Finally Finished

Well, one thing about writing this thing is that I can get dates. Let’s see here it is, September 17, 2011 is when I started reading the Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard. I finished it this week… so it took me about ten months to get through the whole thing.

By no means is that the only thing I’ve read in the last year. I’d read a few stories and then jump to something else… only to return when that was done. The last week or so, though, I made a concentrated push to get through to the end.

It is a massive tome. Ninety Eight short stories, novellas, and novelettes, ending up one short of one thousand two hundred pages. The paper version weighs about four pounds and would be a real pain to carry around. Inside my Kindle, though, the weight of all those bytes is barely noticeable.

I had read a lot of these stories before. In high school, in the 1970’s I discovered his short fiction and gobbled up what I could get my paws on. What was cool about reading this now is that the stories were arranged in chronological order – so I revisited what I remembered and then continued to cruise right on past, on into the future (which now is the relatively recent past). I would look at the dates on the later stories and think of myself sitting there in 1973, and realizing what I was reading wouldn’t be written for another decade.

Since this is his complete body of work, in order, you can’t help but notice the continuing themes. The lonely, wealthy woman living alone in a crumbling estate, exerting an inexorable influence on the protagonist and the people living around him. The abandoned decadent tourist destination. The desiccated sea with dry sand waves and coral canyons. Empty swimming pools. Nature, time, and technology intersecting and reacting in unexpected, beautiful, and horrific ways…. And many more.

Near the end there are three longer works: News from the Sun, Memories of the Space Age, and Myths of the Near Future. These three, read consecutively, are fascinating companions to each other. They are essentially the same story, told with tiny shifts in attitude and points of view. They deal with the theory that man’s ventures into outer space have set loose a change in the very nature of time itself and the entire human race, in a series of events centered on the now long-abandoned Florida NASA launch sites is becoming unstuck in time. It is never clear whether this is a disaster – a punishment for shaking off our bonds, or a further leap in evolution where the human race is able to exist within and without time itself. The strong impression is that it is both.

Fascinating. Especially powerful in that, within these vast movements of irresistible forces the central theme of the stories remains the human relationships of the protagonists and how they struggle to maintain their place, their loves, their very lives.

Ballard writes:

I just tend to write whatever comes mentally to hand, and what I find interesting at a particular time. These decisions as to what one’s going to write tend to be made somewhere at the back of one’s mind, so one can’t consciously say: ‘that’s what I’m going to write’. It doesn’t work out like that! (interview in ‘J. G. Ballard: The First Twenty Years’, 1976).

I’m barely aware of what is going on. Recurrent ideas assemble themselves, obsessions solidify themselves … (interview in ‘The Paris Review’, 1984).

I feel that the writer of fantasy has a marked tendency to select images and ideas which directly reflect the internal landscapes of his mind, and the reader of fantasy must interpret them on this level, distinguishing between the manifest content, which may seen obscure, meaningless or nightmarish, and the latent content, the private vocabulary of symbols drawn by the narrative from the writer’s mind (‘Time, Memory and Inner Space’, 1963).

Some of the stories, especially some of the later ones are more experimental pieces… a skilled author showing off what he can do – pushing the boundaries of fiction. Some of these work better than others.

Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands

Still, I think my favorite are the Vermilion Sands stores – especially The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D. Something about that decadent vacation spot really gets to me.

Now, the tough question. What to read next?

