NEWS FROM THE SUN
(FOR J. G. BALLARD'S READERS)
'HELLO AMERICA' SELLS WELL IN USA
Hah: I reported in the last issue that Ballard's Hello America had failed as yet to find a US publisher. Ironically, the November issue of Locus brings the news that the novel is selling well in America, as a UK import.
According to Locus the Ballard novel is runner-up to the top-ten hardcover bestsellers in the sf/fantasy field. The Locus list is compiled from information supplied by seventeen specialist bookstores across the United States. Apparently, the book-dealers have imported quantities of the Cape edition of Hello America -- perhaps they were intrigued by the title?
It is quite an achievement for a British hardcover to sell so well in the American sf market (no other British book features in the hardcover or paperback lists, or among the runners-up). It would seem that Holt, Rinehart and Winston made a commercial error when they rejected Hello America.
Now that the novel's sales-potential has been proven, surely some other US publisher can be persuaded to take it on?
PAPERBACKS FROM GRANADA
Ballard’s latest British paperback is The Unlimited Dream Company, published by Granada on 26th November at £1.25. It has a rather mediocre cover illustration by Peter Goodfellow, and is garnished with approving quotations from Anthony Burgess, The Spectator, The Observer and The New Statesman. Most interesting is a longish extract from Malcolm Bradbury's review which appeared in the New York Times Book Review: he calls the novel “a remarkable piece of invention, a flight from the world of the familiar and the real into the exotic universe of dream and desire... Dense and erotic and magical, a pleasure to read.” Good on you, Mr Bradbury! (Who would have expected the author of The History Man to approve of Ballard?)
A year ago Granada published a collection called The Venus Hunters (no doubt you all have a copy by now). This was intended as a replacement for an earlier Panther Books collection called The Overloaded Man (1967; reprinted 1971). Two stories, “Thirteen to Centaurus” and “The Overloaded Man”, and an article, “The Coming of the Unconscious”, were dropped; and three stories, “The Killing Ground”, “One Afternoon at Utah Beach” and “The 60 Minute Zoom”, were added. It is the intention of Ballard and his agent, John Wolfers, to make all the collections non-overlapping, and the substitutions were designed to that end (“Thirteen to Centaurus” and “The Overloaded Man” having been included in the second edition of The Four Dimensional Nightmare, 1974).
Unfortunately, somebody boobed somewhere, because one of the three “new” stories, "The Killing Ground", had in fact appeared in Ballard's other paperback-original collection, The Day of Forever (second edition, 1971). To rectify this, Wolfers is cutting “The Killing Ground” from all copies of The Venus Hunters which he sends to foreign publishers (and several have bought the rights). He is replacing it with a previously-uncollected story called “The Recognition”, which first appeared in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology (1967).
When Granada come to reprint The Venus Hunters (how many years from now?) the same substitution should be made. Meanwhile, Wolfers says that Granada will be reprinting The Day of Forever some time within the next year. Perhaps with their next Ballard reprint they'll take the bother to drop The Overloaded Man from the list of “other works” -- to have both it and The Venus Hunters appearing on the same list (as is the case in the new paperback of The UDC is rather pointless and misleading now, isn’t it?
NEW NOVELETTE APPEARS
Ambit 87 (Autumn '81) is out at last, bearing Ballard's “News from the Sun” -- from which this newsletter takes its name. The story is nicely illustrated by Mark Foreman (son of Michael).
Ballard is still the Prose Editor of Ambit, a position which he has held since 1966. He first contributed to the magazine (“The Draining Lake”, an extract from The Drought) in 1965. As reported in the first of these newsletters, the editors of the fiction magazine Interzone intend to reprint “News from the Sun” in booklet form next February. The booklet will be sent as a bonus item to all advance subscribers (there are now almost 300 of them). If by some remote chance anyone who reads this is not yet a subscriber to Interzone, all they have to do is send £5 to 28 Duckett Road, London. The Ballard booklet is likely to become a collector's item...
