NEWS FROM THE SUN
(FOR J. G. BALLARD'S READERS)
New Year 1981/82
THE DRAGON'S DREAM ‘DROWNED WORLD’
A large-format edition of The Drowned World, illustrated by Dick French, was published by Dragon's Dream, via W. H. Smith Distributors, in October. It sells at £9.95. This is the first illustrated edition of any Ballard book -- although The Atrocity Exhibition was originally scheduled to be published by Doubleday in 1970 with drawings by Michael Foreman (that edition was pulped immediately prior to distribution because one of the Doubleday directors took offence at the book; the Foreman illustrations later appeared in Ambit.)
Dave Bridges has written the following short review of the Dragon's Dream volume: “This has to be the publishing event of 1981. To my mind The Drowned World remains the most readable and enjoyable of Ballard’s novels -- though it is now nearly 20 years old it is still as fresh and exciting a story as ever -- and I have long wished for someone to produce a set of illustrations. The only time it has been published with a decent or even relevant cover, in Britain at least, was when the original novella version appeared in Science Fiction Adventures with a good if rather lifeless painting by Brian Lewis. Of course I have gathered together a handful of classic paintings that seemed to me to capture something of the novel, paintings by Ernst and Rousseau being predominant, but all these pictures lacked an essential affinity with the novel.
“Now, however, my wishes have been granted. Dick French has painted 37 excellent water-colour illustrations that capture perfectly the mood of The Drowned World. He depicts a world infused with light and energy. The beauty of these paintings in the context of this novel is that they do not inhibit your own imagination. In a sense they axe not ‘illustrations’ but ‘illuminations’, as they work more to encourage you to form your own mental images as the story progresses than to try to define those images for you. In many ways, and in particular with his use of colour, French is painting as an impressionist. Certainly his paintings carry with them the essential vitality of the novel in much the same way that the impressionists managed to capture the vitality of the world around them.
“As with any art book -- and this edition will be found in the ‘art’ rather than the ‘fiction’ section at your bookshop -- the price tag is high. I would suggest that unless you have £10 to spare, or a credit card to hand, you refrain from browsing through this book, as once you've seen it you will almost certainly want to own a copy. In terms of value for money, though, it is a real bargain: the binding is sewn signatures -- a rarity in itself nowadays -- with black cloth-covered boards and black endpapers. The front and spine have silver lettering with a rather nice iguana motif as decoration. The dust jacket (or the card cover of the limp edition) carries the same picture as the one used for the frontispiece, and in fact this picture is atypical of the rest, being more a ‘painting’ than an ‘illustration’. The print is very clear and sharp and the paper used is top-quality. All in all this is an expensive-looking book at a very reasonable price.
“I hope Dragon's Dream sell thousands of copies of The Drowned World -- they have got off to a fine start by having Smiths' handle it for them and by having the Literary Guild Book Club run it as a recent choice -- so that they will have no hesitation in publishing more books in the series. Not the least important forthcoming title being Ballard’s The Terminal Beach collection.”
A LETTER FROM AMERICA...
Thanks very much for the Ballard newsletters. They are useful, but at the same time the idea of them makes me uneasy. Ballard's work had a very big formative influence on my own writing and I am as much of a Ballard fan as anyone can be; but I shy away from formalizing of this in any sense. What you're doing, to me, is taking an ad-hoc faith and turning it into an organized religion, with the danger of elevating JGB into a myth figure, with associated unfortunate effects upon the man himself. Much as I value the news you are disseminating, my instincts against any form of ritual homage turn me off it. Which leads me to the conclusion that for as long as you continue to publish NEWS FROM THE SUN I would like to see it, for practical reasons -- even though I wish you'd stop!
Incidentally, re the unfortunately titled Hello America (to which editors here have replied “Goodbye, J. G. Ballard”): I spoke to Don Hutter, editor in chief at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, a year or so ago about this book, and again this last summer. Don is not the sort of editor to shy away from “controversial” material. Rather, he seemed to feel simply that the book is lightweight and lacks a first-hand understanding of what America is all about. I agree to the extent that I think it would have been better, ideally, if JGB could have visited the USA. It's not that the book is factually incorrect; simply that it lacks a sense of authenticity which matters to an American audience. Americans are actually very tolerant of outsiders satirizing their culture -- in fact they have invited it, over the years. But only if the outsider meets them on their own terms; which is fair enough. Personally I like the book, and tried to get a piece of it excerpted in Omni (without success). But I doubt it will sell here.
