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Ballard, J(ames) G(raham)

novel jim novels shanghai

(British, 1930– )

As a schoolboy, Jim Ballard was interned with his family in a civilian prison camp when the Japanese invaded Shanghai, China, in 1942. Forty years later this formed the basis for his awardwinning novel Empire of the Sun (1984), filmed by Steven Spielberg, which tells how 12-year-old Jim learns to survive the harsh conditions, and of his fascination with the kamikaze suicide pilots at the nearby airfield, which amounts to hero-worship of these fanatical young men. However, Ballard's main reputation is founded on a large output of science fiction novels and short stories. The Drowned World (1962) and The Drought (1965) are apocalyptic visions of our doomed planet as civilization crumbles and is reclaimed by nature in the raw. In later novels he brings a chill realism to his science fiction, creating modern fables of bleak, neon-lit landscapes in which frail humans are vulnerable and isolated. Concrete Island (1974) has a man marooned beneath a motorway flyover after crashing his car, ignored by the rushing traffic; this theme of alienation is taken to extremes and given an erotic charge in the cult novel Crash (1973), which the author describes in his introduction as the first pornographic novel based on technology.

Few British writers of his generation come near him in pushing their imaginative gifts to the furthest limit, and none has explored so relentlessly the collision of man and his man-made environment. The Kindness of Women (1991) returns to autobiographical material, including the early years in Shanghai.

John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, William Burroughs  TH

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