NEWS FROM THE SUN
Empire of the Sun
J. G. Ballard's major new novel bears the above title. It is a third-person narrative, based on his own experiences as a youth in wartime China. The provisional publication date is September 1984. Apparently everyone who has seen the manuscript so far is very impressed by it; there is a good chance that this may prove to be the occasion of Ballard's “breakthrough” into a wider market.
Surprising news: this novel JGB leaves Jonathan Cape Ltd, his publishers of the last eighteen years, and returns to his original publishing house, Victor Gollancz Ltd. It is understood that Gollancz are delighted to have Ballard back and that they will be promoting the new book vigorously (it will not appear in their SF line). It is likely that they will reissue the two short-story collections to which they have rights around the same time as Empire of the Sun. JGB's first serious novel, The Drowned World, is still in print from Gollancz, after twenty-one years.
Dent to Publish More Ballard
J. M. Dent have already reissued The Drowned World in their new line of “quality” paperbacks, Everyman Fiction (September 1983). They are due to publish The Terminal Beach in the same format. (The paperback rights in these books have reverted from Penguin, who appeared to lose interest in Ballard.)
In addition Dent have now bought the paperback rights to The Four-Dimensional Nightmare and Vermilion Sands. It is likely that the first of these will be republished under a new old name: The Voices of Time. Apparently The Voices of Time was Ballard's original choice of title back in 1963; the title “The Four-Dimensional Nightmare” was invented by an editor at Gollancz who did not wish the book to be confused with the US paperback collection The Voices of Time and Other Stories (Berkley, 1962). All future Gollancz and Dent reprints should bear JGB's original title.
Thatcher's Seed Corn
The latest published interview with Ballard appeared in New Musical Express on 22nd October 1983. It is entitled “Waiting for Silver Coconuts” and is the work of Charles Shaar Murray. (I find it enormously encouraging, and pleasing, that a publication like NME should wish to interview JGB -- after all, he's not exactly a rock and roll star, “Warm Leatherette” and The Comsat Angels notwithstanding.)
It's quite a good interview, though inevitably it covers a lot of familiar ground. The reference to coconuts is occasioned by the silver-foil palm trees which Ballard has adorning his study.
A couple of highlights: firstly JGB on science fiction “the majority of its writers, especially the American writers, are extremely right-wing. Some are paranoid in their right-wing beliefs. Not just their political views, but their attitudes on race and sex are extremely conservative.” Later he says: “If like me you're depressed about the future of this country -- which I am because of my three kids and the world they're going to grow up in, particularly when North Sea oil runs out as it's started to do, and things really get tough here and the seed corn laid down by Thatcher comes up as armies of warriors with swords, with whatever political conflict lies in store for us -- then the only hope of any radical change does lie with the young. There's no question about that.”
Godzilla Meets the Wind from Nowhere...?
Now it can be told. I heard a rumour some time ago that J. G. Ballard had a hand in the 1969 movie When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Recently I summoned the nerve to ask the man himself about this and he confirmed that the rumour is true!
Ballard was hired to write an original screen treatment for the film -- i.e. a story-line -- and indeed he eventually got screen credit for doing so (though they got his initials wrong, or something). The final script was written by Val Guest, who also directed the movie for Hammer Films. (Guest is a reasonably talented maker of SF films, as it happens -- the rather good and faintly Ballardian disaster movie The Day the Earth Caught Fire, 1962, was written, produced and directed by him.)
I haven't seen When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth -- I have that pleasure in store - but I have looked up the references to it in Leslie Halliwell's Film Guide and in Leonard Maltin's TV Movies. They have the following to say:
“In prehistoric times, a girl is swept out to sea by a cyclone and adopted by a dinosaur... All very silly but tolerably well done” -- Halliwell.
“Fast-paced, enjoyable prehistoric actioner... Beautiful locations, very good special effects, and honorable attempt to simulate period” -- Maltin.
Like the hero of his short story “Time of Passage” are the protagonists of Ballard's novels growing steadily younger? Consider the following:
“Ballard” in Crash -- 40 years old
Maitland in Concrete Island -- 35 years old
Laing in High-Rise -- 30 years old
Blake in The Unlimited Dream Company -- 25 years old
Wayne in Hello America -- 21 years old
“Jim” in Empire of the Sun -- circa 15 years old?
