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Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
By: 
J.G. Ballard
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A-The Complete Short StoriesProlific British fiction writer J. G. Ballard, who died in 2009 at the age of 78, published consistently for more than half a century and broke ground with both his short fiction and his novels, including Empire of the Sun, Crash, The Drowned World, High Rise, and Super-Cannes.

The Story: In the preface to this collection, British literary luminary Martin Amis compares Ballard's short fiction to that of both Saki and Jorge Luis Borges and posits that the author could be "the most original English writer of the last century." Known for exploding the mundane details of life by making them fearful, jubilant, tragic, or transcendent, but never ordinary, Ballard built much of his reputation as a writer of science fiction. Many of the 98 tightly plotted tales in the collection integrate postapocalyptic worlds or alternate realities or psychological states so seamlessly that the suspension of disbelief is accomplished without the reader's permission.
Norton. 1199 pages. $35. ISBN: 978-0393072624

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] staggeringly great and varied volume. ... The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard offers weeks of surprise and pleasure, but it is also one of the most dangerous books you can read." Ed Park

Sci Fi Wire 4 of 5 Stars
"It is good that the slightly expanded (but not yet complete) American issue of The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard ... gives us a chance to penetrate backwards to the start of things. ... The flood of work in the [collection] does induce one to read him again, to see him from a world--this world of 2009--whose incessancy he did not envision, except in words of prose, which anyone can write." John Clute

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, published in the U.K. in 2001 and making a belated appearance here, gives fans of Ballard's novels (Empire of the Sun, The Drowned World) a chance to explore his full range as a writer. For those unfamiliar with him, it offers one whopper of an introduction." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard devastated worlds are matched with even more devastated psyches. But these aren't simply ‘myths of the near future,' they are probes sent down into the desolate heart of the here and now." Michael Dirda

Critical Summary

The 98 entries in The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard remind us of the power of the well-crafted short story. The tales' chronological ordering offers a valuable glimpse into the author's evolution of thought and style, and the range of the work might surprise American readers (the collection was first published nearly a decade ago in Britain) who know Ballard's novels but haven't spent much time with the short fiction. Ballard draws on and influences an eclectic tradition--the author will remind many readers of the American writers Steven Millhauser, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, and others--to illustrate again and again how an old master can bring vignettes to life without skimping on big ideas.