The Wind From Nowhere (1961) is JG Ballard’s first novel, not that you’d know it from official JGB bibliographies, where it’s never mentioned, or in interviews, where Ballard continues to assert that The Drowned World was his first book.
The wind from nowhere has gone back to nowhere.
In a 1975 interview with David Pringle, Ballard says: “I don’t see my fiction as being disaster-oriented, certainly not most of my SF – apart from The Wind from Nowhere which is just a piece of hackwork. The others, which are reasonably serious, are not disaster stories.”
The book does contain some ‘empty symbolism’, and the characters sometimes articulate overlong expositions, all a bit jarring from an author who was to bloom into the master of sparse, laser-sharp, all-killer-no-filler writing.
Still, it *is* Ballard; all the classic archetypes are in place, if a little sketchily (except for the ‘Vaughan’ figure) – the bitch-as-catalyst, especially – and it does have what must be the first truly classic JGB quote, one that ranks with the pearls collected in Vale’s RE/Search book, a quote that both presages future events and qualifies current ones.
A JGB ’soundbite’ as Mr Pringle calls them… On p112 of my Penguin edition, Ballard writes: “Remember, it’s not enough to make history – you’ve got to arrange for someone to record it for you.”
The opening sequence of J.G. Ballard's The Crystal World, in which Dr. Edward Sanders begins his journey through Cameroon to visit his friends, Max and Elizabeth Clair, is reminiscent of Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps or the film "The African Queen." Ballard does a wonderful job of portraying a Cameroon which is still inhabited by a relatively large number of European colonizers, although his characters have a tendency to be more altruistic. Sanders runs a leper colony while the Clairs have set up a clinic in the interior of Cameroon.
The characters who aren't altruistic are somewhat shady. Sanders gets involved with the gun-toting Ventress while still on the first leg of his journey and later meets the mine-owner, Thorensen. Although Sanders talks with each man individually, neither really reveal anything of this history, although it becomes clear that their destinies are tied to each other. Similarly, Father Balthus, a priest who is questioning his beliefs, is seen more as a shadowy figure than as an individual. Part of this shadiness is Sanders apparent inability to firmly connect with any of the characters he comes into contact with, including Louise Peret, the American journalist with whom he has an affair, and the Clairs, who are such good friends he will brave the rigors of travel to see them.
As the first leg of his journey ends, Sanders begins to suspect that all is not right at Mont Royal, where the Clairs have their clinic. During his brief stay in Port Matarre, Sanders sees some exquisite crystal work which seems to have come from the interior, near Mont Royal. The appearance in the harbor of a man whose body has been crystalized confirms that something strange is going on and Sanders, along with Louise, begin their journey to Mont Royal, he to see his friends, she to find out what happened to her colleagues.
The second part of the novel takes place once Sanders has arrived in Mont Royal. By now he knows the secret, that the jungle is turning everything in it to crystal. This change effects organic and inorganic objects equally, and a thin crystaline shell covers the river. Neither Sanders nor Ballard seem to be particularly interested in what is causing the crystalization, although Ballard does create an esoteric explanation which does not seem particularly likely.
Although Sanders is the thread that ties everyone's stories together in Mont Royal, he actually seems to have little sustained interaction with any of the other characters. Instead, he spends enough time with each of them to heighten the air of mystery about them without shedding any light on their histories, motives or the strange occurences in the jungle. It is of note that the most interesting character Sanders deals with, who gives him the most information, is one of the most minor characters in the novel, Kwanga.
While Ballard manages to evoke the setting of colonial Africa, his story and the characters are not particularly compelling. The Crystal World is definitely a novel written in the 1960s, and although the drug culture is not explicit in the novel, the book does have an hallucinatory quality which evokes the use of drugs. If the reader is looking for plot or character, The Crystal World falls short. If the goal is to find evocative prose and a strong sense of locale, then The Crystal World is a novel to look for.
Steven H Silver
Super-Cannes – a Sunday Times bestseller in hardback – was the winner of the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Eurasian region.
