Fact and Fiction in J. G. Ballard's The Kindness of Women
by David Pringle
A very preliminary reading, with comments on the novel's status as a "sequel" to Empire of the Sun. (Page references are to the recent paperback editions of Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women, both published by HarperCollins/Grafton, 1992.)
Chapter One: Bloody Saturday
August 1937, Shanghai. Young Jim, described as "a 7-year-old," witnesses the bomb explosion which kills over 1,000 people at the Great World Amusement Park on the Avenue Edward VII. We are also introduced to Olga Ulianova, "my white Russian governess," and to young David Hunter, "a friend who lived at the western end of Amherst Avenue."
This is fiction based on a factual background. Such a bomb did fall on Shanghai; it's also referred to in Empire of the Sun (page 25). However, it's extremely unlikely that the young Ballard actually saw the event with his own eyes. Born 15th November 1930, at the time of the bombing he would have been six years and nine months old; I find it hard to believe he was cycling around downtown Shanghai at that tender age. In the first of many time-shifts which mark the novel, Ballard has super-imposed his later cycle-rides (probably undertaken when he was ten or so) on the events of August 1937. Neither Olga, the Russian girl who is Jim's governess, nor David Hunter, his young friend, was mentioned in Empire of the Sun, so the characters and events of the later novel already seem to be taking on a separate, "parallel" existence. (The governess in the earlier book was called Vera Frankel, and Jim's "closest friend" was Patrick Maxted; of course, the real-life Jim may have had several governesses and many friends over the years of his childhood.)
Chapter Two: Escape Attempts
November 1943, Lunghua camp. While some youths try to escape from the camp, 13-year-old Jim attempts to raid the food store with the help of a broken bayonet -- in effect, burrowing his way further into the camp. Characters mentioned, besides David Hunter (who will recur throughout the book), include Mr Hiyashi (the camp commandant), Peggy Gardner ("a tall, 14-year-old English girl"), Mrs Dwight, Dr Sinclair, Mr Sangster, Mrs Tootle, Mr Christie, Mariner and the Ralston brothers.
Again, fiction based on a factual background. This is another portrayal of daily life in Lunghua, where the real-life Ballard was interned from 1942 to 1945; however, there is little reason to suppose that most of the incidents are actually "true." None of the characters listed above was mentioned in Empire of the Sun (where the camp commandant was called Mr Sekura), giving this chapter the feel of a variant "take" on the camp experience. There are, however, passing mentions of Private Kimura and Sergeant Nagata, the Americans Basie and Demarest, and Mr and Mrs Vincent, characters who did appear in the earlier novel -- although none of them plays any significant part here.
Chapter Three: The Japanese Soldiers
August 1945, Lunghua and Shanghai. After the guards finally disappear, Jim leaves the camp and walks back to Shanghai along a railway line. At a station on the way he encounters a group of Japanese soldiers who are slowly strangling a Chinese captive. Reaching home, Jim is reunited with his parents. There are further encounters with Peggy Gardner, David Hunter and Olga Ulianova before Jim sets sail for England with his mother aboard the Arrawa. As the ship passes Woosung he sees a beached tank-landing craft crammed with Japanese prisoners of war, and there is a hint that terrible carnage is about to take place.
Much of this is probably factual. The event he witnessed at the railway station was clearly traumatic for Ballard, and he first mentioned it in print in his afterword to the story "End-Game" (in the anthology Backdrop of Stars edited by Harry Harrison, 1968): "Three weeks after the war ended I walked back to the camp along the Shanghai-Nanking railway line. At the small wayside station an abandoned platoon of Japanese soldiers were squatting on the platform, watching one of their number string up a Chinese youth with telephone wire." Something very like the later incident of the captured Japanese troops in the landing craft was also touched on in his story "Tolerances of the Human Face" (1969; admittedly, in a fictional context, though the description there has the ring of plain truth): "... The Japanese soldiers in the cargo well were in a bad condition. Many were lying down, unable to move...," etc.
This third chapter also marks a radical break with the events of Empire of the Sun. In the earlier novel, the camp's inmates were sent on a forced march northwards, with many of them dying on the way, but (as in real life) this appears not to have happened to the Lunghua prisoners in The Kindness of Women. Plainly, this chapter of the latter novel is a variation on the events and themes of the previous book, not a direct sequel.
Chapter Four: The Queen of the Night
1950, Cambridge. Jim is a medical student, carrying out anatomy-class dissections of a female cadaver. We meet Peggy Gardner again, and two important new characters appear: the "quick-witted schoolgirl" called Miriam, and the psychologist Dr Richard Sutherland. Soon, Jim and Miriam become lovers.
