The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard Hardcover – Aug 19 2009
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Language:Chinese.Hardcover. Pub date: 08 2009 Pages: 1216 Publisher: WW Norton & Co. More than One Thousand Compelling pages from one of the most haunting. Cogent and individual Imaginations in contemporary literature.-William Boyd The American publication of The Complete Stories of JG Ballard is a landmark event. Increasingly recognized as one of the greatest and most prophetic novelists. JG Ballard was a writer of enormous inventive powers. who. in the words of Malcolm adbury. possessed. like Calvino . a remarkable gift for filling the empty deprived spaces of modern life with the invisible cities and the wonder worlds of imagination. Best known for his novels. such as Empire of the Sun and Crash. Ballard rose to fame as the ideal chronicler of disturbed modernity (The Observer). Perhaps less known. though equally illiant. were his devastatingly original short stories. whi...
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Now we have "The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard," tracing this major author's development during a career that spanned from the mid-1950s into the early years of 21st Century.
In 2001, Ballard said, "Short stories are the loose change in the treasury of fiction" -- this book is a tall stack of change indeed. The values of each piece vary (as must be the case, by definition, for any "Complete" retrospective), but each one will repay the investment of your reading time.
Highly, highly recommended.
If you're reading this review, you probably already know about the late Mr. Ballard's unique, dystopian, psychologically themed, often controversial sci-fi work. So I won't try to sell you on him as an author. If you like his work, you're probably already at least mildly interested in "The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard." If you don't know or like his work--and it most definitely is not for everyone--then you'll have no interest in the book. So, assuming you're in the former category, is this a book you should consider buying?
My answer is an enthusiastic "Yes!" This collection is a fantastic volume, a fantastic value and a "must-have" for any real Ballard fan. When this massive, heavy tome arrived at my front door, I eagerly opened it, in the proper way for a new book, and then flipped through it, savoring the sheer wealth of creativity captured in small print on its 1,199 crisp pages. Then I checked the Table of Contents. The 98 stories included were published between 1956 and 1992. All of my favorites were there--long-remembered classics such as "The Voices of Time," "The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D," "A Question of Re-Entry" and "The Cage of Sand." Looking further, I came to a sudden realization. I had never read about half of the stories--almost the entire second half of the book. So now I face the pleasant prospect of not only re-reading stories that I've already enjoyed, but also of discovering new ones for the first time. There's not much in the way of "extras" (in DVD parlance)--just a 3-1/2-page Introduction by Martin Amis and a one-page Author's Introduction written in 2001. But the stories here speak for themselves, and the book really needs nothing more. Most highly recommended.
Ballard is more like Borges or Cortazar, or Kafka, than he is like Bradbury or Heinlein. If you are expecting "Sci-Fi" stories, you might be disappointed, even though a lot of the stories involve the future and astronauts.
It might not be good for your mental health to read all of these stories in one run. I'm about 600 pages into this collection, and the accumulating weight of Ballard's obsessions is starting to make me want to take a break. It's an understatement to say that Ballard had a traumatic childhood, and I don't think it's armchair psychology to say that his writing is on one level a way of dealing with trauma. How else can you explain the endless repetition of specific images and situations? Let's see - coral reefs, abandoned swimming pools, sand, plane crashes and crashed airplanes, concrete, empty cities, astronauts, time. If anyone want to add to the list, please do - I know I'm missing a few.
Time, specifically, is an obsession. Ballard seems to see the space age as a confrontation between humanity and the mystery of time. "If the sea was a symbol of the unconscious, was space perhaps an image of unfettered time, and the inability to penetrate it a tragic exile to one of the limbos of eternity, a symbolic death in life?" I'd say that about a third of the stories in this collection deal with this kind of question. Like Kafka, Ballard used his stories to examine philosophical questions from all angles.
In Ballard's world, other people are usually a source of betrayal and cruelty. One's own self is also untrustworthy, and possibly an illusion altogether. Exerting free will is possible, but the individual always ends up being crushed by inhuman forces - society, or time, or the universe. Marriages are almost always cold and suffocating. Women are either temptresses or soulless housewives. It's not a view of life that I share, and, like I said before, it's a view that begins to oppress after long exposure. There are no "characters" in these stories that you will remember - just stock humans, placed in Ballard's inventions to explore a particular question about human nature or reality.
Some of Ballard's stories have the power of Orwell's "1984" - they predict a future that has already arrived, and they point to dangers that are very real. Other stories, like "The Garden of Time" and "The Watch-Towers", are like fairy tales, with images that will haunt you.
One thing is for sure - no one else ever wrote like this. Read Ballard for a visit to a brilliant mind, one that looked with a clear eye on horror and beauty alike.
This is a great bedroom night stand book. Most of the almost 100 stories are in the 10-20 page range and can be read in one sitting. The stories are short and to the point with great ideas that don't suffer from the author trying to fill a novel. The quality over the span of the stories is a lot better than most other authors could produce. There were only a handful of stories in the collection that kind of bored me. A few of the stories will be some of my all time favorite short stories. I'm going to leave this book by my bed and put away my copy of Kafka's complete stories.
