Science fiction writer J.G. Ballard dies, aged 78

J.G. Ballard, most famous for the novels Crash and Empire of the Sun, has died aged 78 after a long illness. According to the BBC, his agent Margaret Hanbury said the author had been ill “for several years” and died on Sunday morning.

Empire of the Sun, a fictionalised account of his childhood, was based on his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in China and was made into a film by Steven Spielberg. Director David Cronenberg also adapted Ballard’s novel Crash into a feature film. The book explored the sexual desires stimulated by car crashes. Both book and film caused a stir when first released.

Ballard wrote 15 novels and over 100 short stories. He referred to his books as “picturing the psychology of the future”.

“He was one of the first to take up the whole idea of ecological catastrophe,” said friend and author Iain Sinclair. “He was fascinated by celebrity early on, the cult of the star and suicides of cars, motorways, edgelands of cities.”

According to the Guardian, Ballard wasn’t overly fond of the label science fiction. “By calling a novel like Crash science fiction, you isolate the book and you don’t think about what it is,” Ballard explained.

In the introduction of the French edition of Crash (1974), he wrote:

“The kind of imagination that now manifests itself in science fiction is not something new. Homer, Shakespeare and Milton all invented new worlds to comment on this one. The split of science fiction into a separate and somewhat disreputable genre is a recent development. It is connected with the near-disappearance of dramatic and philosophical poetry, and the slow shrinking of the traditional novel as it concerns itself more and more exclusively with the nuances of human relationships. Among those areas neglected by the traditional novel are, above all, the dynamics of human societies (the traditional novel tends to depict society as static), and man’s place in the universe. However crudely or naively, science fiction at least attempts to place a philosophical and metaphysical frame around the most important events within our lives and consciousness.”

His last novels featured a corporate dystopia (Super Cannes in 2000), a middle-class revolution (Millennium People in 2003) and an exploration of consumerist fascism (Kingdom Come in 2006).

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