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JG Ballard dies: Science fiction writer of the now

Many labeled Ballard, 78, as a science fiction author. But if his was science fiction, it was the science fiction that was present day rather than in some imagined future.

They called him a science fiction writer.

JG Ballard, who died last weekend, hated that. For him, once you were smeared with the sci-fi label (rather than the syfy label) you were condemned to the world of spacecraft, monsters, and goo.

And, though he began his writing career in the science fiction genre, his style made him, for some, his own very brilliant kind of monster.

Though many associate his name first with the Spielberg movie, made from Ballard's book about life in a Japanese concentration camp, "Empire of the Sun" and then for the eroto-rubberneckrophilia of David Cronenberg's 1996 movie "Crash," perhaps the most telling, the most moving, and the most disturbing of Ballard's work came this century.

He became increasingly fascinated and nauseated by the paralysis engendered by modern life and the structures created through technology, tourism, and multinational business.

'Empire of the Sun' movie poster from the Polish poster tradition. CC PiH9/Flickr

So his science fiction was "for the present day."

He asked us to wonder, just for a moment, what kind of world we were creating and what kind of people we were becoming. Or, indeed, had become.

The trilogy of "Super-Cannes," "Millennium People," and "Kingdom Come" makes for a vivid and crushing dissection of the way we have unconsciously allowed ourselves to be.

"Millennium People," in particular, published in 2003, is a foretelling of upper middle-class people who, suddenly realizing how little they have, attempt to start, of all things, a revolution. It doesn't mention hedge funds, but the revolutionaries do burn down London's National Film Theater.

Look, when a great author dies, Amazon often divvies up a deal or two just to help you get over your grief. So please pop along there and get yourself a Ballard or three.

A Ballard is like "Battlestar Galactica" with people in suits, ties, polo shirts, and big, big trouble.