8 April 2014

J. G. Ballard: Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography (2008)

Written quite a short time before his death from prostate cancer, J. G. Ballard's autobiography is relatively short, often amusing, and remarkably gentle on almost everyone, even – rather scarily for a republican such as Ballard – the Queen of England.

Perhaps unexpectedly, almost half of the book covers Ballard's first sixteen years – his growing up in the International Settlement of Shanghai, where he was born into his parents' comfortable lifestyle, considerably cocooned from the realities of China itself, and then his rather surprisingly happy days in the World War II prison camp.

The book charts Ballard's progress towards becoming a writer, one of the few writers of science fiction to break through to the mainstream, although he perhaps only became really recognised after the autobiographical The Empire of the Sun (1984), particularly after it was filmed in 1988. And of course this success was enhanced by more than a touch of infamy (a reaction scorned by Ballard) on the filming of Crash (1973) by David Cronenberg in the 1990s.

It slightly surprised me to learn of Ballard's friendly relationship with Kingsley Amis (before he became a reactionary bigot), although he notes that he had relatively little contact with the literary scene. He speaks warmly of his long friendship with fellow SF writer Michael Moorcock (now based in Texas), and of very stimulating conversations with Will Self and Iain Sinclair, and he has only bad words for the wife-bashing B. S. Johnson.

I don't think I have a bad word to say about Ballard's autobiography: as I said at the beginning, it's rather short, but then so was the time in which he had left to write it.

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