-- Charles Platt, Patchin Place, New York, USA
Thank you, Charles. My reply is below.
I too am suspicious of cults, and I take Charles Platt's warnings seriously. I have no desire to start a J. G. Ballard “fan club” or to boost his works in a mindless way (the idea of a mindless JGB reader seems a contradiction in terms). Perhaps this newsletter is a bad idea -- bad for Ballard, at any rate, and bad for me (though I get a half-guilty enjoyment out of doing it). I did find, for example, in writing my survey of “The Critical Reception of Hello America” in issues 2 and 3, that I was “defending” a novel which I believe to be rather minor and perhaps Ballard's least satisfactory since The Wind from Nowhere. Maybe it's inevitable, in a newsletter of this sort, that one puts criticism aside and starts boosting...
However, the response from a number of readers out there suggests that there is a place for an occasional newsletter -- if only to keep Ballard's dedicated readers in touch with his latest publications and recent criticism of his work. JGB is the sort of writer who evokes such a strong response in certain readers that they want to know as much as possible about his work and to read every last word of it which is available. I became one such avid reader myself back in 1965-66, and I remember combing magazines and fanzines of the day (e.g. Peter Weston's Speculation) for the slightest mention of Ballard. If a newsletter such as this had existed then, I would have been over the moon.
It is dangerous (even within literature) to hero-worship -- and yet so many of us end up doing it, “worshipping” Che Guevara, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Tony Benn, Michael Moorcock, Uncle Bill Burroughs and all... I agree one shouldn't get into that scene. We are dealing with a working writer who has feet of clay, as have we all. And one of the appeals of JGB's writing lies precisely in its iconoclasm -- look what he did to that folk-hero Ralph Nader in his 1971 article, “The Consumer Consumed”! As someone else once said: “Don't follow leaders, watch the parking-metres...” Therein is the paradox: the best spokesmen are always telling us not to “follow” them, and to maintain a healthy scepticism...
Okay. I produced the first three issues of this newsletter in rapid succession, in order to establish the terrain and sound out response. (Also for personal reasons: I had time and opportunity on my hands -- this will cease to be so in January when I start a new job.) I am putting this one out now because I feel I owe it to Dave Bridges and several other people who have sent me material. But from now on NEWS FROM THE SUN will appear less frequently, and will endeavour to keep within a severely functional role: updating Ballard's bibliography and disseminating hard publishing news. I will stop sniping at people who haven’t seen The Light. An end to Ballardolatry! Fie!
ELVIS, BURROUGHS, ETC.
Ballard’s latest pieces of non-fiction are “Fallen Idol”, a review of Elvis by Albert Goldman (Guardian, 3rd December), and his contribution to “Writers' Reading in 1981” (Guardian, 10th December). The latter piece commends A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and Cities of the Red Night by William Burroughs.
BALLARD IN GERMAN...
JGB’s books have appeared in the German language since 1964, at first rather sporadically. However, publication of his work in Germany is about to take off in a big way in the 1980s. For much of the following information I am indebted to Franz Rottensteiner (all the comments in quotation marks are by him):-
Heyne of Munich published paperback originals of Der Sturm aus dem Nichts (The Wind from Nowhere) in 1964 and Welt in Flammen (The Burning World in 1968. Lately, they have returned to Ballard with Die Betoninsel (Concrete Island), 1981, and are due to publish a translation of High-Rise. “Heyne print 20-25,000 copies of each of their 7-9 sf releases a month, and manage to sell them all in a very short time; but few of their titles are kept in print... Heyne used to reprint their titles by computer, just the books that sold fastest, but their current sf editor, Wolfgang Jeschke, has changed this practice and reprints now and then books that he feels have special merit... I cannot say how well Ballard has done for Heyne, although some of his books have been reissued once or twice.”
