this book's unusual subtleties... By adopting the moral squint of the fanatic who has charisma, Ballard takes his account into the hinterlands of extremism. This becomes his Modest Proposal, reaffirming the link with one of the great ironists in the history of fantastic literature... Although the detective story offers something of a new departure for Ballard, the book sits well with his previous work... With suitably lurid, soapy production values, I think Cocaine Nights would make a mean little movie. This is Club Class Ballard, and one for all his fans. You really have to buy it."
39. Thomson, Ian. "Pyromaniacs on the Loose" in Daily Telegraph ["Arts & Books" section] (September 14, 1996): A6. Review of Cocaine Nights. Describes some of JGB's earlier work, then says: "Few writers find poetry in a disused Aquapark; Ballard can. He describes the deadening effects of mass tourism with lurid fascination..." This novel is "Ballard's first attempt at a futuristic, hard-edged whodunnit. It just about works... It is a dotty plot and not Ballard's finest. Images of deserted beaches and drained swimming pools linger in the mind. The tennis trainer is memorably portrayed as a hybrid of Charles Manson and Boris Becker. But the novel sags somewhat. Ballard is at his best when he chronicles planetary catastrophe... But the new novel lacks the vertiginous assault of his greatest science fiction, or the fierce beauty of Empire of the Sun, his Shanghai surprise."
40. Beckett, Andy. "Of Blood and Tennis Balls" in Independent on Sunday ["Review" section] (September 15, 1996): 31. Review of Cocaine Nights. An assessment which begins rather insultingly: "J. G. Ballard has always been a bit trashy. His sentences sometimes lumber, refusing to steer around cliches; plots progress by lurches; protagonists wonder out loud about how events are improbably turning out. These lumps of genre obviousness come from the same seam of Science Fiction, twisting through his sediment of stories, as the sinister jewels of imagery that have made his reputation. And the mixture works." Describes the characters and situation, then says: "Ballard appears initially to have written a lurid-jacketed clinker. Except that amid the shifty Spanish policemen and slutty expat wives, his usual powers are still there. Estrella de Mar quickly stops suggesting Eldorado, and blurs instead into a dizzying playground of Ballard motifs." Gives away more of the plot, then concludes: "As with many Ballard conceits, or philosophical questions, Crawford's kingdom is slightly too kooky to provoke extended thought. In places the story reads like the work of a prolific, grandly established author, dotted with unedited repetitions like the mention of 'faded petals' twice in two pages. But the slow slide towards a conclusion ... has enough trademark otherworldliness to keep the fan rushing through."
41. Self, Will. "Killers Among the Villas" in The Observer ["Review" section] (September 15, 1996): 18. Review of Cocaine Nights. Details characters and plot, then states: "Ballard's twenty-fifth work of fiction takes his readers back to a familiar territory of golf-courses that 'multiply like the symptoms of a hypertrophied cancer' and 'memory-erasing white architecture'... The notion that the coastal strip of the Mediterranean might be a kind of laboratory of the future has preoccupied Ballard for some time now. He has written a schematic short story on the subject, and now returns to deliver a full-length novel which reprises many of the themes that have preoccupied him... Ballard's Costa del Sol exhibits 'the timelessness of a world beyond boredom, with no past, no future and a diminishing present'. But, in fact, things are happening here -- criminal things... I cannot imagine there will be many readers who will not come to Cocaine Nights without some knowledge of Ballard's other fiction. If they do, they may be both bored and repelled. Ballard is a novelist whose fictional project has remained essentially the same for some years now. His major novels -- and I believe this to be one of them -- take their structure from Conrad's Heart of Darkness: there is a penetration of the same confused and confusing area of human experience by a protagonist who is simultaneously innocent and corruptible... Cocaine Nights contains all the familiar Ballard elements: a kind of affecting, gentle portrayal of sado-masochism; an adherence to rigid, factualist, almost clunky prose; and a forceful -- but never carping -- didacticism that makes the 'characters' so many mouthpieces of the writer. Ballard himself says that there is no humour in his novels, but in fact his juxtaposition of cultural shibboleths and sexual perversions make for both an ironic and a mocking overview of our current moral predicaments. In the year that has seen Cronenberg's masterful film version of Ballard's seminal 1972 [sic] novel Crash fail to find a British distributor (and, it is rumoured, a film certification), you could do worse that snort up Cocaine Nights. It's disorientating, deranging and I believe knocks the work of most other contemporary, avant-garde writers into a hatted cock."
42. Preston, John. "Costa Corruption" in Sunday Telegraph ["Review" section] (September 15, 1996): 14. Review of Cocaine Nights. Begins with the assertion: "long-time J. G. Ballard admirers will be reassured to learn that all the familiar elements of his fiction are clearly in place..." Recounts the set-up of the plot, and comments: "For about half its length, Cocaine Nights is utterly compulsive in a tightly plotted, rather Eric Amblerish sort of way. The sinister attractions of Estrella de Mar are masterfully evoked, the swiftness of characterisation is unbeatable ... and one is constantly being brought up short by the sheer strangeness of Ballard's imagination. But as it goes on the suspicion takes root that here is a neat short-story idea that's become ludicrously over-extended. Crawford's philosophy is simply too daft to take seriously. You don't believe in him... By the end, as the increasingly frantic twistings of the plot wind to a conclusion, it's not only credibility that has disappeared but conviction too."
43. Sutherland, John. "Good Life, Brain Death" in Sunday Times [section 7] (September 15, 1996): 12. Review of Cocaine Nights. "What we seem to have is a classic whodunit... Ballard, it would seem, has been revisiting Dornford Yates's Edwardian detective thrillers set in the south of France. From the author of Crash (currently notorious for the censorship rows about its film version) one expects surprises, but this tops most that he's recently sprung on us." Describes the set-up, and says: "Ballard keeps the murder mystery running until virtually the last page and contrives to surprise the reader with his denouement... As detective novels go, Cocaine Nights is a page-turner and an occasional stomach-turner. It is also, I think, the first of Ballard's novels which would adapt into a television mini-series. But, of course, Ballard can no more confine his imagination within the stultifying routines of crime fiction than he could simply write science fiction. This is an author for whom genre is merely the gateway to bigger literary things... If the first half ... is a detective novel, the second half takes off as a novel of ideas." Delineates those ideas, then concludes: "There are those (I am among them) who would back Ballard as Britain's number one living novelist. Cocaine Nights is not his number one novel (a spot reserved for Empire of the Sun). But this latest work adds a glinting new facet to his achievement -- Ballard, detective-novelist extraordinary."
Special thanks to Gordon Wood who keeps me in touch with the Scottish press, to Adrian Marley who does likewise for the Irish press, and to Gordon Van Gelder, Allan Kausch and others who have sent me American reviews. Everybody: please do send me copies of any reviews which you know to be missing from the above list.
David Pringle, 217 Preston Drove, Brighton