19 April 2009

RIP, J.G. Ballard

British author J.G. Ballard died this weekend after battling prostate cancer for the past several years. He was 78 years old.
For better or worse, Ballard's best known work is Empire Of The Sun, his fictionalized memoir of growing up in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai during WWII. The book was turned into a movie by Steven Spielberg, starring a young Christian Bale as Ballard. I say "better or worse" because the book isn't very representational of his body of work, although it did bring a wider audience to his other works, which were mostly dystopian Science Fiction stories which repeatedly set forth Ballard's undying opinion that technological advances do not actually help humanity advance, but rather fill us with an evergrowing sense of our own worthlessness, and tend to isolate and alienate us from one another.
A rather bleak notion, to be sure, which is probably why he's one of my favorite authors.
[insert LOL here]
My first encounter with Ballard was his 1973 novel, Crash, which explored the intersection between sex and violence via automobile crashes, and characters who are sexually stimulated by vehicle collisions and their resulting injuries. It also stands as a potent symbol for the way our technologies can destroy us. It was a mindfuck of a novel for the fairly wide-eyed teenager that I was when I read it, and over the years I read as much Ballard as I could, which wasn't always easy in the pre-internet, pre-Amazon days, because Ballard remained a largely cult author, and his books weren't very easy to find in Milwaukee, or even Madison...Hell, it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally read one of his better-known works, The Atrocity Exhibition, thanks to Amazon. I guess in this instance, technology was helpful.
In any event, while I'm sad at the man's passing, he did live a long and fruitful life, and gave us all some truly original and provocative texts. If you are interested in exploring his life's work, I suggest the following:
RIP, mister Ballard.
Hotcha! Hank

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