Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands, by J. G. Ballard

Vermilion Sands, by J. G. Ballard

The tree gliders, brilliant painted toys, revolved like lazing birds above Coral D, waiting for the first clouds to pass overhead. Van Eyck moved away to take a cloud. He sailed around its white pillow, spraying the sides with iodide crystals and cutting away the flock-like tissue. The streaming shards fell toward us like crumbling ice-drifts. As the drops of condensing spray fell on my face I could see Van Eyck shaping an immense horse’s head. He sailed up and down the long forehead and chiseled out the eyes and ears.

– J.G. Ballard, The “The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D”

The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D, By J. G. Ballard

The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D, By J. G. Ballard

When I’m writing I have to be very careful about what I read. Too much aesthetic sensibility, too much style, too many splintering ideas come in through my eyes and fall out of my fingertips. I have to read something that is related/similar/compatible with what I want to do, or it all goes to crap.

Well, it seems to all go to crap anyway, but….

I’m rereading some classic J.G. Ballard short stories right now. I forget sometimes how much I love his stuff. I first encountered J. G. Ballard in the early seventies, in the form of a moldering handful of cheap pulp paperback short story collections borrowed from an informal lending library in Managua. I was devouring this stuff back then, reading almost a book a day and very little of it remains in the cobwebby recesses of my failing brain – but one thing that did stick is Ballard.

I remember “The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D” in particular – actually I remember the whole world of “Vermilion Sands.”

Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands

(somebody else likes it too)

I remember being caught off-guard by the bizarre dystopian decadence of the fading fantastic vacation resort. It was a door into a frightening yet seductive world tilted away from our own at an oblique angle. The human heart has been twisted – but not so much that it isn’t recognizable. It wasn’t until decades later and I read “Empire of the Sun” that I began to understand the source of Ballard’s vision.

Last night in bed, while I was fighting to stay awake, I reread “Prima Belladonna” – a story about a mutant beauty with golden skin and insect-legged eyelashes and a man that sells plants that sing. It turns out that it was his first sold story. I love the idea that he bought a pram with the proceeds.

One of the stories in the collection, “Prima Belladonna”, was the first piece of fiction that l ever published, and I can still remember the thrill of receiving the cheque for £8. At last I was a professional writer, and my wife and I celebrated by using the money to buy our baby son a new pram. Pushing it past the department stores in Chiswick High Street, a hundred ideas in my head, I felt that I had found the philosopher’s stone.

J.G. Ballard, from The Independent, October 24, 1992

I’m in the final stretch of editing my collection of stories – and I am glad that Ballard shares my love of the form.

THE SHORT STORIES that make up this collection were written between 1956 and 1970, and once they were published in a single volume I never returned, regrettably, to this genial playground. By sealing one’s imagination between hard covers one can close the door forever on a still vivid private world. I’m glad that I began my career by writing short stories, when I was free to chase any passing hare in a way that is no longer possible, and without over-committing myself to a single idea. Fiction today is dominated by career novelists locked into their publishers’ contracts like the prematurely middle-aged encumbered by mortgages and pension plans. Irresponsibility, especially the agreeable variety displayed in Vermilion Sands, has a great many neglected virtues.

J.G. Ballard, from The Independent, October 24, 1992

(Emphasis mine)

Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands

I don’t know if it was the odd fiction or the electrical fields from the constant lightning booming down from the Texas summer middle-of-the-night thunderstorms outside my window… or nothing at all – that caused a very odd, intense, and complete dream.

I dreamt that I had gone back to college and was moving back into Ellsworth Hall in Lawrence for a year. Everything had changed so much – the front desk gave me a key that was a little sculptural fob shaped like a tiny Picachu. The dorm was surrounded by a maze-like complex of restaurants and entertainment – it was a frustrating navigational feat to simply find the elevators – my room was 1127. I remember that the residence hall had only ten floors.

I felt so old, so out-of-place – like Rip Van Winkle.

Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands

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