J.G. Ballard was a good buddy of Michael Moorcock and a regular contributor to New Worlds even before Moorcock took over the editorship of that organ, and as such his early writing career established him as a cornerstone of British New Wave science fiction. Between Moorcock’s childhood in a bombed-out London and Ballard’s stint in a Japanese prison camp, both men’s lives saw them emerging from the traumas of the Second World War to confront the future with, perhaps, a little more caution than the more gung-ho visions of most American SF authors of their generation.
J.G. Ballard’s novels have ranged from straight-ahead postapocalyptic fiction to William Burroughs-esque fever dreams to bizarre explorations of imaginary fetishes to satirical takedowns of modern excess, but in his early career his short stories were as important as his novels, so I’ve decided to start an exploration of his short fiction. Fortunately for me, the vast majority of it is collected in his Complete Short Stories, which I am the happy owner of a 2001 edition of.
Despite the title it is not quite complete – it skips over his “surgical fictions” which just consisted of surgical reports with celebrity’s names substituted in for the names of the patients, some juvenilia, a couple of brief and not particularly notable pieces penned after The Complete Short Fiction was published, pieces later expanded into full novels, and Journey Across a Crater, an attempt to address the ideas of Crash in the “condensed novel” style Ballard infamously used in The Atrocity Exhibition which Ballard later declared didn’t really work. I don’t think we lose anything if we skip those, however. I am also going to skip over the stories which later became integral parts of The Atrocity Exhibition, since whether that is a novel or a collection of connected stories is a debate in its own right which I’ll address if and when I get around to reviewing it. (Indeed, it’s notable that only two of them appear in the Complete Short Stories).
I am also going to apply a bit of structure to the review process. Rather than trying to consume the entire Complete Short Stories at once, I am going to address it by covering the subsets of the stories in question that appear in each of Ballard’s major UK anthologies of his work. Happily, the final versions of these anthologies (some of them had stories removed and added and titles tweaks over their publication history) yield a collection of Ballard’s stories in which no stories are redundantly covered in two anthologies at once, so by taking each of those anthologies in turn I should cover the vast majority of the collection, and also each article will be a more or less complete review of the smaller anthology in question, which may benefit those of you who don’t want to dive in with the whole Complete Short Stories but would prefer to have thoughts on smaller, more digestible delivery mechanisms for Ballard fiction. I will save for the end of this series a consideration of the tales in the Complete Short Stories which hadn’t previously been collected in a Ballard anthology – three brief 1992 pieces plus The Recognition, his contribution to Dangerous Visions.
The Voices of Time is a Ballard anthology with a complicated publishing history. A collection called The Voices of Time was released in the US in 1962 as the first anthology of Ballard’s works to be published; the contents of that collection overlap with this one but are not the same. The UK version of The Voices of Time was Ballard’s first UK collection, and was released in 1963 under the title of The 4-Dimensional Nightmare.
A 1974 edition revised the collection, removing two stories – Prima Belladonna and Studio 5, the Stars – belonging to the Vermilion Sands setting, since those stories were being anthologised in a single book (called, unsurprisingly, Vermilion Sands), and substituting in two other stories, The Overloaded Man and Thirteen to Centaurus. All subsequent releases of the collection have used this revised set of contents, and from 1984 onwards have used the title The Voices of Time, since The 4-Dimensional Nightmare probably sounds a bit more pulpy and sensational than Ballard’s writing actually is.