First of all, this is only the 98 short stories. The book doesn't include the novels. If it did, it would be much thicker. As it is, it is so thick it is difficult to read.
Most of these stories are new to me (I primarily knew Ballard through his novels), and they are printed in chronological order. Many of Ballard's characters are not fatalists, but they almost all should be. His novels can get pretty depressing. Dashed hopes and failure are easier to take in small doses! It is not true that every one of his stories ends badly for the viewpoint characters, but happy endings are few and far between.
Ballard returned again and again to several tropes in his writing. Dried-up seas, reefs, insane women (many homicidal), pathetic loser protagonists, and an imaginary place he called "Vermillion Sands," which was not the same in every story, but which among its many incarnations seems to represent different aspects of the same decadent and/or decaying world. In the matter of recurring themes there was a progression. He might write three or four stories that explored different versions of a plot, or perhaps different incarnations of a character. At some point, he would have said everything he wanted to say and would move on to do the same thing with another recurring character or story line. Here is one example.
Back in the 70s Ballard published a series of stories about flying. These were not his only stories in which flying was important, and publication order is not necessarily the same as writing order, but this group of stories illustrates his penchant for reworking themes into multiple stories apparently one right after another. "My dream of flying to Wake Island" was published in 1974. In this story, vast numbers of World War II era planes are buried in sand at an abandoned beach resort. People come to excavate these planes the way others go to Civil War battlefields with metal detectors looking for spent 19th-century bullets. The protagonist is obsessed with flying to Wake Island. It is evident from the beginning he is never going to get there. During the story he indulges in various activities that don't further his goal, has a brief love affair, and loses everything. A typical Ballard story.
The next Ballard story published was "The air disaster," which appeared the following year. In this story, a journalist is on his way to the site of a disaster. He is led astray by some local people who eventually lead him to, not an airliner that just crashed with a thousand people on board, but a small airplane that fell in the high mountains decades earlier. This story operates on several levels and it is not much like the preceding story. The protagonist is not an obsessive loser, but he does have an unseemly desire to find a bunch of freshly killed corpses before anyone else does. Then there is his interaction with the locals. He invades their world with the same disrespectful attitude that representatives of technologically advanced cultures often have in such situations. And finally, the comparison between a few dead air men, lost and forgotten, and a thousand travelers whose families have just begun to grieve for them. This comparison is not explicit in the story, but it is unavoidable. Of course, the dead travelers are not really in the story. Only the journalist and the natives are actually present. They meet and interact, but the journalist doesn't understand the locals and they don't understand him.
That same year, "Low-flying aircraft" was published. This story is very interesting. In some ways it is a typical Ballard work and in other ways it jumps the rails completely. In this story, the human race is dying out. All babies born are unviable mutants. Other mammalian species are similarly affected. In a paroxysm of revulsion, people have been ruthlessly exterminating themselves and the larger mammals, until cattle, sheep, human beings, et cetera are almost gone. The protagonist, Forrester, and his wife Judith, are fertile. She conceives readily, but all the newborns are mutants. They are humanely put to sleep. Still, the Forresters keep trying. At the time of the story Forrester meets a doctor named Gould. Gould is seemingly obsessed with flying his airplane dangerously close to the ground, hence the title of the story. It turns out that Dr.Gould has discovered something very significant about the mutants, human and otherwise. He suggests to Forrester that if a creature seems defective to us, maybe we just aren't looking at it correctly. It may simply be different, or even more fit (in an evolutionary sense). The story ends on a hopeful note. "Low-flying aircraft" reminds me more of R. A. Lafferty than of other Ballardian stories.
This is one kind of thematic iteration employed by Ballard. Aircraft are important in all three of these stories, but in vastly different ways. In one, they are objects of a futile obsession. In the next, aircraft are props used to reflect aspects of humanity. In the last, aircraft appear to indicate mental instability, but turn out to be part of something a lot healthier.
Some of the other clusters of related stories contain stories that are more closely related to one another than these three. Sometimes they even contain some of the same characters. For example, the half dozen or so stories in which changes in the flow of time are central to the plot. People live faster than the rest of the world, they live more slowly than the rest of the world, the entire world slows down physically but the speed of thought does not change, and you get the idea. Ballard returned again and again to the possibilities inherent in changes in our sense of the passage of time, whether objective or subjective.
The last story in the book was published in 1992. This is "Report from an obscure planet," which is only three pages long. The story deals with both virtual reality and Y2K. One of his last stories was simply the schedule of a day's television programs. Through the titles and one-sentence descriptions of the shows Ballard sketches out a world.
I have to recommend this book. The price is incredibly low. Ballard's oeuvre encompasses nearly half of the 20th century, and during much of the time he was an important and influential writer. And the stories are good. Depressing, of course, but you don't have to read them all in one day. But buy the book.