J. G. BALLARD: WE ARE THE
Judith B. Kerman
What are we to make of J. G. Ballard's apocalypse? The question is implicit in much of the critical response to his early work, providing the title of a major essay by H. Bruce Franklin. Critics are divided between those who see him as a major literary force whose importance transcends science fiction and those who find him intriguing but finally unsatisfying, his characters "hopeless," his plots unconvincing, and only his peculiar landscapes sometimes worthy of appreciation.
Ballard's work is most commonly divided into two major phases: four early novels of global apocalypse, written in the 1960s and later novels which might be called obsessive or even pornographic, technological dystopias. But there are also numerous short stories resembling both types, and critics have noted that,
Despite some deceptive differences in casts of characters, the stories all seem to be part of some larger story or parable, being seen from different points of view. 1
Readers note a constant repetition from book to book of situations, character types, physical artifacts, themes, and images. In the typical Ballard catastrophe story of the 1960s, the protagonist, an English physician or biologist, is caught up in a global catastrophe, which may or may not be a result of human technologies but which results in the immediate collapse of normal society. He wanders through the dramatically changed landscape, interacting with various other characters in a way which has been called "affectless"; the reader feels that this lack of affect is typical of him and not a result of the disaster.
The protagonist is obsessively drawn to the epicenter of the disaster, respond-