Poet of Desolate Landscapes

by Jonathan Lethem

By the time J. G. Ballard died in April of this year, talk of his long struggle with cancer should have prepared his followers (“fans” is too pale a word for the devotion Ballard inspired), yet the news still came as a shock. Ballard was, unmistakably, a literary futurist, at ease in the cold ruins of the millennium a lifetime sooner than the rest of us; his passing registered as a disorienting claim of time upon the timeless. Whether you embrace or reject on his behalf the label “science-fiction writer” will indicate whether you regard it as praiseful or damning, but no one reading Ballard could doubt the tidal gravity of his intellect or the stark visionary consistency of the motifs that earned him that rarest of literary awards, an adjective: Ballardian. Now, and not a moment too soon, comes The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (Norton, $35), a staggering 1,200-page collection of a lifetime’s labors in the medium in which Ballard was perhaps most at home. more

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