NEWS FROM THE SUN
(1) J. G. Ballard's latest novel (title not yet announced) is a semi-autobiographical work set in the China of his childhood. It is not sf, nor even a fantasy, though he says the events have been “heightened” somewhat. A first draft has been completed, and Ballard is currently revising and polishing with a view to a possible 1984 publication date. He assures us that the story contains no mysterious Russian princesses in white furs...
(2) JGB's last published work of fiction was a story, “Report on an Unidentified Space Station”, which appeared in City Limits No. 62, 10th-16th December 1982. It is also due to be published in an anthology edited by Maxim Jakubowski later this year.
(3) His most recent bits of non-fiction are: “Senses of an Ending”, Guardian, 28th October 1982 -- a review of The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess and God’s Grace by Bernard Malamud; “Writers' Reading in 1982”, Guardian, 9th December 1982 -- in which he commends London As It Might Have Been by Felix Barker and Ralph Hyde, The Artists of My Life by Georges Brassai, and Anthony Burgess's End of The World News; “Into a Black Hole?”, City Limits, 10th-16th December 1982 -- a brief piece on sf movies in which he praises Mad Max II; and a short contribution to “Editors' Secrets Revealed!”, Patchin Review No. 6, March 1983, in which he damns the American publishing scene.
(4) An interview under the silly title of “The Ballad of Ballard” appeared in a Brighton-based rag called Night Out (No. 5, November 1982). It is conducted by Martin Fenner. A more recent interview appeared in a French journal, Metaphores No. 7, early 1983. It is conducted by Catherine Bresson, is 25 pages long, and is published in the original English. A note at the end says that Ms Bresson is a student at the University of Nice, has written a paper on Ballard called “A Journey Through Inner Landscapes”, and is currently undertaking a doctorate thesis on JGB's work.
(5) Peter Brigg reports from Canada that he has completed the manuscript of his critical booklet on Ballard and delivered it to the publishers, Starmont House (an outfit based in Mercer Island, Washington, who have already published “Readers' Guides” to Farmer, Sturgeon, Delany, Dick, etc.).
(6) W. Warren Wagar's Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things (Indiana University Press, 1982) contains numerous references to Ballard. Wagar is a historian rather than a literary critic, and his purpose is to trace the “doomsday” theme in modern fiction, particularly science fiction. He claims that JGB's obsessions “fall easily into three categories: those drawn from nature (darkness, prehistoric life, femmes fatales, the sea, the desert), whose sexual undercurrent is unmistakably Oedipal; those drawn from technology (clocks, automobiles, apartment buildings, highways, airplanes), which have phallic or homoerotic associations; and ontological obsessions with time and timelessness, being and non-being, whose sexuality, if any, is polymorphous” (Chapter 8, “The Excluded Self”).
In his last chapter Wagar returns to JGB and deals at some length with “The Venus Hunters”, “Low-Flying Aircraft” and other stories. Unlike H. Bruce Franklin (see issue 6 of this newsletter) Wagar sees Ballard's apocalypticism in a positive light: “it is conceivable that his formost contribution to 20th-century fiction will turn out to be somewhat like Wells’s -- the prophecy of an epochal change in public consciousness, prelusive to a new and radically liberated world-order. The problem in interpreting Ballard is simply that although his literary range is narrower than Wells's, he makes a more convincing sybil. He is much better at keeping his visions sibylline, in the sense of more scrupulously enciphered...”
(7) The Entropy Exhibition by Colin Greenland (Routledge, 1983) is a study of New Worlds magazine and the British “New Wave” in sf. It contains a long chapter on Ballard, as well as numerous references to him throughout.
(8) Re/Search, a San Francisco-based avant-garde publication which appears about three times a year, is planning a full-scale Ballard “special”. The editor, Vale, has recently conducted a very long interview with Ballard which will form the centre-piece of the publication. Re Search's 1982 “special” on William Burroughs and Brion Gysin was a copiously illustrated 96-page book, 11 inches by 81/2, and the Ballard issue should be similar in format. It will reprint a certain amount of JGB's non-fiction and contain biographical information. It should be out in Autumn 1983. (Re/Search follows on from the “punk” newspaper, Search and Destroy, which published an interview with Ballard back in 1978.
(9) Ballard appeared on Britain's new TV Channel 4, on 24th November 1982. The Programme, “Book Four”, featured a 15-minute interview with Ballard conducted by Hermione Lee. It was billed in the TV Times as “a rare interview with top science fiction writer J. G. Ballard who is breaking the old spaceship plus monster mould, and is, instead, using sci-fi to explore here and now”. Why is it that the television people are always 20 years late in getting the news?
(10) Thomas Frick, an American, has recently been conducting a mail interview with JGB. He says that the Paris Review is interested in publishing it. “I've been reading, and collecting, Ballard since 1966; he's been a great inspiration to me.”
