I’ve written about J. G. Ballard before. I mentioned his collection of short stories, Vermilion Sands, as an influential part of my youth. Also, not too long ago, I read his novel, High Rise, and gave it praise.
Now, a collection of Ballards complete short story oeuvre has fallen into my grimy paws and thought I know better, I keep reading away at it. We are talking about ninety eight stories here and a single page short of twelve hundred in total. That is a lot of words. This is no small feat. This is a long-term reading task. I have better things to do.
But I can’t help myself. I do so love his writing. His strange, aloof characters. His horrific, yet familiar, dystopian societal landscapes. The way he never really quite explains exactly what’s going on (this is especially true of his short stories – his novels are much more straightforward). He also has a way with titles – all the way from “The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D” to “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan.”
There is also the fact that I read a lot of these when I was a kid. The stories are in the book in chronological order and I can feel years of my life falling away as I remember when I first came across these.
Some made a big impression on my. I remember “Manhole 69” as being a claustrophobic tale of three men that had been surgically altered so that they did not need to sleep. Slowly their world began to pull in around them until they were trapped in a tiny space… the manhole. It creeeped the bejeebers out of me when I read it in high school. So now I reread it and… well, my memory was pretty much spot on.
There was the novella “The Voices of Time.” It too left me with a strange uneasy feeling that has persisted for forty-odd years. I remember a strange mandala cut into the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool and animals mutating in very odd ways (frogs growing lead shells, a sea anemone developing a nervous system) but little else. This time I’m reading more carefully, taking a few notes, reading with decades of literary experience…. I think it was better the first time – complete with the veil of mystery. Well, it didn’t make that much difference… there is still plenty of mystery.
So, I don’t think I’ll keep going to the end unstopped. But the stories will always be there and if I have an hour or so I’ll crank through another. Maybe in a year or so I’ll have read them all.
That’s an interesting idea – an entire prolific life’s worth of short stories, read in order. You feel like you get to know a man that way.