The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard: Last Acts and First Lines

Sadly, a giant of literature, J.G. Ballard, passed away in April of this year. As I wrote then as part of a commemorative post here on Omnivoracious, "On a personal note, I came to Ballard through his short stories while still a teenager, through collections like Terminal Beach (1964) and Vermillion Sands (1971). I first encountered Ballard on the back shelves of used bookstores, and thought he was one of the best treasures I ever discovered there. I always felt, reading his work, that I didn’t process a Ballardian piece of fiction; instead, it processed me. I saw the world differently after reading Ballard. Often, while in the middle of one of his stories, I would literally feel as if the spatial dimensions around me were shifting and that I was adrift. Somehow, as Martin Amis has said, Ballard got to a different part of your brain than other writers. This sense of enveloping the reader in the unknown and alien had a huge influence on my own fiction, and gave me permission to experiment in a way I don’t think I would’ve done otherwise."

Now, Norton has published The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, showcasing Ballard's visionary, incendiary, thought-provoking short fiction. It's a weighty volume, coming in at 1196 pages, and is fascinating in how it shows the progression of his themes, obsessions, and writing style. Very little of it feels dated, in part because Ballard had a knack, through use of surreal imagery, for making his science fiction feel timeless. One of the first stories of Ballard's I ever read, "The Drowned Giant," still has that resonance you expect of great fiction. From "The Terminal Beach" to "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," "The Cage of Sand"  to "War Fever", readers will find a relentless and fierce intelligence at work here. No one ever wrote quite like Ballard.

But as much as we remember Ballard's short fiction for pushing the envelope, and for being somewhat experimental, the man could also write some really effective opening hooks for his stories--evocative, poetic, direct, or playful. So, just to give you a taste of the collection, here are some of the more memorable first lines (you'll notice a few recurring images and gambits)...


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