'Sublime: an elegant, elaborate trap of a novel, which reads as a companion piece to Cocaine Nights but takes ideas from that novel and runs further. The first essential novel of the 21st century.'
– Nicholas Royle, Independent
'Possibly his greatest book. Super-Cannes is both a novel of ideas and a compelling thriller that will keep you turning the pages to the shocking denouement. Only Ballard could have produced it.'
– Simon Hinde, Sunday Express
'In this tautly paced thriller he brilliantly details how man's darker side derails a vast experiment in living, and shows the dangers of a near-future in which going mad is the only way of staying sane.'
– Charlotte Mosley, Daily Mail
'Vintage Ballard, a gripping blend of stylised thriller and fantastic imaginings.'
– Alex Clark, Guardian
'Ballard at his best. Truly superb: the best book he has written. The story achieves the optimum balance of perfectly wrought lucid thriller-writing with formidable and pervasive intelligence.'
– Edward Docx, Daily Express
'Like watching a slow-motion action replay of a spectacular collision, you can't take your eyes away from Super-Cannes.'
– Mike Pattenden, The Times
'Super-Cannes is one of those novels whose last 100 pages you turn over faster and faster, wanting hundreds more: One peels this novel like an onion. Halfway through, I thought I could see the denouement. Three-quarters of the way through, something quite different seemed to be looming up. I have to say that the ending eluded and amazed me. As Ballard always amazes.'
– John Sutherland, Sunday Times
'Ballard's extraordinary new novel reads like a survival manual for the new century: There is a peculiar Englishness that manifests itself in exploration of the exotic, and J. G. Ballard is the most exotic author of all. Super-Cannes is a gleaming, tooled-up taste of tomorrow, beguiling, subversive and so appropriate to the mood of the new century that it feels like a survival handbook; it might just save your life.'
– Christopher Fowler, Independent on Sunday
'A magical hybrid that belongs to no known genre, a masterpiece of the surrealist imagination, Super-Cannes is another triumph by Britain 's most uncompromisingly contemporary novelist.'
John Gray, New Statesman
'J. G. Ballard is the Dr Moreau of British fiction, creator of controlled environments and out-of-control dystopias: More than any other writer Ballard understands the transformation technology may effect on human desire. This is his most potent statement yet of the outcome of that transformation, an elegant nightmare with all the internal coherence of an Escher engraving or a Calvino fable: Ballard unravels the secrets of his post-industrial Elysium with panache, leading us into a society which is both an exaggerated parable for our times and a chill piece of futurology: compelling.'
– Tim Adams, Observer
'With this sharply focused novel, Ballard takes a long sniper's look at the mirror-walled corporate dream, and then shatters it.'
– Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph
'Ballard remains that very rare thing, an original. He is undoubtedly the most exciting of contemporary novelists.
His genius lies in the mood he creates and his often dazzlingly surreal images. Super-Cannes possesses a relentless energy and an atmosphere of calculated corruption: the chilling narrative succeeds as an apocalyptic comment on modern society's inhuman dance of death.'
– Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
'Tainted idylls have always been J. G. Ballard's fictional speciality. With Super-Cannes, he dreams up one of his most memorable. Electrifyingly vivid prose and a storyline alive with shocks power a novel that casts lurid light on an exclusive Riviera enclave of the technological ©lite.'
– Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
'For those who know his work, the familiar pleasures are all present: fecund ideas, the disquieting poetry of his imagery and a strong spine of narrative. For first-timers, the ride begins here. Much writing is touted as essential; little, however, can claim any such distillation of its times. Ballard's is the real thing.'
– Gareth Evans, Time Out
'A dark and incendiary thriller, doing to the gated community and business park what Bram Stoker did for the Transylvanian castle.'
– S. B. Kelly, Scotland on Sunday
'He continues to produce the most trenchant and effective critique of the era and remains the most important contemporary British writer.' Will Self, Independent 'The storyline of intrigue and manipulation sees Ballard's devious imagination on tiptop form. Pacy, intelligent and accessible – one of his most enjoyable books ever, a pageturner that is also a novel of ideas.'
