NEWS FROM THE SUN
NEW BALLARD COLLECTION
As you should all know by now, a new J. G. Ballard short-story collection, Myths of the Near Future, was published by Jonathan Cape on Thursday 16th September 1982. It has a pretty cover illustration by Bill Botten, and contains 205 pages of text. Price £6.95. In actual running order, the stories are: “Myths of the Near Future”, “Having a Wonderful Time”, “A Host of Furious Fancies”, “Zodiac 2000”, “News from the Sun”, “Theatre of War”, “The Dead Time”, “The Smile”, “Motel Architecture”, “The Intensive Care Unit”.
Initial press reaction has been disappointingly sparse, reflecting perhaps the usual prejudice against volumes of short stories as opposed to new novels. The Daily Telegraph's reviewer thought the stories were “absolutely brilliant”, but had little of interest to say about them. The Times has not deigned to review the book so far. Only The Guardian has done it full justice, with a longish review by Robert Nye under the heading “Visionary in Bad Times”. Nye quotes from the Alan Burns/ Imagination on Trial interview (1981; see the last issue of this newsletter for details), and goes on to say that “Ballard has hit on a way of writing beautifully about an ugly century. He deserves now to be taken out of the 'science fiction' bracket altogether, and considered from the highest standards for what he is: a serious writer, almost a visionary, with much to tell us about the hell of the human predicament.”
Nye concludes by comparing Ballard with Jonathan Swift -- a surprising comparison, but surely more apt than his strained invocation of Edmund Spenser in the last review he wrote of a JGB book. Nye states that the title story and others are “work of such imaginative savagery that for once the too-easily-bestowed adjective Swiftian would not be misapplied. In all, this is a powerful and compelling book, and one that transcends satire since we are never left in any doubt that the author sees himself as a part of the hellishness which he attacks with so much wit.”
(I'd be grateful for clippings or photocopies of any reviews which may have appeared in papers or magazines I don't normally see -- e.g. New Scientist, The Listener, Time Out, Quarto, etc. I should like to do a fuller round-up of critical responses to Myths... before long.)
This is the seventh issue of a newsletter produced by David Pringle for readers of J. G. Ballard's fiction. The sixth issue was published last April, and since then a number of you have written to me expressing concern at my silence. Six months have gone by -- have I abandoned the newsletter altogether? Well, no. I've had doubts about its worth, admittedly, and I've been busy with other things, but several people have sent me money, stamps and cuttings, and so I feel an obligation to continue with NEWS FROM THE SUN -- if on a much more relaxed schedule. Thanks to those of you who have written to me, and apologies for not replying sooner. Please regard this as my answer to each of you.
One reason I have been silent for so long is that I moved house at the end of May.
I am now working as Personal Assistant to the Director of Brighton Polytechnic, a job which is slightly more demanding of my time than was my previous post as Information Officer at Leeds Polytechnic. Also, the process of settling into a new home distracts one from old pursuits. I've been learning how to live with certain modern comforts: central heating, double glazing, a fridge-freezer, a back garden, a video recorder (none of which we had in Leeds) -- plus a mortgage three times as large as our previous one. All very mundane.
LIFE AT THE MOVIES
Actually, the video recorder has distracted me more than all the rest. At times I feel that I may have given up reading forever. My passion for old movies has been revived, and I have been following the Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford seasons on BBC TV (now both at an end, alas). That magical realm, Hollywood of the 1940s, seems as distant and exotic as any world of the science-fiction imagination. I think it was Gore Vidal, or perhaps it was Myra Breckinridge, who said: “between 1935 and 1945 no irrelevant film was made in America”. He/she was right. (You see, I am going soft in the head -- or maybe I am turning into a version of Mr Pangborn, the protagonist of Ballard's “Motel Architecture”.)
However, I have been watching some movies of recent vintage too. I've hired video cassettes of such films as Star Wars, Scanners and Quest for Fire -- plus other less mentionable items ranging from Battlestar Galactica to Hawk the Slayer, intended primarily for my 2-year-old son. None of these sf fantasy items are a patch on real movies, of course (give me Casablanca or Some Like It Hot any day!) but some have been interesting. Scanners impressed me. It had an intelligent script, and I felt as I was watching it that I was in the hands of an actual sf writer -- Theodore Sturgeon, say, or James Tiptree, Jr. I don't recall any sf film that has given me that impression before: one has always had to make allowances, if you know what I mean.
Which leads me on to the following letter from J. G. Ballard:
A RAVE FOR 'MAD MAX II'
Many thanks for the latest newsletter -- as always full of new and useful information. I haven't seen Burns' book of interviews, or even the original transcript (would I use the term “blotto”? -- to mean what? I might use it in the sense of sodden with drink, but not to mean addled -- not that it matters --). I was also interested to hear about H. Bruce Franklin's Marxist piece...
Films -- John Wolfers told me ten days ago that a contact at Euston Films had said that the High-Rise project was still very much alive. They're supposed to have a very good script. I assume that it is in a queue of possible projects that is constantly being reshuffled at the whim of these moguls. (Incidentally, isn't Mad Max II remarkably brilliant? The best film I've seen since Last Tango. It makes Star Wars and those other American sf movies look amateurish.)
-- J. G. Ballard, Shepperton, Middlesex
No, I haven't seen it, I'm afraid. I believe it is the same film as has recently been released in America as The Road Warrior, where it seems to be garnering praise. Baird Searles writes in the September F&SF: “my hat is off to the Aussies. Anybody that can make a car bash movie with this much class has to be a force to reckon with in the future of the medium.” Evidently it is a Must See film for all of us.
