The novelist JG Ballard, who conjured up a bleak vision of modern life in a series of powerful novels and short stories published over more than 50 years, has died after a long battle with cancer
Richard Lea and Jo Adentunji reporting in the guardian.co.uk, Sunday 19 April 2009
His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said tonight that it was "with great sadness" that the 78-year-old author had passed away yesterday morning after several years of ill health.
Hanbury, who worked with Ballard for more than 25 years, said he was a "brilliant, powerful" novelist. "JG Ballard has been a giant on the world literary scene for more than 50 years. Following his early novels of the 60s and 70s, his work then reached a wider audience with the publication of Empire of the Sun in 1984 which won several prizes and was made in to a film by Steven Spielberg.
"His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status."
Inspired by the popular science fiction magazines he came across while stationed in Canada with the RAF, Ballard began publishing short stories evoking fractured landscapes full of wrecked machinery, deserted beaches and desolate buildings.
Novels of disaster and experimentation, including 1962's The Drowned World and 1973's Crash, later made into a film by David Cronenberg, garnered him a growing reputation as an anti-establishment avant garde writer. Crash, in which a couple become sexually aroused through car crashes, was written as a motorway extension was being built past the end of his street in Shepperton, west London.
In 1984, Ballard reached a new level of public recognition with Empire of the Sun, a straightforwardly realist novelisation of his detention as a teenager in a Japanese camp for civilians in Shanghai.
It had taken him 40 years to prepare himself to tackle this formative period of his life – "20 years to forget, and then 20 years to remember," as he later put it. The novel follows a young English boy who, like many of Ballard's narrators, shares the author's name, during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Separated from his parents, Jim at first survives on abandoned packets of food in the deserted mansions of the international settlement, before being picked up by the Japanese and interned in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre, where he relishes his unaccustomed freedom amid hunger, disease and death.
Ballard said of his childhood: "I have – I won't say happy – not unpleasant memories of the camp. I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time!"