(11) Publication of David Pringle’s J. G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (G. K. Hall) has been put back to 1984. Sigh.
(12) Peter Brigg writes (14/4/83):
“L. W. Currey, a prominent American sf rare-book dealer, is offering a copy of The Atrocity Exhibition for $1,000 US! It is Doubleday’s library copy, the only one that was not shredded when they decided not to sell it after the press run...
“Another matter you might find of interest is that I know David Cronenberg fairly well, having been around Toronto and the University when he was making some of his early films, particularly Crimes of the Future (which, although pretty heavy, is pure sf and very interesting). Some of Crimes was shot out the window of my college rooms and several good friends of mine are in it.”
(13) Professor John Fletcher of the University of East Anglia has written an entry on Ballard for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14, Part 1, published in Detroit by the Gale Research Company, 1983. It includes a facsimile of the first page of the handwritten manuscript of “The Ultimate City”. Professor Fletcher says in a letter: “Like all dictionary entries, this is a bit of a dog's breakfast -- my original piece was much altered in the editorial and production process, so some of the errors may not be of my making!”
(14) Bernard Sigaud has very kindly sent a photocopy of a critical article on Ballard’s Crash by one Jean Baudrillard, who is apparently a highly regarded literary academic in France. The piece was published,in Baudrillard's book Simulacres et Simulation (Paris: Galilee, 1981). It appears to be a rhapsodic appreciation of the novel.
(15) Charles Platt writes (28/6/83): “You will be amazed to hear that J. G. Ballard has won a Saturn Award for best short story: “Myths of the Near Future”. Saturns are being given by Forbidden Planet at their first New York convention, July 2-3-4. The award was voted by book-buying customers at SF book stores across the USA. Not many people voted in the short-story category, which is how JGB won. Mysterious, in that the story isn't even published over here.”
Charles is wrong on the last point. The story was published in America -- it appeared in F&SF, October 1982. It was also nominated for a Nebula Award this year, but failed to win. (Ballard's previous nominations for Nebulas were way back in the 60s -- for “The Drowned Giant”, The Crystal World and “The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D.”) “Myths of the Near Future” was also nominated for a British Science Fiction Award as the best short fiction of 1982, but again failed to win (Ballard has won a BSFA Award in the past, for The Unlimited Dream Company).
(16) The July issue of Locus lists its “1983 Locus Poll Results”. These are judgments on the best SF and fantasy books and stories, as voted upon by 950 readers of Locus. Myths of the Near Future, the collection rather than the story, does remarkably well, coming thirteenth in a field of eighteen -- this despite the fact that the book has not been published in America, as all the other “single author collections” have been. The story itself, “Myths of the Near Future”, comes third in the best “novelette” listing, out of a field of 22. It appears that Ballard does have his admirers among American SF readers...
(17) The aforementioned Bernard Sigaud, who lives in Montpellier, France, is in the running for the unofficial title of World's Number One J. G. Ballard Fan. He is currently completing a thesis, the centre-piece of which is “Hommage a Bronislaw Zielinski: Index alphabetique des personnages dans l'oeuvre de J. G. Ballard” (188pp). He has indexed every single proper name in Ballard's complete works, with the aid of a home computer -- including all the names of “the assassinated” in JGB's “The Generations of America” (many of whom, Bernard claims, are real people).
Bernard Sigaud writes (23/6/83): “The three fields I'll get into this summer will be loosely labelled “imaging”, “writing and data processing”, “architecture and styling” -- and will make up the body of the thesis... I have now resumed underlining selected passages in JGB's monochrome-concrete period; I would need a very big computer to index them and call them back at will. A few amusing discoveries: 'Ballardian heroes recognize patterns in the dark (circle on triangle = the half-bitten sandwich picked up by Maitland in Concrete Island); they can exchange long looks through dark glasses (Helen Remington in the car dump), etc. The more I look into Crash and High-Rise, to start with, the more I am mystified. You remarked somewhere in your book that the characters in High-Rise no longer had names but just floor numbers; it has just occurred to me that Ballard was thus defining the building itself as a bi-dimensional matrix... Ultimately, a scaled-down model of the tower block could be constructed showing the location of conflict zones, forbidden areas, and residential strata -- and it just happens there is specialized software for that.”
Wow. I have a confession to make: Bernard Sigaud is one of the reasons I haven't produced any of these Ballard newsletters for quite a while. I just don't know how to keep up with the guy.
(18) This is the eighth issue of a newsletter -- specially produced by David Pringle for readers of J. G. Ballard's work. It was June when I started typing it, and that's the date on the front, but it's now early July as I finish this page. The last issue was dated October 1982: there's been a long gap, for which I apologize. I'm still at 124 Osborne Road, Brighton, and will be pleased to hear from you all -- DP.