Myths of the Near Future is the first of J.G. Ballard’s two major late-career short story collections. In terms of the chronology of when the stories emerged, the anthology spans 1976-1982 – a narrower span of years than any Ballard collection since The Terminal Beach – and so covers much of Ballard’s late flowering of short story output from this period. From 1984 onwards, his short story output would be more sporadic, but as in Low-Flying Aircraft we find Ballard here using his well-matured talents to provide both somewhat more refined takes on earlier ideas and toying with a few new ones.
The title story is a phantasmagoric blend of a massive number of distinctive Ballard themes and images from across his entire career, combined together in a single narrative that reaches a Messianic culmination. Light aircraft… abandoned beachside resorts occupied by transients and hangers on… a long-decommissioned Cape Kennedy… the failure of the Space Age… empty swimming pools… people on the verge of turning into birds… new life forms emerging in a zone where the future is just a little closer than elsewhere… jeweled animals… obsessive blends of pornography and geometry… strange ritualistic behaviour… a world winding down into slow disaster, or perhaps preparing for a massive evolutionary leap… accreted time… a man chasing his wife, who may be dead… a renegade neurosurgeon… a strange sort of time-sickness which may be a transformation of how we see perceive the universe itself…
All these Ballard ideas and more besides crop up in the story, making it a sort of Platonic ideal of his writing and the keystone through which everything fits together. Look through it in this direction and you can see The Crystal World; rotate it a little, like a multifaceted gemstone, and you might see glimpses of The Cage of Sand, The Atrocity Exhibition, The Dead Astronaut, Low-Flying Aircraft, The Voices of Time, Storm-Bird, Storm Dreamer, and more besides.
What’s startling is just how well all these ideas blend together; it’s like this is the story which Ballard has been working towards, and he needed to master all the individual ideas in it before he could bring them all together in one bizarre vision. Whereas one of Ballard’s earliest stories, Passport To Eternity, fell down because it was trying to do too many things at once and Ballard was still honing his skills, here Ballard is able to throw in even more at once and make it all work beautifully.Continue reading “Ballard’s Millennial Legends”