Fiction based on fact. Ballard memorably described his undergraduate experience of anatomy in a 1970 Penthouse interview with Lynn Barber: "To see a cadaver on a dissecting table and begin to dissect it myself and to find at the end of term that there was nothing left except a sort of heap of gristle and a clutch of bones with a label bearing some dead doctor's name -- that was a tremendous experience of the lack of integrity of the flesh, and of the integrity of this dead doctor's spirit." There was no suggestion, however, that the "dead doctor" in question was female.
The real-life model for Peggy Gardner is unknown to me; possibly there's a touch of Ballard's sister in her (though his sister is seven years younger than JGB), but the character of Miriam is obviously based on Ballard's wife-to-be, Helen Mary Matthews ("a great-niece of Cecil Rhodes," according to the biographical blurb in the Penguin edition of The Drowned World, 1965). While it is quite possible that they met at Cambridge, I don't know whether they met as early as 1950. The character of Dick Sutherland is largely based on Ballard's friend, the late Dr Christopher Evans (as becomes evident later in the book), but I doubt that in reality they met before the 1960s.
Chapter Five: The Nato Boys
1954, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Jim and David Hunter are trainee pilots in the RAF, stationed in Canada. On a solo flight, Jim spots a crashed aircraft lying on a lake-bottom, and later he suffers a near-crash himself. He and David also share in sexual adventures with local prostitutes.
More fiction based on fact. Ballard did serve in the RAF, in Canada, but left after a short time; whether he ever reached the stage of solo flight, and whether the incident of the crashed plane has any basis in fact, I don't know. This is an appropriate point to state that I believe the recurring character of David Hunter to be almost completely fictional. He may be based in small ways on a number of people, but clearly his role in the novel is to act as a dark alter ego to Jim, the narrator. He represents the wild side of Ballard's own character, the man who goes out and does various things that the narrator fantasizes about. He also serves as an agent to bind together the disparate parts of this very episodic book.
Chapter Six: Magic World
1959, Shepperton. Jim and Miriam have been married for some years, and she is now expecting their third child. A domestic idyll unfolds as Jim plays with his son and daughter, Henry and Alice, and as he makes love to his wife. The new baby is born: "Waking into the deep dream of life, it seemed not young but infinitely old, millions of years entrained in the pharaoh-like smoothness of its cheeks..." (Compare a passing description of a newborn child in Ballard's 1969 review of The Voices of Time, ed. J. T. Frazer, New Worlds no. 186: "lying between his mother's legs, older than pharaoh...")
This charming chapter must be almost entirely factual, although the chronology is distorted. According to many statements in JGB's interviews, the Ballard family actually moved to Shepperton in 1960, after the birth of their third baby (daughter Beatrice) in 1959. In the novel there is a reference to Jim and Miriam having watched part of the filming of Genevieve at Shepperton, but that film was made in 1953, seven years before the real-life Ballards arrived in the town.
Chapter Seven: The Island
Summer 1964, Costa Brava, Spain. Jim, Miriam and family are holidaying in the sun. They lounge on the beach, swim, explore a small island, and make a number of new friends. These include Peter Lykiard, an English lecturer, and Sally Mumford, an American student who has come to Europe "to meet the Beatles." The chapter ends, shockingly, with Miriam's death after injuring her head in a fall.
Fiction based on fact. Ballard's wife Mary did die in Spain in 1964; however, the cause of her death was an infection, not an injury. "My wife died from galloping pneumonia," as Ballard stated in his 1983 postal interview with Thomas Frick (later published in a shorter version in Paris Review), "but... no violence or car crashes, which many people imagine." Presumably, in the novel he has changed the circumstances slightly in order to make the event seem more dramatic and sudden.
Chapter Eight: The Kindness of Women
1964-65, Shepperton. In the aftermath of Miriam's death, Jim decides to remain in the same house and to keep the children with him. In a tender scene, he makes love to Miriam's older sister, Dorothy. A year passes, during which he is celibate.
One has to assume that most of this moving chapter is fundamentally true; though whether "Dorothy" had a real-life counterpart we cannot know.
Chapter Nine: Craze People
Circa 1967, Shepperton and elsewhere. The American girl, Sally Mumford, comes on the scene again, befriending Jim and the children. Around them, Swinging London and the 1960s "counter-culture" are now in full bloom. Jim, the children, Sally and Peter Lykiard attend an open-air pop concert near Brighton. Later, Jim and Sally make love. He introduces her to Dr Dick Sutherland who has by now become a television pundit.
