Thursday, May 24, 2012

39. The Disaster Area by J.G. Ballard

Once again, my expectations are surpassed.  I picked this book up for a quarter against my better judgement.  I was a bit burned out on Ballard at that point and I am always reluctant to read an entire book of short stories.  I planned to read stories from this one in between other books I read, which I mostly did.  But the first story was so cool that I kept going and ended up reading these in chunks of stories between other books.  There were a couple of false starts here, but most of the stories were really cool, either dark and quite disturbing or mind-blowing in the concepts Ballard presents (and often both together). 

What was also cool about this was that it demonstrated that Ballard really does have quite a range.  He has such a powerful voice and often has repeated themes across his works that I got sort of too used to him and the last few books of his that I read all kind of felt the same.  Reading these stories reminded me that he can do introspective psychological fiction as well as big-picture high-concept sci-fi.  I'll describe just a few so you can see the diversity.

The first story, Storm-bird, Storm-dreamer, is very classic Ballardian post-apocalyptic, about a guy in some wasteland england where the birds started to grow to be huge and a menace.  All he does is fight them off and stare at this weird lady who is out collecting something from their bones.  As you can see, a lot of similar ideas from his PA quartet, but the descriptions of the giant birds and their dead bodies are pretty astounding.

The second story, The Concentration City, takes place in some human civilization that seems very much like earth until you realize that non-space is infinite, meaning that space exists only as it is carved out of the rock that surrounds everything.  The "planet" is a huge, possibly endless city, divided up into districts in the millions.

The third, The Subliminal Man, is an absolutely terrifying vision of a hyper-consumist future where everyone is kept ragged buying the latest consumer item, replacing their TVs, radios, cookers etc. every few months.  It reminded me a lot of Frederik Pohl's The Midas Touch from Spectrum I .

As you can see, quite a mix of interesting speculative ideas, executed with typical and effective Ballardian unease.  In some ways, these stories might be a better introduction to his work as in large doses he can be a bit depressing.  I'm quite glad I read these.

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