I'm glad that Jim Darroch also noticed the similarities between David Cronenberg's film Shivers (which American readers may know under its other titles of The Parasite Murders or They Came from Within -- these were the titles in the USA and Canada) and J. G. Ballard's High-Rise. I was very struck by the similarities, and was wondering whether anyone else had noticed. Jim Darroch is right about the self-contained unit which the high-rise block in the film is designed to become, and the claustrophobic atmosphere. Also, we see conflict breaking out between the inhabitants of the block; and the end of the film mirrors the end of Ballard’s novel. The inhabitants of the block, carrying the parasites within them, head out to infect the rest of the society, just as in the end of High-Rise we see that another block has become infected with the chaos that has broken out in the original one. Other important influences on Cronenberg obviously were those “horror classics” Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, not to mention one scene straight out of Polanski’s Repulsion. And en passant one could remark that Cronenberg has influenced others -- the “chest-splitter” sequence in Alien was obviously taken from that in Shivers, as Cronenberg pointed out at a talk at the ICA.
More important than this is, I think, Cronenberg’s stated view that the roots of horror lie in the horror of our own bodies. It is apparent from his films that he regards the human body and its visceral nature with a combination of fascination and horror. And I think that we find this same fascinated horror in some of Ballard’s work -- perhaps in The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash, for example -- although it is of course conveyed with a much more clinical detachment in Ballard's work. All in all, I think that those readers of JGB who liked High-Rise might well find Shivers interesting -- though they may need strong stomachs to get through it. And I would certainly agree with you that it is a pity that none of Ballard’s work has been filmed -- I think that Werner Herzog would certainly make an interesting director of Ballard’s work.
-- Chris Fowler, Donnington Gardens, Reading
I haven't seen Shivers either, though as I indicated earlier I have recently seen Cronenberg's other film, Scanners, and was duly impressed by it. I can't say it reminded me of Ballard, though -- more like Sturgeon as rewritten by William Burroughs perhaps (but sans the Burroughs humour). A thought: Mad Max II/The Road Warrior is an Australian film; Cronenberg’s films come out of Canada. Could it be that the English-speaking “Dominions” are now overtaking the USA (not to mention the UK) as centres of imaginative film-making?
ODD MENTIONS OF JGB
I was reading Raymond Durgnat's The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock (1974) recently and was faintly surprised to come across a mention of Ballard. It occurs in the section on The Birds: Durgnat concludes “one would have liked an absolutely uncompromising Hitchcock film about mankind's response to disaster; whether the blitz, or the sinking of the Titanic, or, of course, certain novels of J. G. Ballard’s”. Can you imagine a Hitchcock-directed version of The Drowned World or The Drought?
Another passing reference to JGB occurs in Thomas M. Disch's recent volume of short stories, The Man Who Had No Idea (Gollancz). Introducing one of his own stories, Disch states: “Often when prose is praised for being 'poetic', it is not for its aural properties but for its power to project images on the camera obscura of the reading mind. J. G. Ballard, for instance, might as well have been born deaf, but few writers paint so persuasively with a typewriter.”
BALLARD'S LATEST WORK
As you will know, a JGB novelette called “Memories of the Space Age” appeared in the second issue of Interzone, June 1982. Also, the title story of his new collection, “Myths of the Near Future”, has appeared in the October issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the editorial blurb states: “J. G. Ballard contributed several distinctive stories to F&SF in the 1960s, including 'The Illustrated Man', which this new tale somewhat resembles” -- they mean “The Illuminated Man”, natch.)
Since those items, Ballard has written a new short story, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station”, which Maxim Jakubowski has accepted for publication in a 1983 anthology he is editing. But the really good news is that JGB is now deep into the writing of a new novel. No hint as to what it's about yet, since he does not like to discuss work in progress...
One or two people have asked about my forthcoming bibliography of Ballard’s works -- which I mentioned in the first of these newsletters almost a year ago. Well, I eventually heard from G. K. Hall, the publishers, in the summer. They have now put the publication date back to the latter part of 1983, and they returned the manuscript to me for updating. I have brought it up to date to the publication of Myths of the Near Future, and by now (with luck) they should be getting on with the typesetting. It will be a sizeable hardcover volume, and the full title will be J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. I shall let you know further details when I receive them from the publishers, probably in the new year.
(Meanwhile, I now have a few spare copies of my earlier publication, Earth is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard's Four-Dimensional Nightmare, which appeared from Borgo Press, California, in 1979. If anyone does not have a copy, I can provide it to readers of this newsletter at the special reduced price of just £1.50, postage included.)
VISIONARY OF THE APOCALYPSE
Just space to mention “J. G. Ballard: Visionary of the Apocalypse”, an interview/profile by Toby Goldstein which appeared in the comic magazine Heavy Metal, April 1982. Jim Goddard kindly sent me a photocopy of this, and it's an interesting piece indeed.
Also in the same issue of the same magazine was a snippet by one Brad Balfour: “When British avant-rockers Siouxsie and the Banshees hit town, I stepped backstage to ask bassist-songwriter Severin what his list of favorite flights of science-fiction fancy might be. Here's his off-the-cuff reply: Crash by J. G. Ballard; Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard; The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury; The Green Brain by Frank Herbert; and, he emphasized again, anything else by Ballard.”
That's all for now. NEWS FROM THE SUN will follow along sometime in the next few months, I hope. In the meantime I must get back to the serious business of editing Foundation and helping to edit Interzone. It's been fun doing this, a minor indulgence.