Undoubtedly much of this chapter is based on actual events, though it and the following three chapters are somewhat confusing in their chronology. The pop concert which is the model for the one depicted here was called "Phun City," and actually took place near Worthing in 1969 -- with Ballard, William S. Burroughs and other writers in attendance (see Paul Ableman's rather sour allusion to it in his review of Hello America, 1981). Charles Platt, in his review of The Kindness of Women (in the New York Review of SF, 1992), has hypothesized that the character of Sally Mumford is based in part on the novelist Emma Tennant -- a claim about which I can make no comment other than to point out that there are obviously huge differences between the character as depicted and the real-life Ms Tennant.
Chapter Ten: The Kingdom of Light
June 1967, Shepperton. Dick Sutherland gives Jim some LSD and he experiences a bad trip, at one point feeling the urge to walk on the river. There is another visit from the motherly Peggy Gardner, and we also meet Jim's new friend Cleo Churchill.
Such an LSD experience did occur in 1967, just once, according to Ballard's testimonial in various interviews -- although he didn't go so far as to try to walk on the water (see the interview with Stan Nicholls in Blast, 1991). Some of Dick Sutherland's psychological patter in this chapter is nearly identical to remarks that Ballard himself has made in a number of interviews. Apart from Miriam/Mary, the character of Cleo Churchill is the most transparent in the book: she is obviously based on JGB's close friend Claire (publicly referred to by Ballard in "Homage to Claire Churchill," the first of his Advertiser's Announcements, in Ambit and New Worlds, 1967).
Chapter Eleven: The Exhibition
1969, London and Shepperton. Sally Mumford and David Hunter reappear, the former now on hard drugs and the latter indulging an obsession with road accidents. Jim mounts a four-week exhibition of crashed cars at the Arts Laboratory in London. Driving home after the exhibition's close, he suffers a serious car crash and is slightly injured.
Fiction with some small basis in fact. In this, perhaps the least convincing chapter in the novel, David Hunter has been reimagined in the role of "Vaughan" from the novel Crash -- pure fiction, one hopes, and rather unnecessary given that that book already exists and deals with the same material more powerfully. The "Crashed Cars" exhibition really took place, although it did so in April 1970 (see advert in New Worlds 200) -- not a year earlier as seems to be suggested in the novel. Ballard's own car accident also occurred, although not until much later, in 1972 (shortly after he had finished writing Crash).
Chapter Twelve: In the Camera Lens
1969, Rio de Janeiro. Jim and Dick Sutherland attend a film festival in Rio, where they have brief meetings with famous people. They also have encounters with local prostitutes.
Fiction based on fact. There was a such a festival in Brazil in 1969 (devoted to science fiction), and Ballard was invited to give a speech. Brian Aldiss, Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson and other well known sf writers were also present. Whether Christopher Evans (Dick Sutherland's real-life model) accompanied Ballard, and whether any of the other events are true, I don't know but I rather doubt. Just possibly, the character of Dick Sutherland is here based -- in part -- on JGB's recollections of his friend and fellow-writer Brian Aldiss. (Having attended in 1985 a smaller-scale but not dissimilar event where Brian and I were guest speakers, in Nice, south of France, I know that he can be lively and sometimes outrageous company.)
Chapter Thirteen: The Casualty Station
Circa 1972, London area. Jim visits David Hunter in a mental hospital where he has been institutionalized after a deliberate car-smash. There are further references to the progress through life of Sally Mumford (attempting to kick her drug addiction) and Richard Sutherland (a success on television). Jim also visits Peggy Gardner in her "small Chelsea house" and makes love to her for the first time.
No particular comment to make on any of this, other than to reiterate that David Hunter is largely a fictional character; however, the details of the visit to the mental institution are probably based on a genuine experience which Ballard has alluded to in the 1990 notes for the Re/Search Atrocity Exhibition.
Chapter Fourteen: Into the Daylight
1978, Shepperton and Norfolk. Jim visits Sally Mumford and her new family near Norwich, passing through Cambridge en route. David Hunter joins them, and they witness the excavation of the remains of a Battle-of-Britain Spitfire.
This is probably based on memories of an actual visit to that part of England. The excavation of the aircraft obviously reminds us of Ballard's story "My Dream of Flying to Wake Island" -- perhaps based on the same experience -- but that story was published in 1974, well before the supposed date of the events in this chapter.
Chapter Fifteen: The Final Programme
Autumn 1979, London and Shepperton. Dick Sutherland, dying of thyroid cancer, makes his last television documentary -- a study of his own illness and death -- which Jim encourages with some misgivings.
