NEWS FROM THE SUN
(For J. G. Ballard's Readers)
BALLARD SELLS TO F&SF
For the first time in 15 years JGB has sold a story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (His last piece to appear there was “The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D”.)
The story in question is his 12,000-word novelette “Myths of the Near Future”. This was originally written for Next Editions, a series of booklets edited by Emma Tennant, and scheduled for 1981 publication. However, Next Editions had to retrench because of lack of funds. The story is now the title-piece of Ballard's new collection, due from Cape in September or October 1982. F&SF are likely to publish it before then.
It was intended at one time that “Myths of the Near Future” would appear in the second issue of the new British magazine Interzone (Summer 1982), but due to length and contractual difficulties it has been dropped from there. It should be replaced by a brand-new JGB short story, title as yet unknown.
(Interzone's first issue should be out very soon. At the latest count, it has over 620 advance subscribers -- a figure which the editors find very encouraging, since it has been achieved with minimal publicity. The premier issue contains new fiction by Angela Carter, M. John Harrison, Michael Moorcock, Keith Roberts and John Sladek.)
NEW AMERICAN PAPERBACK
The January issue of Locus lists Ballard's Concrete Island as forthcoming from Berkley Books in May 1982. This will be the first US paperback edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux issued it in hardcover in 1974, but it appears to have sunk without trace -- and Farrar then dropped Ballard.
According to Locus, Berkley are publishing Concrete Island as part of “A special six-book horror promotion” featuring titles by Robert Aickman, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and others.
On the whole, JGB has not been well served by American paperback publishers. The last title to appear from Berkley was the 1979 reissue of Chronopolis (which contains unrevised and unreliable texts of some of his major stories). So far I've seen no mention of a US pb edition of The Unlimited Dream Company. Whyever not??
One important book which Berkley have not reissued since its original publication in 1971 is Vermilion Sands. Yet there does appear to be a market for Vermilion Sands rip-offs. The January Locus reviews a collection called Aventine by Lee Killough (Del Rey Books). This contains a series of stories reprinted from F&SF, some of which I've read. Locus's reviewer, Jeff Frane, writes that the stories are set in “a decadent culture of artists, the wealthy, and their hangers-on...” The pieces deal in futuristic art-forms: “sound sculpture, crystal flowers, polysensitives... Into (the male lead character's) life comes a beautiful, wealthy, eccentric woman, far above his station, and the result is pain and, frequently, murder..,”
Irritatingly, Frane does not mention Killough's debt to Ballard, although the debt is blatantly obvious. The annoying thing about all this is that young American readers are being exposed to second-rate JGB imitations while being deprived of any chance to read the original Vermilion Sands stories.
JGB's latest non-fiction pieces are “Things I Wish I'd Known at 18”, Sunday Express Magazine No. 38 (27th December 1981), and “The Profession of Science Fiction, 26: From Shanghai to Shepperton”, Foundation No. 24 (February 1982). These are both interviews, the former conducted by Lynn Barber, the latter by myself. They are similar in form, though the Foundation piece is much longer. Each eliminates the interviewer's questions and presents a continuous “narrative”.
In “Things I Wish I'd Known at 18”, which is one of a series of similar pieces by ‘celebrities’ (“Next week - James Galway”), Ballard states “I look at myself here, living in a small suburban house with a rusting car outside and a television set that doesn't work -- the only thing that works here is the corkscrew -- and I feel it must be a joke. What am I doing here? I must be a character in a Pinter play, or in a sitcom that has got out of the control of its scriptwriters.
“If my 18-year-old self came here he would take one look, do a fast U-turn, and disappear in a cloud of dust. He'd be appalled. But does that mean I regret my life? No. I think since 18 I've had a very interesting and, on the whole, happy life ...”
It’s an entertaining little article, and Lynn Barber has done a good job in compiling it (she previously interviewed JGB for Penthouse magazine in 1970, -- one of the best interviews with him, incidentally).
My own piece in Foundation was described in the first of these newsletters. In it Ballard gives an autobiographical sketch of the first 30-odd years of his life, and describes the early influences on his writing. (If any of you do not receive Foundation it can be ordered from The SF Foundation, North East London Polytechnic, Longbridge Road, Dagenham --- the price of a three-issue subscription is £5.
