Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A climate change visionary: J.G. Ballard

In an interview in the Times (UK), I read the dreadful news that J.G. Ballard has prostate cancer. He's written a new autobiography to try to get everything down as quickly as he can.

This great writer is best known, perhaps, as the author of Empire of the Sun, his memoir of a boyhood spent in China as a prisoner in a Japanese slave labor camp. Even the peppy Steven Spielberg film version can't quite gloss over Ballard's dark vision of the will to survive. It's hard to forget the scene when the young Ballard witnesses the detonation of the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki just over the horizon.

One of Ballard's great strengths as a writer has been his eerie ability to convey a sense of humans and nature out of balance. Sometimes the world is submerged, or the jungle begins intruding on a decayed resort, or a high-rise building reverts to savagery. In one science fiction story after another, he's described the psychological impact of climate instability.

The reasons vary in the stories, and as far as I know Ballard hasn't often focused directly on global warming as such. Perhaps in Day of Creation, which is set in an African drought. But nobody has a firmer grip on the radiating psychological unease of a world where the climate no longer behaves.

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