A moving chapter which is a fictionalized version of the death from cancer of Dr Christopher Evans. In actuality, his final TV programme was a series on the future of computing entitled The Mighty Micro (also the title of a book he had published in September 1979) and it was broadcast shortly after his death. (I had the privilege of meeting him myself a couple of months before his death, at the World SF Con in Brighton.)
Chapter Sixteen: The Impossible Palace
1980, Shepperton and Runnymede. Musing on Dick's death and on the departure of his grown-up children, Jim visits a funfair in Shepperton. Later, he makes love to Cleo, and the two visit Runnymede where they witness a near-fatal accident by the riverside when a car rolls into the water. The child in the car is revived by a mysterious hiker.
A wonderful, quiet chapter, suffused with some of the spirit of The Unlimited Dream Company (1979), and almost certainly based on real-life incidents.
Chapter Seventeen: Dream's Ransom
1987, Surrey and Hollywood. Jim participates in the filming at Sunningdale of a movie based on one of his novels. Later, he and Cleo fly to California for the film's premiere. There, Jim encounters once more Olga, the Russian woman who was his governess in Shanghai, and they make love.
All the movie business is of course closely based on the filming of Steven Spielberg's version of Empire of the Sun (though neither director nor title is named in the book), the Hollywood premiere of which Ballard attended in December 1987. The meeting with Olga is surely fictional and is added to provide the novel with an appropriate feeling of closure.
Most of the above conjectures are highly speculative -- but given the "semi-autobiographical" nature of the novel people are going to make such speculations, now and later. I offer this as a possibly useful piece of spadework, no more.(DP)
Ballard's Recent Writings
The following is a list of JGB's published non-fiction writings (all those I'm aware of) since JGB News no. 19. Do please inform me if you know of anything which is missing. Many thanks to John Brady, Mark Jones and others for sending me clippings.
1. "Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century" in Zone 6: Incorporations edited by Jonathan Crary and Stanford Kwinter. New York: Zone, November 1992, p.?-?. Responses by Ballard to a list of key-words and phrases supplied by the editors of this avant-garde journal in book form. The prevailing subject is "bodies and machines" (also the theme of this entire issue of Zone). Reprinted in Interzone no. 72 (June 1993): 56-57.
2. "Books of the Year" in Sunday Times ["Books" section] (November 29, 1992): 3. Brief contribution to this round-robin item, in which Ballard commends Sex by Madonna ("a commonplace book for our day, by the Daisy Ashford of the 1990s, as filled with homilies and naive dreams as the diary of any Victorian young lady"), The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama, and Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson.
3. "Electrodynamic at Womanising" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (January 2, 1993): XVI. Review of Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics by James Gleick.
4. "Guilty Treats of the Table" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (January 30, 1993): XIX. Review of A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat.
5. "Magical Days at Rick's" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (February 20, 1993): XIX. Review of Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca -- Bogart, Bergman and World War II by Aljean Harmetz.
6. "Courting the Cobra" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (March 27, 1993): XIX. Review of Projections 2: A Forum for Film-makers ed. John Boorman and Walter Donohue.
7. "Back to the Heady Future" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (April 17, 1993): XVII. Review of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction ed. John Clute and Peter Nicholls.
8. "Londoner's Diary: Reed All About It" in Evening Standard (April 19, 1993): 8. Diary item about the "20 best young British novelists" list publicized by Granta magazine. "J. G. Ballard... is shocked that one Jeremy Reed has not made the list, and has written to Reed's publishers, Peter Owen, in protest. Ballard evidently believes that Reed -- who bears some resemblance to Mick Jagger and who has produced novels on Isadora Duncan and Arthur Rimbaud -- has been excluded for personal rather than literary reasons." JGB is quoted as saying: "The fact that he wears lipstick and long gloves is not calculated to endear him to the stuffy... In fact, more of our young novelists should wear lipstick and even nail varnish. It might brighten up their prose styles... The fact that his work is concerned with sex on a most serious level is also not calculated to recommend him to the sort of people who organise these literary jamborees."
9. "J. G. Ballard" in Sight and Sound vol. 3, no. 5 (May 1993): 39. Three-paragraph quotation from Ballard on the subjects of science, technology and virtual reality (accompanying an article entitled "The Trappings of Disaster: Kevin Jackson Mourns the Potency and Passion of Sci-Fi's Bygone Dystopias"). This is probably an extract from the interview with Ballard which appeared in the television programme New Nightmares, Part One: Man-Machine, Channel 4 TV (April 13, 1993).
