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by J.G. Ballard

Pub Date: May 20th, 1996
ISBN: 0312156839
Publisher: Picador

Like a brain with a severed corpus callosum, this is a wide-spectrum collection of Ballard's heady essays from the '60s that address the future with visionary irony and recent newspaper reviews that concern a pathological, if mundane, present. On such topics as the automobile and the Space Age, or the personalities of Ralph Nader and Salvador Dali, Ballard (Rushing to Paradise, 1995, etc.) views the 20th century from a singular, removed perspective that is sometimes martian-like. Still, there is a world of difference between, say, his oracular overview of Surrealism for the "New Wave" science-fiction magazine New Worlds in 1966 and his prosaic review of a Dali biography in the Guardian in 1986. Ballard the socio-media decoder also proves able to temper his sensibilities when writing for the more banal channels of glossy magazines and Sunday papers. Biographies of Elvis, Howard Hughes, and Einstein, or histories of Hollywood writers, modern China, and comic books are alike easy work, his rarified intellect only subliminally present. He can respectfully, mischievously review Kitty Kelly's "chain-saw" biography of Nancy Reagan, but he did a far more creative hatchet job in bis satirical "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" in 1970 (not included here). The most notable pieces here tend to be from New Worlds, such as "Which Way to Inner Space," his call to recalibrate science fiction's "vocabulary of ideas" and focus less on technology and more on psychology: "The only truly alien planet is Earth," he writes. Yet at century's close, he can still mordantly praise suburban Shepperton's numbing environs and call for a London of Shanghai-esque decadence. Ironically, the closer Ballard approaches to the millennium, the more he blends futurism with ephemera and the more frequently he dwells on his past.