Apart from the last (which is just a guess on my part) all of these ages are given quite explicitly in the texts. Note that they are all “rounded” ages: this is indicative of JGB's rather distanced and emblematic treatment of characters. A Ballard hero is never 41 or 36 or anything so specific -- he is always “40” or “35”. I predict that JGB's next novel will star Emil Minty as The Feral Kid, 10 years old...
9th July 1983
Very many thanks again for News from the Sun -- as always packed with information new to me... $1,000 for Atrocity? I have a copy of the Doubleday edition -- a handsome book incidentally, with a dozen Foreman illustrations...
Bernard Sigaud is quite right about the names of the people in Generations of America -- though how he discovered that they are real people mystifies me. In fact I took all the names from the editorial mastheads of Time, Newsweek and Fortune, which of course was part of the joke, as those magazines played a large part in creating the landscape of violent sensation the book examines. Some of the surnames may have become transposed, out of fatigue...
Curious about names. Writing my China book I find that so many of the names in my later fiction were based on people in the camp -- Ransome, Maitland, Osborne were corridor neighbours -- but I have had to rename the characters with fictitious names to avoid charges of excessive repetition -- perhaps this will be my first true fiction. Wagar's book sounds interesting -- though how highways and apartment blocks are homoerotic or phallic stumps me...
-- J. G. Ballard, Shepperton, Middlesex
11th September 1983
Thanks for News from the Sun 8. I've been waiting to finish a couple of Ballard-related books before writing this. Having seen your praise and Ballard's for Bernard Wolfe's Limbo I've been looking around for some time for a copy and finally obtained a 1961 Penguin abridged edition, and can see why you've praised it. It also throws new light on Ballard's work (e.g. how he refers cryptically to it “Love and Napalm” presumably being an echo of Wolfe's chapter heading “Love and Selenium”). The other book was Edward Glover's War, Sadism and Pacifism from the introduction to which Ballard quotes in “The Terminal Beach” and in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of SF. The book consists of three lectures given to the League of Nations in 1931 -- Glover was an orthodox Freudian -- and was published in 1933 and reprinted in 1935 (my edition). Ballard's reference is dated as 1947 and presumably is from an up-dating introduction for a post-war edition. Glover in turn is attacked in Ashley Montagu's The Nature of Human Aggression, a recent debunking attack on people like Robert Ardrey, Desmond Morris, who maintain the theory of the killer ape in man. This ties up in turn with the Ballard review of Mein Kampf (recently reprinted in Michael Moorcock's New Worlds: An Anthology, Fontana/Flamingo, 1983 -- DP). Ballard accepts the Freudian theory of Thanatos, I think, but refuses to extend it to a group -- it is the individual who is moved, not the group, and the attempt to explain a group's activity by an individual's feelings shows up that the people who produce such general theories are moved by “uneasy fantasies about their own bodies and emotions.” What was odd, though, on reading Glover was to realize that Ballard would quote an orthodox Freudian when Ballard's own work seems much more influenced by Jung or even Adler (concepts of power in Concrete Island and High-Rise).
-- Leslie Hurst, Borrowash, Derby
I took a look at Edward Glover's War Sadism and Pacifism some years ago. The edition which I found in my public library was indeed the 1947 one from which Ballard had quoted. I found the book heavy going at the time -- though perhaps it would be worth taking a look at again in the light of the recent, much-revived Peace Movement of the 1980s (as I recollect, Glover's book was principally a psychoanalysis of the pacifist movement of the 1930s). There was another book by Glover which I read (with more enjoyment) in my teens. This was called Freud or Jung? and was a no-holds-barred attack on Jung and his followers. Glover was adamant that one couldn't be a believer in Freud and have any truck with C. G. Jung. I doubt he would have regarded J. G. Ballard as a very good “disciple”. I don't know whether Ballard accepts the Freudian “theory of Thanatos” or not, or for that matter whether he “accepts” any of Jung. I think he has used elements from these men's theories to suit his own creative whim...