10. "On the Shelf" in Sunday Times ["Books" section] (June 6, 1993): 9. Short essay in praise of Nathanael West's novel The Day of the Locust.
11. "A Race of Walking, Talking, Living Fossils" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (June 12, 1993): XXIII. Review of The Language of the Genes: Biology, History and the Evolutionary Future by Steve Jones.
12. "Franz Kafka: The Outsider" in Sunday Times ["Books" section] (June 20, 1993): ?. One-paragraph contribution to this round-robin item on Kafka and his literary legacy; other contributors include George Steiner, Alan Sillitoe and D. M. Thomas. Begins: "Kafka may be the most important writer of the 20th century..."
13. "The Solo Savant: Critics on Golding" in The Guardian [review section] (June 21, 1993): 9. Short contribution to a round-robin of tributes appended to an obituary article on Sir William Golding by W. L. Webb. Begins: "I never met him, but I admired him very greatly..."
14. "Introduction" in The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. London: Flamingo, paper, July 1993, p.? One-page preface to this reprint of Burroughs's classic work.
15. "In Search of the Last Emperor" in Sunday Times ["Books" section] (July 11, 1993): 10. Review of The Empty Throne: The Quest for an Imperial Heir in the People's Republic of China by Tony Scotland.
16. "A Burp to Refresh the World" in Daily Telegraph ["Weekend" section] (July 31, 1993): XVI. Review of For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Unauthorised History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It by Mark Pendergrast.
A Couple More Book Endorsements
See the list of endorsements by Ballard in JGB News no. 19. Here are two more that Malcolm Edwards informed me about.
Endorsement of Buffalo Soldiers by Robert O'Connor. London: Flamingo, February 1993, trade paper. Back cover: "One of the best novels I've read in a long time. Robert O'Connor skilfully blends the hilarious satire of Catch-22 with the knuckle-hard realism of From Here to Eternity. Hugely entertaining."
Endorsement of The 100 Mile City by Deyan Sudjic. London: Flamingo, forthcoming September 1993, trade paper. Front cover: "A blueprint for the year 2000, written with all the pace and drive of a high-speed freeway."
Media Appearances by JGB
As promised last time, the following is an attempt to annotate all Ballard's radio, TV, film and video appearances (and adaptations of his work) since the long-ago list headed "JGB's October-November 1984 Media Coverage" in JGB News no. 15 (December 1984). Some of the information is inexact, and the list may be full of holes. If anyone can provide me with more information, partic-ularly concerning items which are missing from this list, I'd very much appreciate hearing from them. Special thanks to Mark Jones and Bernard Sigaud for some of what follows.
1. "Writers in Conversation: J. G. Ballard." Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (late 1984). 45 min. Videotaped interview with Ballard conducted by Matthew Hoffman, about Empire of the Sun. [video]
2. "A Book at Bedtime." BBC Radio 4, London (first episode aired December 31, 1984). Empire of the Sun abridged in 15 episodes by John Scotney and read by Kenneth Haigh. [radio]
3. "Venus Smiles." BBC Radio 4, London (March, 13 1985). 45 min. Adaptation by Michelene Wandor of Ballard's short story, in a series called "The Storytellers." Cast includes: Philip Voss, Graham Seed, Anna Nygh. [radio play]
4. Eduardo Paolozzi (programme possibly called "E. P., Sculptor"?). Channel 4 Television, London (1985 or 1986?). 50 min? Programme about the artist and sculptor. Features several interview snippets with Ballard (voice only) plus other commentators such as Christopher Frayling and Frank Whitford. [television]
5. Empire of the Sun. Warner Brothers (December 1987). 150 min. Feature film scripted by Tom Stoppard and directed by Steven Spielberg, based on JGB's novel of the same title. Cast includes: Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson. [film]
6. "The Making of Empire of the Sun." American television (December? 1987). 50 min. Publicity film, subsequently shown in the UK on BBC? Television, March? 1988. [television]
7. "The Royal Film Performance 1988." Thames Television, London (March? 1988). Programme about the British premiere of the film Empire of the Sun, hosted by Peter Marshall and Judith Chalmers. Features short interviews with Ballard, Spielberg, scriptwriter Tom Stoppard and others; shows Ballard and the cast of the film meeting the Queen. [television]
