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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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...
(The entire section is 551 words.)