Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Ballard’s stories, “Memories of the Space Age” is scarcely believable by realistic standards. It is resolutely nonrational. However, it succeeds, thanks largely to Ballard’s visionary imagination and to his persuasive skill in conveying his meaning with metaphors and similes. His language is often abstract, yet capable of embodying strikingly poetic ideas. “Time had flowed out of Florida,” he writes in a typical passage, “as it had from the space age. After a brief pause, like a trapped film reel running free, it sped on again, rekindling a kinetic world.” On other occasions, Ballard creates jewel-like images so striking that their significance is almost secondary.

“Memories of the Space Age” relies on a complex imagery of birds and flight. Ballard has used such imagery again and again, most extensively in the novel The Unlimited Dream Company (1979). Space flight itself is linked to the sickness spreading from Florida (if indeed the timeless present it offers its sufferers can be called a sickness). Hinton flies a series of planes through the skies above Cape Canaveral, and Gale (who calls herself Nightingale) soars through the story in a human-powered glider. Before Hinton attempts to push Mallory off the launch platform, he assures him that they will join the birds in flight. Ballard has routinely equated flight with freedom, and here he links those two states with timelessness as well.

Ballard makes use of another potent image, that of fire. Anne and Hinton throw themselves into the flames, and Mallory dreams of a similar kind of life in death, embracing the flames of the tiger’s pelt. This imagery is probably suggested by English poet William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” (1794), which opens with the famous line, “Tyger, tyger, burning bright.” As presented by Blake, the tiger is a being both evil and passionately beautiful, a creature whose ambiguity Ballard exploits in the final lines of his story.