8. "Face to Face." Channel 4 Television, London (Oct. or Nov.?, 1989). 30? min. Interview with Ballard by Jeremy Isaacs. [television]
9. "Moving Pictures." BBC 2 Television, London (October ??, 1990). 50 min. One approximately 15-minute segment is a feature on Ballard and the British film scene, written and directed by Chris Petit. Includes interviews with Ballard and David Cronenberg, readings from Concrete Island, Crash, etc. [television]
10. "Kaleidoscope." BBC Radio 4, London (November ??, 1990). Interview with Ballard about War Fever. Informant: Mark Jones. [radio]
11. "Grand Tour." BBC Radio 4, London (November 17, 1990). 25 min. Interview with Ballard about Shanghai and childhood memories. [radio]
12. "Les Heros du Chaos." French Television, Paris? (early 1991). 50 min.? Short interviews with Ballard and others on the subject of heroism in the modern world (other participants include Anthony Burgess, George Lucas, Alan Moore and Sting). Subsequently shown in an English-language version entitled "Heroes" on Channel 4 TV, London. [television]
13. "The Late Show." BBC 2 Television, London (March 12, 1991). Approx. 15 min. Feature about the Canary Wharf development in London's docklands; includes an interview with Ballard, who was filmed at the site, and interviews with architecture critic Martin Pawley, novelist Ian Sinclair and others. [television]
14. "Art is Dead...Long Live TV." Channel 4 Television, London (July 9, 1991). 30 min. Programme hosted by Muriel Gray, in which Ballard discusses Laura Mason's novel Bingham's Pond with Bill Buford, James Kelman and others. [television]
15. "Bookshelf." BBC Radio 4, London (September 20, 1991; repeated on September 22). Interview with Ballard by Nigel Forde, about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
16. "John Dunn Show." BBC Radio 2, London (September 23, 1991). Interview with Ballard about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
17. "Bookmark: Shanghai Jim." BBC 2 Television, London (September 25, 1991). 50 min. Programme about Ballard in which the BBC TV crew returns with him to Shanghai. Produced by James Runcie, this is the major TV documentary on Ballard to date. [television]
18. "Gay Byrne Show." Irish Radio, Dublin (September 27, 1991). Interview with Ballard by Gay Byrne, about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
19. "Arts Programme." BBC Radio 2, London (September 28, 1991). Interview with Ballard by Sheridan Morley, about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
20. "Start the Week." BBC Radio 4, London (September 30, 1991). Interview with Ballard about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
21. "Third Ear." BBC Radio 3, London (October 1, 1991). Interview with Ballard by Christopher Bigsby, about The Kindness of Women. [radio]
22. "This Morning." Granada Television, Liverpool? (October 2, 1991). Short interview with Ballard, about The Kindness of Women. [television]
23. "Burning Books." Channel 4 Television (?), London (November 3, 1991). Approx. 30 min. Features a five-minute interview with Ballard, talking about English and American cities, Shepperton and London Airport. [television]
24. "The Thing is... Motorways." Channel 4 Television, London (early 1992?). Programme about motorways featuring Ballard and hosted by Paul Morley; one of a series of "The Thing is..." programmes about various features of modern life. [television]
25. "Omnibus: Signs of the City." BBC 1 Television, London (January 21, 1992). 50 min. Programme about London, its environment and architecture, including interviews with Ballard, architect Richard Rogers, novelist Jeanette Winterson and others; directed by Kim Evans. [television]
26. "Desert Island Discs." BBC Radio 4, London (February 2, 1992; since repeated at least three times). 30 min. Interview with Ballard by Sue Lawley, during which he chooses some favourite records. [radio]. Ballard's choices were: "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" (Bratton/Kennedy); "Don't Fence Me In" (Cole Porter) performed by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters; "Put the Blame on Mame" (Fisher/Roberts) performed by Rita Hayworth; "Falling in Love Again" (Hollander/Connelly) performed by Marlene Dietrich; extract from The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart); "The Girl from Ipanema" (Antonio Carlos Jobim); extract from The Barber of Seville (Rossini); "Let's Do It" (Cole Porter/Peter Matz) performed by Noel Coward. His choice of desert-island book was Herman Melville's Moby Dick, and his choice for a "luxury item" was a unicycle.
