English novelist and short story writer James Graham “J. G.” Ballard sadly died 19 April 2009 from Prostate Cancer. He was Born 15 November 1930 and raised in the Shanghai International Settlement, an area under foreign control where people “lived an American style of life”. He was sent to the Cathedral School, the Anglican Holy Trinity Church near the Bund, Shanghai. After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Ballard’s family were forced to evacuate their suburban home temporarily and rent a house in central Shanghai to avoid the shells fired by Chinese and Japanese forces.
After the Japanese attack on Hong Kong, the Japanese occupied the International Settlement in Shanghai. In early 1943, they began to intern Allied civilians, and Ballard was sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center with his parents and younger sister. He spent over two years, the remainder of World War II, in the internment camp. His family lived in a small area in G block, a two-story residence for 40 families. He attended school in the camp, the teachers being camp inmates from a number of professions. These experiences formed the basis of Empire of the Sun, although Ballard exercised considerable artistic licence in writing the book, such as the removal of his parents from the bulk of the story.
It has been supposed that Ballard’s exposure to the atrocities of war at an impressionable age explains the apocalyptic and violent nature of much of his fiction.In late 1945, after the end of the war, his mother returned to Britain with Ballard and his sister on the SS Arawa. They lived in the outskirts of Plymouth, and he attended The Leys School in Cambridge. He won an essay prize whilst at the school but did not contribute to the school magazine. After a couple of years his mother and sister returned to China, rejoining Ballard’s father, leaving Ballard to live with his grandparents when not boarding at school. In 1949 he went on to study medicine at King’s College, Cambridge, with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist.
At university, Ballard was writing avant-garde fiction heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and surrealist painters. At this time, he wanted to become a writer as well as pursue a medical career. In May 1951, when Ballard was in his second year at Cambridge, his short story “The Violent Noon”, a Hemingwayesque pastiche written to please the contest’s jury, won a crime story competition and was published in the student newspaper Varsity. Encouraged by the publication of his story and realising that clinical medicine would not leave him time to write, Ballard abandoned his medical studies, and enrolled at Queen Mary College to read English Literature. However, he was asked to leave at the end of the year. Ballard then worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. and as an encyclopaedia salesman. He kept writing short fiction but found it impossible to get published.
In spring 1954 Ballard joined the Royal Air Force and was sent to the Royal Canadian Air Force flight-training base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. There he discovered science fiction in American magazines. While in the RAF, he also wrote his first science fiction story, “Passport to Eternity”, as a pastiche and summary of the American science fiction he had read. The story did not see publication until 1962.
Ballard left the RAF in 1955 after thirteen months and returned to England. In 1955 he married Helen Mary Matthews and settled in Chiswick, the first of their three children being born the following year. He made his science fiction debut in 1956 with two short stories, “Escapement” and “Prima Belladonna”, published in the December 1956 issues of New Worlds and Science Fantasy respectively. The editor of New Worlds, Edward J. Carnell, would remain an important supporter of Ballard’s writing and would publish nearly all of his early stories.
From 1958 Ballard worked as assistant editor on the scientific journal Chemistry and Industry. His interest in art led to his involvement in the emerging Pop Art movement, and in the late fifties he exhibited a number of collages that represented his ideas for a new kind of novel. Ballard’s avant-garde inclinations did not sit comfortably in the science fiction mainstream of that time, which held attitudes he considered philistine. Briefly attending the 1957 Science Fiction Convention in London, Ballard left disillusioned and demoralised and did not write another story for a year. By the late 1960s, however, he had become an editor of the avant-garde Ambit magazine, which was more in keeping with his aesthetic ideals.
He was also a prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction. His best-known books are Crash (1973), which was adapted into a (rather strange) film by David Cronenberg, and the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun (1984), which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Empire of the Sun is Based on Ballard’s boyhood in the Shanghai International Settlement and internment by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, and recounts the story of a young British boy, Jaime Graham, who lives with his parents in Shanghai. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese occupy the Shanghai International Settlement, and in the following chaos Jim becomes separated from his parents. He spends some time in abandoned mansions, living on remnants of packaged food. Having exhausted the food supplies, he decides to try to surrender to the Japanese Army. After many attempts, he finally succeeds and is interned in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center. Although the Japanese are “officially” the enemies, Jim identifies partly with them, both because he adores the pilots with their splendid machines and because he feels that Lunghua is still a comparatively safe place for him. However the food supply also runs short here and Jim barely survives, with people around him starving to death. The camp prisoners are forced upon a march to Nantao, with many dying along the route. However some are saved from starvation by air drops from American Bombers.
The book was adapted by Tom Stoppard in 1987. The screenplay was filmed by Steven Spielberg, to critical acclaim, being nominated for six Oscars and winning three British Academy Awards (for cinematography, music and sound). It starred 13-year-old Christian Bale, as well as John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson; it also featured a cameo by the 21 year old Ben Stiller, in a dramatic role.The literary distinctiveness of Ballard’s work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian”, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” Sadly Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2006. In 2008, The Times included Ballard on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945