J.G. Ballard was born 80 years ago

James Graham Ballard was born on November 15, 1930 in Shanghai, where his British family had moved because of his father’s job.

When Japan declared war on the U.S.A. its army occupied Shanghai’s international settlement and at the beginning of 1943 the Ballard family was interned in a concentration camp where they lived untile the end of World War II.

In 1946 his mother went back to England with J.G. and his sister but after a couple of years she moved again to China and her husband with her daughter leaving her son to the care of his grandparents.

In 1949 J.G. Ballard decided to study medicine with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist and at the university he started his first literary experiments. After some time Ballard realized he wanted to be a writer so he decided to leave his studies. He tried to sell his stories but without success and, after trying various jobs to earn his living, he joined the RAF.

For his service Ballard was sent to Canada, where he discovered science fiction and started writing that kind of stories.

In 1954 Ballard left the RAF and went back to England. In 1955 he married and in 1956 there was the birth of his first child and the first publication of one of his science fiction stories.

During the following years Ballard worked for various magazines and in 1962 his first novel was published, “The Wind from Nowhere”, which is also his first one with a catastrophic subject. In that moment Ballard became a full time writer.

The publication of his article “Which Way to Inner Space” on the magazine “New Worlds” marked the birth of the British New Wave science fiction literary movement. The base topic of this movement is the inner space with great attention to psychic pulsions.

Ballard’s fame grew up in 1962 with the publication of his second novel, “The Drowned World”.

In 1964 Ballard’s wife died from pneumonia, leaving a deep wound in his life and three children to raise: even if later he found a new partner he never remarried.

To complete the catastrophic quadrilogy, during the following years Ballard published the novels “The Burning World” (also known as “The Drought”) and “The Crystal World”.

During the years Ballard wrote various stories he included in his collection “The Atrocity Exhibition”, considered his masterpiece but also his most controversial work for the sexual topics included.

One of the “The Atrocity Exhibition” chapters was titled “Crash!” and Ballard developed the subject of car crashes as a source of sexual perversion in a novel with the same title published in 1973. David Cronenberg directed a movie adapted from this novel in 1996.

Ballard kept on writing science fiction but in 1984 he published “Empire of the Sun”, a novel with a strong autobiographic component as it’s based on his war experience in Shanghai. The novel became a best-seller and was adapted into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg in 1987 with a brief appearance by Ballard himself.

Ballard went on alternating his efforts among the various literary genres but in 2006 he was diagnosed a prostate cancer he died from on April 19, 2009.

For Ballard science fiction and literature in general is a tool to analyze possible dystopic evolutions of a progress that human beings are incapable of handling in a positive way so that it leads to destruction. The psycological component is always very important so the catastrophe present in various forms in so many Ballard stories symbolically mirrors a psychic disaster for a single chacacter or the whole human kind.

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