27. "The Late Show." BBC 2 Television, London (February ? 1992). Approx. 20 min. Programme in tribute to the late novelist Angela Carter, including a short interview with Ballard and an obituary by Salman Rushdie. [television]
28. "The Late Show." BBC 2 Television, London (February ? 1992). Programme in tribute to the late artist Francis Bacon, including a short interview with Ballard. [television]
29. "The Late Show." BBC 2 Television, London (late February? 1992). Discussion by Ballard of the book Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. [television]
30. "Without Walls." Channel 4 Television, London (June 21, 1992). Programme about artist Richard Hamilton, in which Ballard appears and "pays a fulsome tribute to RH in relation to his own fiction" (according to my informant John Brady). [television]
31. "The Standard Setters." BBC Radio 4, London (August 23, 1992). 30 min. Discussion of morality by Ballard, in a series of four conversations between Rev. Dr Edward Norman and "people whose work influences general moral attitudes." [radio]
32. "Palomar." Radiotre, RAI, Italy (August 31, 1992). Interview with Ballard conducted by Ignazio Sanna at Shepperton on August 27, 1992. [Italian radio; transcript seen]
33. "Literature in the Modern World" [Open University programme]. BBC 2 Television, London (September 22, 1992). 25 min. Educational broadcast (possibly first shown in 1990?) which "consists of linked interviews with Martin Amis, Ballard and Angela Carter" (according to my informant John Brady). [television]
34. "A Paul Morley Show." Channel 4 Television, London (December 18, 1992). 60 min. "Journalist Paul Morley goes in search of the meaning of entertainment and finds himself presenting his dream idea of a 90s variety show. Guests include Brian Conley, J. G. Ballard, Leslie Crowther, Depeche Mode..." (Radio Times, December 12, 1992). The Ballard interview, about television and the media, is five or ten minutes long. [television]
35. "Moving Pictures." BBC 2 Television, London (January 9, 1993). 50 min. One approximately 15-minute segment consists of interviews with Ballard and others about the movie-maker David Lynch, commenting in particular on the film Blue Velvet. [television]
36. "Culture Clash." BBC 2 Television, London (January 11, 1993). 40 min. Programme about the "Two Cultures" divide between artists and scientists; the last 5 minutes (approximately) consists of an interview with Ballard. [television]
37. "Without Walls: The Art of Tripping, Part Two." Channel 4 Television, London (March 2, 1993). 50 min. Programme about the use of drugs in literature and the arts, hosted by Bernard Hill. Interviewees include Ballard, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Hubert Selby Jr. and Dr Timothy Leary. [television]
38. "Without Walls: Diana Unclothed." Channel 4 Television, London (March 16, 1993). 25 min. Programme about Princess Diana, her personality and media image, hosted by Camille Paglia. Interviewees include Ballard, along with a royal biographer, the Sun newspaper royal photographer, etc. [television]
39. "Brave New Worlds." Channel 4 Television, London (April 9, 1993). 50 min. Programme about science-fiction films, directed by Paul Oremland. Interviewees include Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Robert Silverberg, Paul Verhoeven and others. (Also released as a Channel 4/Video Legends videotape in a slightly extended 54-minute version [catalogue no. VLG 310], June 7, 1993.) [television]
40. "Without Walls: New Nightmares, Part One: Man-Machine." Channel 4 Television, London (April 13, 1993). 50 min. Programme about science fiction, robots and computers. Interviewees include Ballard, Brian Aldiss, William Gibson, Marvin Minsky, Bruce Sterling and others. [television]
41. "Without Walls: New Nightmares, Part Two: Nature Strikes Back." Channel 4 Television, London (April 20, 1993). 50 min. Programme about science fiction and environmental themes. Interviewees include Ballard, Michael Crichton, Kurt Vonnegut and others. (Note: the third and final part of the "New Nightmares" series, broadcast on April 27, did not contain any contributions from Ballard, although it had been advertised in advance as doing so.) [television]
42. "Memento." Channel 4 Television, London (April 29, 1993). 25 min. Interview with Ballard conducted by Joan Bakewell. A televisual equivalent of Desert Island Discs: "Novelist J. G. Ballard chooses his favourite objects and talks to Joan Bakewell about his life... His prized possessions include a mah-jong set, a replica of a Japanese funeral horse which he wishes to be buried with him, and a human skull" (from the description in The Daily Telegraph ["TV & Radio" section], April 24, 1993: 20). [television]
43. "The Late Show." BBC 2 Television, London (June 24, 1993). 40 min. Programme in tribute to the late novelist Sir William Golding, hosted by Mark Lawson. Interviewees include Ballard (two brief appearances), John Fowles, John Carey, Frank Kermode and others. [television]
Towards a Topology of the Hermeneutics of Applied Ballardistics
The science of "Ballardistics" proceeds apace (c.f. the study of "Solaristics" in Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris). The obscure and tortuous academic critiques of aspects of Ballard's fiction are becoming positively mountainous in their quantity. Here's one citation which made my eyes bug (thanks to Dennis Lien of Minneapolis for sending me this and many more citations):
"De las fuentes y su ultilizacion en 'El ahogado mas hermoso del mundo'" by Emma Susanna Speratti-Pinero, in Homenaje a Ane Maria Barrenechea. Madrid: Castalia, 1984, p. 549-555. Essay on the influence of Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, Jesse L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance and Ballard's "The Drowned Giant" on the fiction of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (!!!). [Spanish]
Parallels Between J. G. Ballard and Gene Wolfe
I recently received a review copy of Gene Wolfe's Young Wolfe: A Collection of Early Stories (United Mythologies Press, Weston, Ontario, Canada], 1992, hardcover, 69 pages, $15.95). It contains nine little stories, none of them previously collected (Wolfe's bottom drawer seems to be, er, bottomless). Two of them appeared in a student magazine as early as 1951; the others date from the 1960s and include his first professional sale, "The Dead Man" (Sir! magazine, October 1965), as well as two stories which were never published at all. Obviously a must for Wolfe completists, this volume made me think: wouldn't it be wonderful if some small press could do something similar for Ballard? It also provoked the following thoughts on parallels between the careers of Ballard and Wolfe:
(1) They are of much the same age, just six months apart; Ballard was born in November 1930 (in Shanghai); Wolfe was born in May 1931 (in New York).
