three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-MilleniumPeopleFirst published in Britain in 2003, Millennium People, J. G. Ballard's tale of terrorism turned on its ear, finally appears in America. Ballard, one of the patriarchs of late 20th-century fiction (particularly science fiction) and the author of more than 40 novels and short story collections, including Crash (1973), Empire of the Sun (1984), The Drowned World (1962), and The Atrocity Exhibition (1969), died in 2009.

The Story: An explosion at Heathrow Airport seems like another random act of terrorism to psychologist David Markham. But when Markham discovers that his ex-wife, Laura, was killed in the blast, his search for her killers begins an odyssey into the surreal underbelly of a homegrown terrorist group of respectable professionals led by pediatrician Richard Gould and based in one of London's more fashionable neighborhoods. Markham's journey becomes ever more weird and dangerous as England erupts in an orgy of violence that culminates in the wanton destruction of department stores, a bombing at the Tate, and even (gasp) the immolation of Volvos. Markham doggedly targets those responsible for Laura's death, even as he finds himself drawn into the group in ways he never thought possible.
W. W. Norton. 288 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780393081770.

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Much of the fun of Millennium People--and it is one of the most amusing novels I've read in a long time--comes from watching as the world finally catches up with Ballard and Ballard, wryly, reacts. If part of him has become a conventional writer it's because the world has adopted the conventions that he so idiosyncratically established." Toby Litt

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ballard has a good time exposing the hypocrisies not only of the broader culture but also of his well-heeled revolutionaries. ... He moves between humor and an inquiry into the insignificance of contemporary society, where everything has been flattened beneath the blandness of the greater good." David L. Ulin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"In its clear articulation of the muddled motives of its main characters, Millennium People moves straightaway into a sharply depicted and fascinating novel about an England just beyond the pale. ... The brilliant Ballard is at it again here in this new novel." Alan Cheuse

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In recent years, Ballard has concentrated on writing pared-down detective thrillers, but I think I prefer his visionary fantasies of the 1960s, in which London was turned into a seething jungle swamp and the entire planet was a crystalline forest. However, the Magus of Shepperton has lost none of his gift to unsettle and Millennium People will compete with the best of contemporary British fiction." Ian Thomson

Guardian (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"It's one thing to mimic the tone of a genre [hardboiled crime] momentarily, but you can't borrow genre motivation or psychology on the same basis, which is what Ballard tries to do at the end of one early chapter. ... It's a sad day when JG Ballard--of all people--needs to hitch a lift from the headlines." Adam Mars-Jones

Critical Summary

Even after his death, fiction icon and astute social commentator J. G. Ballard makes his presence felt. In Millennium People, whetting his sharp eye for commentary on the absurdity (and danger) of contemporary culture and mores, Ballard skewers just about every middle-class cliché imaginable. Popular opinion holds that the author settled into a more comfortable narrative style as he aged--a reasonable observation--but the old Ballard magic comes through here. ("People don't like themselves today," Gould avows, echoing a philosophy familiar to readers of Ballard. "We're deeply self-centred but can't cope with the idea of our finite selves.") Darkly comic, more often than not striking the target near the bull's-eye, Millennium People will have readers bemoaning Ballard's death yet again--and wondering why the book wasn't published sooner in America.

Also by the Author

The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (2009): 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. ( 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2010)