Marion von Schroder of Hamburg published Kristallwelt (The Crystal World) in 1969; Karneval der Alligatoren (The Drowned World) in 1970; Der unmohliche Mensch (The Impossible Man) in 1971; and Die tausend Traume von Stellavista (Vermilion Sands) in 1972 -- all “in their quality-paperback series ‘SF and Phantastica’”. They then did Der vier-dimensionale Alptraum (The Four-Dimensional Nightmare) in hardback when that series folded in 1973. “Paperback rights in these books were licensed to Heyne... There were some excellent reviews, but I think that the whole Marion von Schrader series did very badly.”
Liebe und Napalm: Export USA (The Atrocity Exhibition) was published by Melzer of Frankfurt in 1970. This was “in an excellent translation by Carl Weissner, who is one of the best and most prominent German translators from the English language, but the publisher soon went bankrupt and I doubt that this book had much distribution.”
Franz Rottensteiner has been employed as an editor for the leading German publisher Suhrkamp for the past year. He has the following good news: “Suhrkamp is a very different publisher: it is probably the most prestigious literary publisher in Germany, the publishing house of Brecht, Hesse, Adorno, Handke, Bernhard, Joyce, Broch, Proust. So far we have acquired all of Ballard’s short-story collections except The Four-Dimensional Nightmare and The Atrocity Exhibition; and we have acquired the novels The Crystal World, The Drought, The Drowned World, The Unlimited Dream Company and Hello America. The Ballard titles are to appear as part of the ‘Phantastische Bibliothek’, a sub-series of the ‘Suhrkamp Taschenbucher’ (Suhrkamp Pocketbooks), which I am editing...
“We decided to publish Ballard because I am not interested at all in publishing the usual kind of sf; because I feel that he is an important and original author; and because, unlike all other British or American sf writers, his work is of a consistent high quality. We are more interested in publishing a small group of writers who can be developed than a lot of works by many different writers. So far, Ballard has not been adequately published in Germany, and we hope to turn him into a successful writer there. The ‘Phantastische Bibliothek’ is more of a quality paperback series than the sf lines of other publishers, our print runs are smaller (10-15,000 copies for first editions), but all our titles are kept in print and are reprinted when they are sold out. What helps the series especially is that we are the German publishers of Stanislaw Lem, who is about the only sf writer who is currently taken seriously in literary circles in Germany, and who is also very popular with readers (in 1980 he sold some 70,000 copies in hardback and 200,000 in paperback in West Germany alone). Aside from Lem we are publishing the Strugatskys, Herbert W. Franke and others... plus books by mainstream writers from Latin America, Denmark and other countries not publish?ed by the usual sf publishers. So we think that Ballard fits well into this series.
“The first of Ballard's books to be published is Der ewige Tag (The Day of Forever), December 1981; The Crystal World and Vermilion Sands will follow in 1982, and then 2-3 titles every half year.”
Phew! Thank you, Franz Rottensteiner. He also reports that the anthology Polaris 7, edited by himself and to be published in 1983, will concentrate on Ballard, reprinting the long interview with JGB that Jim Goddard and I did in 1975, together with an uncollected story or two by Ballard. He adds that it was interesting to read in NEWS FROM THE SUN about JGB's forthcoming collection, Myths of the Near Future “we'll certainly offer for it.”
And I think that will have to suffice for this fourth issue of the newsletter. Letters were also received from: Chris Atkinson; Jon Bing; Peter Brigg, who is currently working on a study of JGB for the Starmont “Readers' Guide” series; Rob Freeth, who has sent me a clipping from NME; Jim Goddard, who would defend Hello America to the death, finding it “a tremendously joyful book to read”; Ian Jones, who is writing a 10,000-word essay on JGB towards his BA in Humanities; Dave Langford; and Joseph Nicholas, who is frightened that I might start tearing apart his review of HA which appeared in Vector (don't worry!). Oh, and lots more stuff from the inestimable Dave Bridges -- but I haven’t got space for it. Also an item which Colin Greenland has forwarded to me and which I'd like to mention next time. Thanks, everybody...