(2) Both published their first short stories in student magazines in the same year, 1951.
(3) They both served in the military in the early 1950s; Ballard was in the RAF and based in Canada; Wolfe was in the US Army and saw action in Korea.
(4) Both have "Far-East" experience, although of a very different nature: Ballard in China, Wolfe in Korea.
(5) They both had scientific/technical rather than literary educations; Ballard studied chemistry and physics at school, then medicine at university; Wolfe majored in engineering.
(6) Both wrote some of their earliest work on "an abandoned Air Force base." Here is Ballard introducing "Passport to Eternity" (a humorous Jack Vance pastiche): "Just before I left the RAF in 1955 I tapped this out on a borrowed typewriter at RAF Booker, where cashiered air-crew sat around in under-heated huts at a disused airfield..." And here is Wolfe introducing "The Case of the Vanishing Ghost" (a humorous Sherlock Holmes pastiche): "As a college freshman, I lived on an abandoned Air Force base inhabited only by other freshmen. We slept in barracks, in double-tiered cots..."
(7) Both married in the mid-1950s; both have two daughters.
(8) Before becoming full-time writers, they both worked as editors of technical magazines: Ballard was assistant editor of Chemistry and Industry for about four years; Wolfe was a senior editor of Plant Engineering for about twelve years.
(9) Both made their breakthrough into professionalism by writing for science-fiction publications, Ballard in the mid-1950s, Wolfe (a much later blossomer) in the mid-1960s. And, in the eyes of many critics, both have since "transcended" the genre. Ballard's first genre editor was Ted Carnell; Wolfe's was Damon Knight. Coincidentally, it was also Damon Knight who, as adviser to Berkley Books, was responsible for Ballard's first American books.
(10) Both authors had their (unremarkable) debut novels published as Berkley paperback originals: Ballard's The Wind from Nowhere, 1962; Wolfe's Operation ARES, 1970.
Of course, the differences between the two writers are vast and scarcely need listing here. To the best of my knowledge, neither has ever shown the slightest interest in the other's work, and many of the career similarities are simply due to their being about the same age and growing up in the aftermath of World War II. Nevertheless, it is amusing to see Wolfe beginning the following tart note to another of his stories in Young Wolfe with a characteristically Ballardian phrase (and this statement also serves to point up some of the important differences in attitude between them):
"For reasons that I have never understood, this appeared in New Worlds, a radical and arty -- almost an underground -- SF magazine that Michael Moorcock was editing in London. I subscribed, and found it (like other such magazines) hugely confident of what it hated and quite unable to describe what it liked and was willing to support. It may very well be that Moorcock accepted 'The Green Wall Said' simply as a personal favor, the instincts of nihilists being infinitely superior to their opinions."
I intend to continue producing this newsletter at approximately twice-yearly intervals. If you want to receive the next issue, please send me relevant cuttings, photocopies or a letter of comment. If in doubt as to whether I may want a particular item, please phone me on 0273-504710. Failing that, but if you still want the next issue, please send £2 (£3, or US$4 overseas) to help defray my costs. All back issues, nos. 1-19, are available at £1 each from me (£1.50, or US$2, overseas).*
David Pringle, 217 Preston Drove, Brighton, UK