Thanks to Alan Doney for drawing my attention to the Sunday Express Magazine (not a publication I normally see), and thanks to Rob Freeth for sending me a photocopy of the article.
STOP PRESS: Since I drafted the above, Ballard has published another piece of non-fiction “Legend of Regret” in The Guardian, 4th February 1982. This is a review of Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Matthew J. Bruccoli.
Dave Bridges has on tape a number of radio and TV interviews with Ballard. They include the following:
1) With Dr Chris Evans: “Inward Landscapes” (BBC Radio; 1971) -- the Ideas in Science Fiction series.
2) With Dr Chris Evans: “Psychohorror" (BBC Radio, 1971) -- the Horror Story series.
3) With George Macbeth: “Introducing Crash" (BBC Radio, 1973) -- the Living Novelist series (includes extracts from Crash read by Ballard himself).
4) With Dr Chris Evans: “The Book Programme” (BBC TV, 1978).
Dave is willing to retape these for anyone who is particularly interested. Send him two C60s or one C120, together with the appropriate return postage (Valley Road, Sheffield). Dave states: “The recording quality is far from good, but you can make out everything that's said quite easily. The first two (“Inward Landscapes” and “Psychohorror”) are, I would say, indispensible for any Ballard enthusiast and are the two I would particularly have liked to have seen in print -- as opposed to the Ballard and Macbeth interview transcribed for The New SF (Langdon Jones, 1969).”
A footnote. Rob Freeth writes: “did you listen to John Baxter's ‘Kaleidoscope’ on Radio 4? Broadcast 28/12/81, called ‘There's Something Out There’, and included words from JGB.” No, unfortunately, I missed that. Anybody got it on tape?
COMSAT ANGELS AND OTHERS
It seems I was wrong and right when I described The Comsat Angels (band, not story) to you. A document which has recently fallen into my hands transcribes one of their songs which obviously does make very specific reference to the writings of one B---- an author of “science fiction”. It's called “Real Story” and it goes like this (one two three four):
Is it some kind of stupid joke, the fiction that he speaks
He says there's another world floating in the street
He hears waves as the cars go by, the city is a beach
He thinks he's in another world when he goes to sleep
He got the word; he got the real story
He got the word; he got the picture
He got the word; he got the real story
He got the word; so we will never understand
I heard that he lost the beat, what a surprise
No he's in unreal estate until he dies
If you think you can Spot the Story, write your answer in a fanzine of your choice and send it to: Mr F., Studio 5, The Stars, Chronopolis. That sea/city image is one that obviously interests the Comsats (who credit all their compositions to the group). In another song called “On the Beach” it is not the spectre of Nevil Shute that is invoked, but rather that of Ballard and of Peter Weir's film “The Last Wave”:
In the dark a thousand cars hiss by my window
A steel tide on an asphalt beach they come and they go
I hear a beat in the motor tide that I could die to
She says a town is just a town, full stop, but what does she know
Here comes a great big wave to wash it all away
No piece of glass or chrome remains
Just thought you'd like to know.
-- Colin Greenland, c/o The SF Foundation, NELP, Longbridge Rd., Dagenham
Thanks, Colin. Rob Freeth and Andy Richards have both written in suggesting that the well-known rock band Ultravox owe a great deal to Ballard. In fact, Rob sent me a clipping from NME (reviewing Ultravox’s 1977 LP) where the headline goes: “WASHED UP ON A TERMINAL BEACH BY A WIND FROM N0WHERE (Just Who Let J. G. Ballard in Here?)”.
I can add a little belated bit of knowledge to Colin Greenland's letter in issue 2. Joy Division’s “The Atrocity Exhibition” is not in fact explicitly influenced by that book. According an interview given in an early issue of Extro, the song had been recorded before the late singer Ian Curtis looking around for a title happened to glance at his Ballard collection. The title just seemed to fit, apparently. Off the top of my head I can think of only two other references to Ballard in Joy Division songs. One is the first line of an early song called “Ice Age” now collected on the posthumous retrospective Still which is: “I’ve seen the real atrocities/ Buried in the sand”. The other is from “Disorder”, off the first album Unkown Pleasures, which contains a nod towards both High-Rise and Crash: “We’re on the tenth floor/ Down the back stairs, it’s a no-man land/ Lights are flashing, cars are crashing/ Getting frequent now”. A lazy writer could, I suppose, label Joy Division as Ballardian -- but then that implies that Ballard holds a copyright on certain ideas and symbols, which seems silly. Anyway if Joy Division are worth listening to it should be because of their own merit and not someone else's.