Ballard's latest piece of non-fiction, “New Means Worse”, is a review of Kingsley Amis's anthology The Golden Age of Science Fiction. It appeared in The Guardian on 26th November, and it consists mainly of an attack on Amis’s reactionary view of the sf of the past 15 years. It is a brisk, heartening polemic.
By pure coincidence I made a little dig at Amis in the last issue of NEWS FROM THE SUN. I did not know at that time that Ballard was reviewing the anthology (though his review had probably been written by then). Perhaps this is an appropriate place to state that this newsletter is in no sense an “official” publication, vetted by Ballard or his agent, and that all the opinions expressed herein are my own (unless they are by named correspondents). I am entirely to blame for what appears here, and my comments on various writers, critics and publishers (e.g. my remarks on Paul Ableman in the last issue) do not necessarily reflect any remarks which have been made to me by Messrs Ballard or Wolfers. Which leads me on to the following interesting letter of comment:
THAT ROCK CONCERT...
Have read “News from the Sun” in Ambit. During the first few pages, I was gripped with a horrid feeling that Jim was beginning to caricature himself and was getting into dangerous territory, what with his usual archetypal characters, astronauts, swimming pools and rampant entropy gnawing away at the fabric of time. Then the story began to grip me and I now feel it's among his best. But the call was close. How much more often can he retread this familiar psychic territory without repeating himself? That worries me somewhat and I feel a bit anxious about what he is going to write next. In a way, and it's my own personal prejudices speaking, I'd like him to give up on sf imagery (covering the slightly regressive period from, say, “The Ultimate City” to “News from the Sun” including Hello America) and try something “different” again. Not another Crash of course, but something… what?
I hadn't read Paul Ableman's review (of Hello America). I think Ballard is one of his blind spots, because I often agree with him. He's also a very good friend, whom I've known almost as long as Jim. In fact we were all together at that pop festival he mentions. I seem to remember it was 1969 and the festival was organized by IT magazine, under the name Phun City, and took place in Worthing, or rather a field outside Worthing. Everybody associated with New Worlds had been invited. William Burroughs was also there, which is the reason that I suspect got Jim out of Shepperton. There was music (MC5 for the first time in England were heading the bill) and there was supposed to be a lot of multi-media events. In fact, all the writers present were utterly bewildered as to why they should be there and never made it to the stage although the deejay kept on saying through the sound system that all these fab groovy people were there. My memory of the occasion is pretty vague nowadays, for reasons usually associated with late-60s rock festival excesses so I can't really shed much light on the occasion. I remember being told that our expenses would be paid (they never were) and witnessing a lot of decorative nudity as well as waking up in a compromising stance with various ladies under a giant inflatable... Ah, those were the days. Oh yes, and Jeff Nuttall being very gross and rude in the bus from Worthing station but still attracting all the prettiest birds...
-- Maxim Jakubowski, Finchley Lane, London
Interesting, Maxim. When Paul Ableman referred to a “pop concert” in his review of Hello America I did not surmise he was talking about something which happened such a long time ago (I had visions of some “new wave” event). Your letter makes 1969 sound like something from another eon... By the way, was your pun intentional: “a compromising stance”?
As to your comments on the novelette “News from the Sun” -- it and its companion-piece, “Myths of the Near Future”, are very deliberate retreadings of old territory. “Myths...” is to “The Illuminated Man” as “News...” is to “The Voices of Time”. Why Ballard has chosen to do this I don't know, but I think the experiment works. In my view, “Myths...” is the more effective of the two pieces, but I like them both.
THE CRITICAL RECEPTION OF ‘HELLO AMERICA’, PART TWO
A review by Martin Amis appeared in The Observer for 7th June. Like Robert Nye's piece in The Guardian, it is an attempt at a “major” evaluation of Ballard (by newspaper review-page standards, that is). Martin Amis has always shown a curious love/hate attitude to Ballard's writing (similar, but different, to his Daddy's feelings on the subject). Anyone who doubts that Amis fils has been strongly impressed by JGB in the past should take a look at a novel called Dead Babies (paperbacked as Dark Secrets): there's a very interesting passage in there...
