J. G. Ballard Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Graham Ballard is regarded by many as one of the most important postmodern writers in English. Generally categorized as science fiction, most of Ballard’s work moves beyond that label to address the impact of technology and American culture on the imagination. The son of James Ballard, a businessman, and his wife, Edna, J. G. Ballard spent the first sixteen years of his life in Shanghai.

In his highly autobiographical novel The Empire of the Sun, which Steven Spielberg made into a film in 1987, Ballard’s protagonist, Jim, who is separated from his parents at the outbreak of World War II, spends three years in a Japanese prison camp. There the boy’s contacts to his old world (already a bizarre amalgam of Chinese environment overlaid with more typically European lifestyles) occur through magazines and the warplanes the United States sends to the Far East. In a touching scene, Jim clips out the photograph of a couple from an advertisement in Life magazine because of its likeness to his parents. It is not difficult to see how Ballard’s fiction came to be obsessed with the icons of America and why it centered on war, disaster, and imprisonment.

After being educated at Leys School and studying medicine at King’s College for two years, Ballard served in the Royal Air Force, where he underwent pilot training in Canada. Back in England, he worked as a science editor and in 1955 he married Helen Mary Matthews; she died in 1964, leaving him with a son and two daughters.

In 1956, Ballard sold “Prima Belladonna” to Science Fantasy magazine and soon after became a distinguished literary voice. His short stories are unique in their pictorial evocation of setting and psychological mood. Accordingly, they fascinate less through an intricate plot or a variety of different characters than through the intensity with which they explore places. In “The Garden of Time,” for example, Ballard describes a strange garden whose flowers arrest time.

Ballard’s longer fiction commenced with his 1962 The Wind from Nowhere, the first of a quartet of “natural disaster novels” that share a surrealistic setting and an emphasis on tableaux, or still scenes. The...

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J. G. Ballard Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

James Graham Ballard was born on November 15, 1930, in Shanghai, where his father, businessman James Ballard, and his mother, Edna (née Johnstone), were members of the international European and American community of the ancient Chinese trading city. The outbreak of World War II in the Pacific in 1941 changed the boy’s life dramatically: When the Japanese began interning Westerners, the Ballard family, too, came to spend the war years in a camp.

Liberated by the Japanese surrender, but with civil war looming in China, the boy accompanied his mother and sister to Great Britain in 1946 (while his father remained in China, for the last year as a captive, until 1951). After he was graduated from Leys School, Cambridge, Ballard studied medicine at King’s College; anatomy became his favorite subject before he dropped out and enlisted in the Royal Air Force. After receiving some flight training in Canada, Ballard returned to England, where, in 1955, he married Helen Mary Matthews. Before her death in 1964, they had a son and two daughters.

In 1956, Ballard sold his first story, “Prima Belladonna,” to Science Fantasy magazine; despite working full time as assistant editor of a chemical journal in London he soon turned into a productive writer with a distinct literary voice, something of a rarity in his chosen field at the time. After publishing his first novel, The Wind from Nowhere, in 1962, Ballard successfully continued...

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J. G. Ballard Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

James Graham Ballard was born and reared in Shanghai, China, where his father—originally an industrial chemist—was involved in the management of the Far East branch of a British firm of textile manufacturers. The Second Sino-Japanese War had begun, and Shanghai was effectively a war zone by the time Ballard was seven years old; all of his early life was affected by the ever-nearness of war. After Japan’s entry into World War II and its invasion of Shanghai, Ballard was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp. This was in the summer of 1942, when he was eleven; he was there for more than three years.

Ballard later said that his experience of the internment camp was “not unpleasant”—it was simply a fact of life that, as a child, he accepted. Children were not generally mistreated by the guards, and the adults made sure that the children were adequately fed, even at their own expense. He later observed that his parents must have found the regime extremely harsh. Although his family members were among the fortunate few who avoided malaria, his sister nearly died of a form of dysentery.

After his release, Ballard went to England in 1946. His family stayed in the Far East for a while, and his father did not return until 1950, when he was driven out of China by the Communist victory. Ballard recalled that after spending his early years in “Americanized” Shanghai, England seemed very strange and foreign. He went to Leys’ School in Cambridge for a while, then went to King’s College, Cambridge, to study medicine. His ultimate aim at this time was to become a psychiatrist. At Cambridge he began writing, initially intending to maintain the activity as a hobby while he was qualifying. In fact, he dropped out of his course after two years and subsequently went to London University to read English. The university seems to have found him unsuitable for such a course, and he left after his first year.

He then embarked on a series of short-term jobs,...

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J. G. Ballard Biography (Novels for Students)

J. G. Ballard Published by Gale Cengage

J. G. Ballard was born on November 15, 1930, in Shanghai. Like Jim, the protagonist of Empire of the Sun, Ballard was a child when World War II began; and, like Jim, he wandered the city of Shanghai after being separated from his parents. However, he was eventually reunited with them in Lunghua prison camp, where the three remained prisoners until the camp was liberated by the American army.

Ballard left China when he was sixteen and later studied medicine at Cambridge University from 1949 to 1951. He became a regular contributor to New Worlds magazine. From 1954 to 1957 he served as a pilot for the Royal Air Force.

Ballard married Helen Matthews in 1953 and had three children. Her death in 1964 devastated him, and death became a recurring theme in his writing. He began writing science fiction in the mid-1950s and, by the 1960s, he became associated with the "New Wave" movement in science fiction, which introduced experimental literary techniques and more sophisticated subject matter into the genre. Initially his novels did not garner much critical or commercial success. Eventually, he was recognized as an innovative writer of science fiction, especially in England and Europe.

Ballard departed from the science fiction genre in several of his short stories and in Empire of the Sun and its sequel, The Kindness of Women (1991), which deals with Ballard's life in England after the war. Empire of the Sun was a popular and critical success, earning a Guardian Fiction Prize in 1984, a nomination for the Booker Prize in 1984, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1985. Adapted into a movie in 1987, the film was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. Ballard's fifteen novels and numerous short stories have established him not only as a first-rate science fiction writer, but also as an accomplished novelist and short story writer of works that explore intricate psychological landscapes.