-- Michael Ashley, St James Road, Mitcham, Surrey
Dear David Pringle
Have you noticed that Kerans of The Drowned World has the same surname as the Captain of HMS Amethyst which ran the Yangtse blockade in Communist China in 1949.
-- Leslie Hurst, Kimberley Road, Borrowash, Derby
Yes, I did notice that and I asked Ballard about it when he gave me the interview for Foundation last year. He laughed and said, yes, that's where the name came from. He didn’t elaborate, but no doubt he took a great interest in the Yangtse Incident at the time since he had come from Shanghai and his father was still out there in 1949 being held by the Communists.
BALLARD IN FRENCH
JGB's works have appeared in French since the early 1960s, but his reputation did not “take off” there until the publication of Robert Louit’s translation of Crash in 1974. Since that date Ballard has been a highly-regarded author in France.
The Paris publishing house Denoel led the way in 1964 by issuing Le monde Englouti (The Drowned World), following it in 1965 with Cauchemar a quatre dimensions (The Four-Dimensional Nightmare) and in 1967 with Le Foret de cristal (The Crystal World). There then followed a long hiatus, broken only by the publication in 1970 by the Belgian firm Marabout of Billenium (this is a translation of the now-defunct Berkley Books collection --- JGB’s agent, John Wolfers, has since “killed” all the Berkley collections and permits only the translation of Ballard's official, British, short-story volumes).
By the early 70s JGB seemed to be a neglected author in France, but the appearance of Crash! (Calmann-Levy, 1974) changed all that. Robert Louit's fine translation carried a special introduction by Ballard (reprinted in English in Foundation 9, November 1975) The novel attracted much attention in the press, sold very well, and was subsequently reprinted by Le Livre de Poche, France's leading paperback house.
Suddenly the Paris publishers seemed to be falling over each other in their eagerness to issue Ballard books. Calmann-Levy did L'ile de beton (Concrete Island) later in 1974, while Casterman did Secheresse (The Drought), and Editions Opta did Vermilion Sands ou le paysage interieur in 1975. The year 1976 brought I. G. H. (High-Rise) from Calmann-Levy, and La foire aux atrocites (The Atrocity Exhibition) from Editions Champ Libre.
The later Livre de Poche edition of L'ile de beton carries such jacket commendations as: “L'immense talent de Ballard transforme un banal terrain vague en un enfer hallucinant” -- Le Magazine Litteraire; and: “Cet etonnant roman de Ballard constitue, a sa maniere, un formidable cri d'alarme” -- L’Express.
In 1977 Casterman published Le vent de nulle part (The Wind from Nowhere); and in 1978 Denoel issued the clumsily-titled Appareil volant a basse altitude (Low-Flying Aircraft), as well as a newly-translated second edition of Cauchemar a quatre dimensions.
In 1980 came Le reveur illimite (The Unlimited Dream Company) from Calmann-Levy, and Le livre d'or de la science fiction: J. G. Ballard from Presses Pocket. The latter volume is edited and introduced by Robert Louit, and while it bears some relation to the British Best of JGB collection (Futura, 1977) it contains a different, and much odder, selection of stories. I hope to give more information on that in a future newsletter.
Maxim Jakubowski informs me that Le salon des horreurs, a completely new translation of The Atrocity Exhibition, appeared in 1981 (the second in five years!), and Wolfers says that Hello America has been sold to Calmann-Levy -- it may even be out by now.
SPECIAL BROKEN LEG EDITION
I started a new job in January, and succeeded in slipping on the ice at the end of my first day's work and cracking my right leg in three places. It's now been plaster for over four weeks, and I haven't been back to work yet -- difficult, since my job is 300 miles away, in Brighton. So I thought I'd occupy myself by producing another NEWS FROM THE SUN. Hope you all continue to find it useful. I couldn't have done this issue, however, without the kind help of Simon Ounsley, who is running it off for me on his new duplicator. All thanks to him. Sorry for the typing errors -- I'm not used to stencils. Please write in with your news and comments, and send me postage stamps if you want to receive future issues.