J.G. Ballard: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

J.G. Ballard spent years enticing readers with his dystopian worlds. Hollywood has spent years adapting these worlds to the screen. J.G. Ballard's life revolved mostly around writing, and when it didn't, it inspired his writing.

The Dawn of Darkness

They say that if you want to be a writer, ''write what you know.'' J.G. Ballard knew a darker side of humanity. As a science-fiction and novel writer, J.G. Ballard has been a formidable force in the literary world.

He was born to British parents in 1930 in Shanghai, China, but he and his family had to flee their home when Japan invaded the country during WWII. They were soon captured and held at one of Japan's prison camps for several years.

Ballard was held at a prison camp for several years
internment camp

Such an experience may have influenced Ballard to tap into the dark recesses of humanity in many of the dystopian worlds he creates. Hollywood has spent years adapting these worlds to the screen. Lets take a look at J.G. Ballard's life more closely.

Accumulating Experiences

After the war, Ballard and his family moved to England, where he attended boarding school and eventually college. At the University of Cambridge, Ballard studied medicine with a focus in psychiatry.

During this time, art and psychology intrigued him. These were possible influences in his future writing, as he suggests in The Atrocity Exhibition: ''The past, whether Renaissance Italy or Ancient Egypt, is re-assimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonize past and future.''

He wanted his art, his writing, to be digestible, but he also yearned to move from the familiar. Soon, he shared his writing with the world in his first published piece. In 1951, his short story, ''The Violent Noon,'' was published in Varsity, the Cambridge student paper. His life's path was veering in a new direction.

The Miscellany

Motivated by his recent publication, Ballard enrolled at Queen Mary University in pursuit of an English literature degree. Ballard tried to trudge through schooling, but he dropped out a year later.

Ballard attented Cambridge University
Cambridge University

Everything Ballard did focused on writing in some capacity. He was a copy editor at an ad company, an encyclopedia salesman, and, most importantly, a writer. Publishing, however, was difficult. He ended up enlisting in the Royal Air Force, but only served for a year.

Success Abound

Maybe it is love that inspires the mind. Ballard married in 1955 and one year later, two of his short stories were published in the science fiction magazines, New Worlds and Science Fantasy. He was experimenting, and his imagination would continue to grow.

In a poem, What I Believe, he writes, ''I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death. . .to enlist the confidences of madmen.''

For Ballard, writing was a power, one that he could not ignore; there were too many madmen to create. Thus, between 1955 and 1960, Ballard wrote, built his family, and worked as an assistant editor for a scientific journal.

In 1962, Ballard did it. He published his first novel, The Wind from Nowhere. With its success, he dedicated his life to writing. Two years later, though, his life would change when his wife died. It's another dark moment in his life. Ballard now had another full-time job: caring for his three kids.

Themes of Ballard's Work

Ballard persisted, though, and throughout the 60s and 70s he saw more success, publishing collections of short stories and several novels, like his novels Crash and The Drowned World.

Throughout his writing, common threads involved science fiction, dystopias, and characters with peculiar psychoses. His writing helped to fuel the New Wave movement, a more serious and experimental form of science fiction. Long gone were the days of science-fiction's minimized scope on alien life forms and other-worldly experiences.

Instead, Ballad drew upon his plausible features of society and developed such features in dark ways. In High Rise, he writes, ''In a sense life in the high-rise had begun to resemble the world outside - there were the same ruthlessness and aggression concealed within a set of polite conventions.'' Ballard captures a disdain for society.

This new type of science fiction was experimental and fused concepts of reality and insights of technology into dystopian worlds, worlds where characters are embattled by the systems that keep them down.

J.G. Ballard in 1993
j.g. ballard

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