Critical Context

The Crystal World was first serialized as “Equinox” in New Worlds in 1964 and represents one of the finest examples of Ballard’s work in his first decade as a professional writer. During this time, he produced several novels dealing with worldwide catastrophe: The Wind from Nowhere (1962), The Drowned World (1962), and The Drought (published in the United States in 1964 as The Burning World and revised in 1965). These stories, utilizing some of the conventions of science fiction, are metaphysical explorations of the landscapes of the psyche.

In the decade following 1966, Ballard turned to more avant-garde fiction, which included the novels Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974), and High-Rise (1975); these are brutal pictures of the modern landscapes and of how people become “invisible” to one another, trapped in their individualism. He made another new departure with Empire of the Sun (1984), his most autobiographical work to date. Here Ballard recalls in convincing detail and with surrealistic force his early childhood in Shanghai, when war and its attendant dislocations seemed to blast everything in the city into the rough, component parts of reality. For this novel, the author received the Guardian Fiction Prize and a nomination for the Booker Prize.

Throughout his work, Ballard has probed the meaning of human alienation. The hope of reconciliation comes only through humble acceptance of overwhelming forces, whether death or dissolution or a merging into paradise.