– David Profumo, Literary Review
'One of our strangest and most brilliant novelists. A new novel from Ballard is a literary event to make the heart jolt with uneasy expectation. Super-Cannes, super-saturated with Ballard iconography, is one of the first novels to gaze unflinchingly at the new millennium.'
– Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman
'Super-Cannes is prime Ballard – weighty, potent and extraordinary.'
– John Preston, Evening Standard
'Ballard just gets hipper and hipper.'
There’s something wrong with Estrella Del Mar, the lazy, sun-drenched retirement haven on Spain’s Costa Del Sol. Lately this sleepy hamlet, home to hordes of well-heeled, well-fattened British and French expatriates, has come alive with activity and culture; the previously passive, isolated residents have begun staging boat races, tennis competitions, revivals of Harold Pinter plays, and lavish parties. At night the once vacant streets are now teeming with activity, bars and cafes packed with revelers, the sidewalks crowded with people en route from one event to the next.
Outward appearances suggest the wholesale adoption of a new ethos of high-spirited, well-controlled collective exuberance. But there’s the matter of the fire: The house and household of an aged, wealthy industrialist has gone up in flames, claiming five lives, while virtually the entire town stood and watched. There’s the matter of the petty crime, the burglaries, muggings, and auto thefts which have begun to nibble away at the edges of Estrella Del Mar’s security despite the guardhouses and surveillance cameras. There’s the matter of the new, flourishing trade in drugs and pornography. And there’s the matter of Frank Prentice, who sits in Marbella jail awaiting trial for arson and five counts of murder, and who, despite being clearly innocent, has happily confessed.
It is up to Charles Prentice, Frank’s brother, to peel away the onionlike layers of denial and deceit which hide the rather ugly truth about this seaside idyll, its residents, and the horrific crime which brought him here. But as is usually the case in a J.G. Ballard book, the truth comes with a price tag attached, and likely without any easing of discomfort for his principal characters.
Cocaine Nights marks a partial return on Ballard’s part to the provocative, highly-successful mid-career methodology employed in novels such as Crash and High Rise: after establishing himself as a science fiction guru in the 1960s, Ballard stylistically shifted gears towards an unnerving, futuristic variant on social realism in the 1970s. Both Crash and High Rise were what-if novels, posing questions as to what the likely results would be if our collective fascination with such things as speed, violence, status, power, and sex were carried just a little bit further: How insane, how brutal could our world become if we really cut loose?
Cocaine Nights asks a question better suited to the ’90s, the age of gated communities and infrared home security systems: Does absolute security guarantee isolation and cultural death? Conversely, is a measure of crime an essential ingredient in a vibrant, living, properly functioning social system? Is it true, as a character asserts, that “Crime and creativity go together, always have done,” and that “total security is a disease of deprivation”? Suffice to say that the answers presented in Nights will be anathema to moral absolutists; the world of Ballard’s fiction, like life in the hyperkinetic, relativistic 1990s, abounds with uncomfortable grey areas.
On the surface, Cocaine Nights is a whodunit and a race against time, but as it proceeds – and as preconceived conceptions of good and evil begin to dissolve – it evolves into a thoughtful, faintly frightening look at under-examined aspects of 1990s western society. As is his wont, Ballard confronts his readers with some faintly outlandish hypotheses unlikely to be embraced by many, but which nonetheless serve to provoke both thought and a bit of paranoia; it’s a method that Ballard has developed and refined on his own, and as usual, it propels his novel along marvellously.
Cocaine Nights doesn’t have either the broad sweep or brute impact of the landmark Crash, but it retains enough social relevance and low-key creepiness to more than satisfy Ballardphiles. As is often the case in Ballard’s alternate reality, it’s a given that his most appealing, human characters turn out to be the most twisted, and that even the most normal of events turn out to be governed by a perverse, malformed logic; that this logic turns out to be grounded in sound sociological and psychological principles is its most horrific feature.
David B. Livingstone