Image via WikipediaJG Ballard has died, aged 78, following a long battle with cancer.
Ballard's work has long had sway over me. He skittered across styles and genres, producing some of the most compelling fantasy work, The Terminal Beach being one of the first things I came across - a book published in the year I was born and one which has, along with Vermillion Sands, The Drowned World and The Crystal World, stayed with me since I was a kid.
Ballard's world was one of almost frightening, inxplicable desertscapes, jungles and fractally twisted textures, of alternative realities and surreal thought. His worlds were terminal, unsustainable, post-cataclysmic, his human characters always surrounded by, challenged by the destruction wrought by erosion, change and altered states.
From the man that systematically blotted out everything around him, creating a comfortable whiteness (killing his wife in the process) to a man left alone as the only survivor, apart from a shadowy, uncreachable figure that wanders and dances out of his reach) in an earth that has been turned entirely crystalline, Ballard's work was fired by almost incredible imagination.
His work is sometimes, despite being set a million mental miles away from any right-minded person's reality, redolent of its era - try Crash, an early 1970s book that sexualises cars and an obsession with car crashes in a disturbing study of man and technology twisted together in the ultimate bond.
Empire of the Sun was an oddity - the story of his childhood incarceration after the invasion of Singapore, it's autobiographical and probably his only 'straight' work. The Spielberg film of it is awful. The Kindness of Women is another book that sits oddly on a bookshelf containing The Drowned World and Vermilion Sands.
Latterly, his writing shifted to dealing with themes of sex, drugs and death in suburban dystopia. Well, I mean, why not? Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes and Millenium People would make compelling reading for anyone living in the Arabian Ranches (God, Ballard could have created the bloody Arabian Ranches for all we know) or Green Community, the Greens, Palms or whatevers in The Projects. These are the types of communities he created, populating them with suburban career people whose outward lives masked terrifying cabals of criminality and violence.
I always thought he'd come to Dubai. I'd have loved to have seen his face when he saw the perfect dystopia - somewhere so close to his writing that he'd have been sent into shock, Vermillion Sands and Cocaine Nights intertwined with Crash. I wonder if he'd have liked it, loathed it or just been stunned that we're all living in what was, ultimately, JG's reality.
Anyway, he's gone now. And we've lost an incredible, defining imagination and talent.