That's by the by. In The Observer piece Amis is trying to do the decent thing, like Nye. He begins by saying that “Ballard's talent is one of the most mysterious and distempered in modern English fiction -- and it is by far the hardest to classify.” That worries Amis. He takes us on a trot through Ballard's career, scattering a few inaccuracies (it’s an exaggeration to say Crash “had to be cut by half for publication”). Interestingly, since he has utterly condemned the novel in the past, he now professes to find Crash Ballard's “most mannered and literary book, its sprung rhythms and creamily varied vowel-sounds a conscious salute to Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarme.”
Amis says that Hello America is “hardcore SF” -- I doubt Poul Anderson would agree, but we know what he means. He describes the novel at length, taking it all very straight-faced, and summarizes it as “a simple adventure story, Buchan or Henty adrift in the time machine”. Really! He then goes on to say -- wait for it -- that “Ballard's work is quite unprotected by humour. His eye for the comedy of human variety is non-existent...” Too much! I don't know what kind of humour Amis is looking for -- and J. G. Ballard is no P. G. Wodehouse, admittedly -- but to profess an inability to find any humour in Ballard's work strikes me as evidence of a quite amazing blindness. Hello America may not be a fully successful comic novel, but a comic novel it nevertheless is.
Amis concludes: “it is futile to have expectations of Ballard: he will inevitably subvert them. All we know for certain is that the novels he will write could not be written, could not even be guessed at, by anyone else.” In common with Robert Nye, Amis seems to be looking for a handle to help him grasp Ballard. He hasn't found one yet, for which I'm rather thankful.
Victoria Glendinning's review in The Sunday Times of the same date is hardly worth commenting on. It is favourable but not very interesting. At least she finds “jokes of great ingenuity” in the book. Galen Strawson's review in the Times Literary Supplement is also generally favourable (12th June). He provides us with yet another overview of JGB's career, parts of which I disagree with (I'm not sure that Ballard's obsessions are quite as “fixed” as Strawson makes out -- there is a development to be seen in his work). Like several other reviewers, Strawson praises the landscapes but deplores the people: “The characters are a little short on anything approaching three-dimensionality, with their unexplained fluctuations of mood and purpose, their unidentifiable-with oddities, and sketchy, solipsistic personalities.” He concludes: “Ballard provides a wealth of images, and, if they behave like a fractious orchestra of individually acclaimed soloists, subverting strong narrative development, it is just so that they together work their unsettling and extravagant effects.” No mention of comedy.
The most notable of all the critiques of Hello America is Julian Rathbone's lengthy rave which appeared in the August issue of The Literary Review, though even he takes the book a bit too seriously. I like his opening, in which he states: “A game played by all of us at the literary end of the book trade, and I expect by mere consumers too, is: spot the real classic, the author who will be widely read in two hundred years' time.” He goes on to name Ballard as one of his favourite contenders. That's pinning one's colours to the mast! (Interestingly, Rathbone has himself been a nominee for the Booker Prize in the past -- needless to say, Ballard never has been, though perhaps if Malcolm Bradbury had been chairman of the judging panel in 1979 instead of 1981...)
I'm running out of space again, so I won't attempt to summarize Rathbone’s long piece here. Suffice to say that it is intelligent and very well disposed.
And that's the end of NEWS FROM THE SUN No. 3. Another issue should be out Real Soon Now, presuming the response continues to be favourable. Thanks to those people who have sent me postcards and letters -- and no thanks to certain people in the south of England who have not responded at all (yes, I'm referring to you, Messrs G*****d and B***y:). If you want to receive future issues please drop me a line or send me two 14p stamps. Merry Christmas!