Monday, April 20, 2009

Farewell J G Ballard

Science Fiction is traditionally seen as the fiction of glittering futures and humanity conquering the "final frontier". Ballard, who died on Sunday, stood in the defiantly British tradition of SF that had no truck with such naive American over-optimism, and instead explored the darker side of where technological progress might take us. His most controversial novel, "Crash" explored a near future where human emotional connections were so weak, and where the obsessions of technology so strong, that the protagonists could only achieve sexual arousal through car crashes – techno fetishism and violence taken to a logical (and nightmarish) extreme.

He also explored ecological collapse in "The Drowned World" – echoing our modern fears about global warming long before they became part of popular consciousness. In fact, many of his short stories (with which I am personally more familiar) and novels explore unexpected catastrophes that threaten complacency or illustrate our over reliance on technology or social/political control.

In our surveillance dominated, risk averse, socially atomised and culturally stagnant post-industrial societies, he will stand for a long time as a secular literary prophet who confronted us with the uncomfortable realities of our chosen way of life, and the world is poorer for his passing. One can only hope that Ballard's death will renew popular interest in his great body of work, and inspire a new generation of science fiction prophets.

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