J. G. Ballard wrote an impressive array of novels, all of which deal with the fantastic, and among which Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), High Rise (1975), and The Day of Creation (1987) are considered the best. Both Rushing to Paradise (1994) and Cocaine Nights (1996) are ostensibly set in the present, but they still contain Ballard’s trademark fascination with the surreal. His autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun (1984), which tackles the subject of his childhood in war-torn China, was made into a 1987 motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg. Ballard also wrote some literary and cultural criticism.
Within the genre of science fiction, J. G. Ballard’s texts have been instrumental in the success of the New Wave movement, which brought literary respectability and serious attention to a literature formerly dismissed. Empire of the Sun won for Ballard the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1984, nearly won Great Britain’s prestigious Booker McConnell Prize in 1984, and earned the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1985.
J. G. Ballard was a prolific short-story writer; his stories fill more than twenty collections, though some are recombinations of stories in earlier collections, and the American and British collections constitute two series in which the same stories are combined in different ways. He also wrote occasional essays on imaginative fiction and on surrealist painting—he contributed an introduction to a collection of work by Salvador Dalí, for example. Many of these essays are collected in A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews (1996). The best of Ballard’s short fiction is to be found in two retrospective collections: Chronopolis, and Other Stories (1971) and The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (1978).
J. G. Ballard is one of a handful of writers who, after establishing early reputations as science-fiction writers, subsequently achieved a kind of “transcendence” of their genre origins to be accepted by a wider public. In Ballard’s case, this transcendence was completed by the success of Empire of the Sun, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian Prize before being boosted to best-seller status by a film produced by Steven Spielberg. In 1996, maverick film director David Cronenberg turned Ballard’s cult classic Crash into an equally disturbing film noir that quickly found a dedicated audience (the film was released in the United States in 1997).
For a time in the early 1960’s, Ballard seemed to constitute a one-man avant-garde in British science fiction, and his influence was considerable enough for him to become established as the leading figure in the movement that came to be associated with the magazine New Worlds under the editorship of Michael Moorcock. Ballard’s interest in science-fiction themes was always of a special kind; he was essentially a literary surrealist who found the near future a convenient imaginative space. His primary concern was the effect of environment—both “natural” and synthetic—on the psyche, and he therefore found it appropriate to write about gross environmental changes and about the decay and dereliction of the artificial environment; these interests distanced him markedly from other modern science-fiction writers and helped him to become a writer sui generis.
Following the success of Empire of the Sun Ballard became a prominent figure in the British literary landscape, cast by critics and journalists as an eccentric cynic playing a role akin to that of the court jesters of legend, who were supposed to whisper the reminder “Remember that thou art mortal” into the ears if their dictatorial employers. In a democratized modern world “ruled” by the middle class in their capacity as voters, consumers, and complainers, Ballard provided steely reminders not merely of the fragile mortality of everything they hold precious but also of the thinness of the veneer of glamour protecting the delusion that their goods are actually good and their values actually valuable.
Baxter, Jeanette. Contemporary Critical Perspectives: J. G. Ballard. London: Continuum Books, 2008. Provides a general overview of Ballard’s work, paying more attention than most such books to the author’s journalism and short fiction, and grounding discussion of the novels in the concerns revealed by those works.
Brigg, Peter. J. G. Ballard. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1985. One of the most exhaustive book-length discussions available of the author and his work. Considers Ballard primarily as a science-fiction writer, analyzing his work within that framework.
Brigg, Peter. “J. G. Ballard: Time Out of Mind.” Extrapolation 35 (Spring, 1994): 43-59. Discusses Ballard’s characters as figures who act according to the internal absolutes of their own reasonably processed observations. Asserts the key to his characters’ perceptions of their needs and actions is how they respond to time as they know and define it.
Delville, Michel. J. G. Ballard. Tavistock, England: Northcote House, 1998. Offers an introductory overview of Ballard’s work.
Gasiorek, Andrzej. J. G. Ballard. New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. Discusses Ballard’s fiction from his earliest work onward. Argues that Ballard’s sojourn in the science-fiction field is excusable because his works deny and undermine all the genre’s precepts.
Jones, Mark. “J. G. Ballard: Neurographer.” In Impossibility Fiction, edited by Derek Littlewood. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1996. Asserts that Ballard’s fiction is...
(The entire section is 701 words.)