  • 1 • Prima Belladonna • [Vermilion Sands] • (1956) • shortstory
  • 12 • Escapement • (1956) • shortstory
  • 23 • The Concentration City • (1957) • shortstory (aka Build-Up)
  • 39 • Venus Smiles • [Vermilion Sands] • (1957) • shortstory
  • 50 • Manhole 69 • (1957) • shortstory
  • 68 • Track 12 • (1958) • shortstory
  • 72 • The Waiting Grounds • (1959) • novelette
  • 96 • Now: Zero • (1959) • shortstory
  • 106 • The Sound-Sweep • (1959) • novelette
  • 137 • Zone of Terror • (1960) • shortstory
  • 150 • Chronopolis • (1960) • novelette
  • 169 • The Voices of Time • (1960) • novelette
  • 196 • The Last World of Mr. Goddard • (1960) • shortstory
  • 208 • Studio 5, The Stars • [Vermilion Sands] • (1961) • novelette
  • 235 • Deep End • (1961) • shortstory
  • 244 • The Overloaded Man • (1961) • shortstory
  • 255 • Mr F. is Mr F. • (1961) • shortstory
  • 267 • Billennium • (1961) • shortstory
  • 279 • The Gentle Assassin • (1961) • shortstory
  • 289 • The Insane Ones • (1962) • shortstory
  • 298 • The Garden of Time • (1962) • shortstory
  • 305 • The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista • [Vermilion Sands] • (1962) • shortstory
  • 321 • Thirteen to Centaurus • (1962) • novelette
  • 339 • Passport to Eternity • (1962) • shortstory
  • 355 • The Cage of Sand • (1962) • novelette
  • 373 • The Watch-Towers • (1962) • novelette
  • 395 • The Singing Statues • [Vermilion Sands] • (1962) • shortstory
  • 405 • The Man on the 99th Floor • (1962) • shortstory
  • 412 • The Subliminal Man • (1963) • shortstory
  • 426 • The Reptile Enclosure • (1963) • shortstory
  • 435 • A Question of Re-Entry • (1963) • novelette
  • 459 • The Time-Tombs • (1963) • novelette
  • 472 • Now Wakes the Sea • (1963) • shortstory
  • 480 • The Venus Hunters • (1963) • novelette
  • 504 • End-Game • (1963) • novelette
  • 521 • Minus One • (1963) • shortstory
  • 530 • The Sudden Afternoon • (1963) • shortstory
  • 541 • The Screen Game • [Vermilion Sands] • (1963) • novelette
  • 559 • Time of Passage • (1964) • shortstory
  • 569 • Prisoner of the Coral Deep • (1964) • shortstory
  • 574 • The Lost Leonardo • (1964) • shortstory
  • 589 • The Terminal Beach • (1964) • novelette
  • 605 • The Illuminated Man • (1964) • novelette
  • 628 • The Delta at Sunset • (1964) • shortstory
  • 641 • The Drowned Giant • (1964) • shortstory
  • 650 • The Gioconda of the Twilight Noon • (1964) • shortstory
  • 658 • The Volcano Dances • (1964) • shortstory
  • 663 • The Beach Murders • (1969) • shortstory
  • 669 • The Day of Forever • (1966) • shortstory
  • 683 • The Impossible Man • (1966) • shortstory
  • 697 • Storm-Bird, Storm-Dreamer • (1966) • shortstory
  • 711 • Tomorrow is a Million Years • (1966) • shortstory
  • 720 • The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race • (1966) • shortstory
  • 722 • Cry Hope, Cry Fury! • [Vermilion Sands] • (1967) • shortstory
  • 735 • The Recognition • (1967) • shortstory
  • 755 • The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D • [Vermilion Sands] • (1967) • shortstory
  • 757 • Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan • (1968) • shortstory
  • 760 • The Dead Astronaut • (1968) • shortstory
  • 769 • The Comsat Angels • (1968) • shortstory
  • 781 • The Killing Ground • (1969) • shortstory
  • 788 • A Place and a Time to Die • (1969) • shortstory
  • 795 • Say Goodbye to the Wind • [Vermilion Sands] • (1970) • shortstory
  • 806 • The Greatest Television Show on Earth • (1972) • shortstory
  • 811 • My Dream of Flying to Wake Island • (1974) • shortstory
  • 820 • The Air Disaster • (1975) • shortstory
  • 828 • Low-Flying Aircraft • (1975) • shortstory
  • 841 • The Life and Death of God • (1976) • shortstory
  • 849 • Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown (1976 version) • (1976) • shortstory
  • 856 • The 60 Minute Zoom • (1976) • shortstory
  • 864 • The Smile • (1976) • shortstory
  • 873 • The Ultimate City • (1976) • novella
  • 925 • The Dead Time • (1977) • novelette
  • 940 • The Index • (1977) • shortstory
  • 946 • The Intensive Care Unit • (1977) • shortstory
  • 953 • Theatre of War • (1977) • novelette
  • 968 • Having a Wonderful Time • (1978) • shortstory
  • 972 • One Afternoon at Utah Beach • (1978) • shortstory
  • 982 • Zodiac 2000 • (1978) • shortstory
  • 989 • Motel Architecture • (1978) • shortstory
  • 1000 • A Host of Furious Fancies • (1980) • shortstory
  • 1010 • News from the Sun • (1981) • novelette
  • 1037 • Memories of the Space Age • (1982) • novelette
  • 1061 • Myths of the Near Future • (1982) • novelette
  • 1085 • Report on an Unidentified Space Station • (1982) • shortstory
  • 1090 • The Object of the Attack • (1984) • shortstory
  • 1101 • Answers to a Questionnaire • (1985) • shortstory
  • 1105 • The Man Who Walked on the Moon • (1985) • shortstory
  • 1116 • The Secret History of World War 3 • (1988) • shortstory
  • 1124 • Love in a Colder Climate • (1989) • shortstory
  • 1130 • The Enormous Space • (1989) • shortstory
  • 1139 • The Largest Theme Park in the World • (1989) • shortstory
  • 1145 • War Fever • (1989) • novelette
  • 1161 • Dream Cargoes • (1990) • shortstory
  • 1173 • A Guide to Virtual Death • (1992) • shortfiction
  • 1175 • The Message from Mars • (1992) • shortstory
  • 1184 • Report from an Obscure Planet • (1992) • shortstory
  • 1189 • The Secret Autobiography of J.G.B. • (1981) • shortstory (aka The Secret Autobiography of J. G. B******)
  • 1192 • The Dying Fall • (1996) • shortstory

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