On the matter of Bernard Wolfe's Limbo (or Limbo '90 as it is called in the British edition): I think that the parallels between JGB's Hello America and the Wolfe book are very strong, and in fact Ballard has himself acknowledged them. Ballard's giraffe in HA is the same as Bernard Wolfe's giraffe: there are numerous other echoes, up to and including the near-nuclear-holocaust climax. JGB's character Wayne keeps a diary, as does Wolfe's Dr Martine. Ballard's depictions of Durango, Las Vegas, etc., are highly reminiscent of Wolfe's description of a ruined Miami. In short, Hello America is a deliberate homage to Wolfe's Limbo. Even the stylistic tics are sometimes the same -- notably the substitution of a mere comma for “and” in many sentences... I don't mean all this to suggest that JGB was perpetrating a rip-off; but it does indicate how deeply influenced by Wolfe he was back in the 1950s. I suspect it was Wolfe who opened up all the possibilities of science fiction for him. It's an enormous shame that Limbo is out of print. Isn't it high time someone did a new edition, complete with an introduction by J. G. Ballard of course?
Chris Fowler has kindly sent me a photocopy of a film review from the Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1983. It's about Stephen Frears' Bloody Kids, a 1979 TV movie which has recently been released to the cinema. The reviewer, John Wyver, recounts the plot at length then says: “Director Stephen Frears relishes this strangeness-of-the-banal, creating a world immediately recognizable yet oddly aligned, in some way a frame or two out of sync. A strong influence in this respect is the writing of J. G. Ballard, particularly Crash, which captures something similar to the excitement Leo feels at the scene of the accident, and which he tries to evoke again in an urgent incantation delivered from the hospital roof...” The scriptwriter is Stephen Poliakoff. Are Frears and Poliakoff closet Ballard fans, or is this all just a fanciful reading of John Wyver's?
Royal College Film
Sam Scoggins, a recent graduate in film of the Royal College of Art, London, has made a 27-minute documentary on J. G. Ballard. It is entitled “The Unlimited Dream Company” and won Sam Scoggins a BBC-sponsored award for the best documentary made by a Royal College student in the year 1982-83. The film has been praised by Ballard himself. Apparently it contains an unusual interview with the writer, together with imaginative visuals. Sam Scoggins has been trying to interest various TV companies in the film, with no definite success as yet. A transcript of part of the soundtrack will appear in the Re/Search JGB “Special”, to be published in San Francisco shortly. Speaking of which:
Re/Search Special Delayed
The above publication, mentioned in the last of these newsletters as forthcoming in Autumn 1983, has been delayed until late January 1984. It will be a sizeable illustrated book, entirely devoted to Ballard -- a “must” for all collectors of JGB's works. British readers should be able to order copies through me (full details in next newsletter, I hope).
Besides a long interview conducted by Vale and Andrea Juno -- and the Sam Scoggins soundtrack mentioned above -- the “Special” should contain: about six JGB stories, including several uncollected items, e.g. “The Index” and “Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown” from Bananas; a similar number of non-fiction pieces by Ballard, including his essay on William Burroughs (New Worlds, 1964) and his introduction to the French edition of Crash; quotations from numerous past interviews; selected criticisms of JGB; biographical information, etc.
JGB: A Primary and Secondary Biblio
Latest word from G. K. Hall and Co. of Boston is that my bibliography will be out in July 1984. I should have liked it to appear sooner, but better then than never... As with the Re/Search book interested readers should be able to order copies of this via me when the time comes. Watch this space.
(Peter Brigg's Starmont Reader's Guide to JGB may be out some time in 1984 as well -- is that so, Peter? Please write and tell us the latest.)
The IZ subscribers among you will have noted that Ballard's “Memories of the Space Age” rated second in popularity among the twenty stories which that magazine published in its first four issues. This is according to a poll of 'I80 readers (slightly less than 25% of the charter subscribers).
“Memories of the Space Age” has now been taken by Penguin Books for reprinting in a forthcoming Firebird anthology -- I hope they acknowledge IZ.
A note on Interzone: the next issue (number 7) will contain a genuinely “Ballardian” story by a new writer. It's by a San Francisco-based ex-doctor called Michael Blumlein and it's entitled “Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report.” It's very good, very funny and quite disturbing. Watch out for it. Interzone 7 should appear in February 1984.
… Merry Christmas
That's all for now. Season's greetings and best wishes for the New Year to each of you. This has been the ninth issue of an occasional newsletter produced by David Pringle for readers of J. G. Ballard's fiction. I hope to produce the tenth issue in a couple of months' time. Please write to me with your news and comments. I cannot afford to continue sending this news-sheet free to those who remain silent. If you want to receive the next issue then please send me a “usable” letter or alternatively two 16p stamps together with a couple of lines acknowledgment. Overseas readers send a dollar bill...