Essay - Poet of Desolate Landscapes - NYTimes.com
He has edited a new short story collection of Ballard's.
Ballard was, unmistakably, a literary futurist, at ease in the cold ruins of the millennium a lifetime sooner than the rest of us; his passing registered as a disorienting claim of time upon the timeless. Whether you embrace or reject on his behalf the label “science-fiction writer” will indicate whether you regard it as praiseful or damning, but no one reading Ballard could doubt the tidal gravity of his intellect or the stark visionary consistency of the motifs that earned him that rarest of literary awards, an adjective: Ballardian. Now, and not a moment too soon, comes The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (Norton, $35), a staggering 1,200-page collection of a lifetime’s labors in the medium in which Ballard was perhaps most at home.
Each of Ballard’s 98 short stories is like a dream more perfectly realized than any of your own. His personal vocabulary of scenarios imprints itself from the very first, each image with the quality of a newly minted archetype. Ballard was the poet of desolate landscapes marked by signs of a withdrawn human presence: drained swimming pools, abandoned lots littered with consumer goods, empty space stations, sites of military or vehicular tragedies. Himself trained in medicine, Ballard frequently chose doctors or scientists as protagonists and narrators, yet expertise never spares them from the fates they see overtaking others. If Ballard’s view of the human presence in his landscapes is grimly diagnostic, his scalpel is wielded with tenderness, his bedside manner both dispassionate and abiding. . . .