My life in outer space

The Day of Forever – JG Ballard (1967)

The Day of Forever

‘time: inner space: jg ballard

jg ballard author of the drowned world is the most exciting discovery in british post-war fiction

these ten stories mostly mainstream sf/fantasy date from a relatively early period in his career – characterised by their wit and forcefulness of invention they serve as a perfect introduction to Ballard’s strange obsessional world (and also furnish an invaluable key to his later more experimental writing)

time and space become dislocated as in some lsd nightmare; a man watches and waits over the vast immortality-echoing horizons of an alien planet; a woman, enigmatic and beautiful, stands on a cliff, jewelled madonna of the booming sea below – out of the cryptic consciousness of modern man ballard creates landscapes as haunting and valid as Dali’s duned deserts or Max Ernst’s silently screaming forests

here is ballard beginning…’

blurb to 1967 panther edition

The Day of Forever • ss The Impossible Man, Berkley, 1966
Prisoner of the Coral Deep • ss Argosy (UK) Mar ’64; New Worlds May ’65
Tomorrow Is a Million Years • ss Argosy (UK) Oct ’66
The Man on the 99th Floor • ss New Worlds Jul ’62
The Waiting Grounds • nv New Worlds Nov ’59
The Last World of Mr. Goddard • ss Science-Fantasy #43 ’60
The Gentle Assassin • ss New Worlds Dec ’61
The Sudden Afternoon • ss Fantastic Sep ’63
The Insane Ones • ss Amazing Jan ’62
The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race
• ss Ambit #29 ’66; New Worlds Feb ’67

There are few people who have mastered the art of the SF short story to the extent that they do it consistently and brilliantly. An early example was HG Wells. My contemporary favourite is Ian Watson, and between them was JG Ballard. It’s a tragedy that Ballard seems these days to have turned away from SF in the direction of mainstream and is now concentrating (one imagines exclusively) on novels.
There are those who debate whether Ballard’s work was ever Science Fiction. Certainly, it confuses booksellers, as some place Ballard’s work in the mainstream fiction section, some on the SF shelves, with a bet-hedging minority of shops placing selections in both camps.
Certainly works like ‘The Crystal World’ which has certain scientific and fantastic elements within it, can be classed as SF while ‘Crash’ (although listed in Pringle’s ‘100 best SF Novels’) is rather more difficult to place within an SF context.
I’m simply tempted to accept most Ballard as SF simply on the grounds that it doesn’t really seem happy anywhere else.
I feel quite inadequate in even attempting to write some form of critique of Ballard’s work, particularly his short stories. His novels, although hard work in some cases, are often more accessible.
These are some of Ballard’s stories from the Early Nineteen Sixties (and one from ’59) which deal – to a greater or lesser degree – with Time.

‘The Day of Forever’ is a strange tone-poem of piece, set on an earth in which Time, judged by the daily cycle of the world, has virtually stopped. In the town of Columbine Sept-Heures, it is constant twilight, a place where Halliday hope to dream of the woman in Delvaux’s surrealist painting, ‘The Echo’.
The story itself is a lush and atmospheric word-painting, detailed with some of Ballard’s trademark archetypes; the beautiful and enigmatic woman, the drained swimming pools and architecture unveiling geometries of hidden meaning.

‘The Prisoner of The Coral Deep’ is a brief and odd piece of romantic fantasy in which man finds a fossil-shell and on holding it to his ear hears sounds from the saurian ages and the scream of a man from trillions of years hence, held prisoner in time by an enigmatic woman.

‘Tomorrow is a Million Years’ is a rare weak story from Ballard, and one which is more standard in structure, with a twist ending.

‘The Man on the 99th Floor’, although a slight story, still shows Ballard’s obsession with architecture and a world slightly distanced from our own in a tale of murder and hypnosis.

‘The Waiting Grounds’ (the earliest story in ‘The Day Of Forever’) is one of his rare forays into pure SF, set in an observatory on a barren planet where alien monoliths reveal the secrets of creatures beyond Time and Space.

‘The Last World of Mr Goddard’ is a Dick-esque construction in which an elderly man seemingly has his entire local community in a box in a locked safe, attempting to control them as a kind of anonymous God during the evening whilst still walking amongst them during the day.

‘The Gentle Assassin’ is a rather cliched time-paradox story in which a scientist travels back in time and attempts to foil an assassination in order to save his young wife’s life, only to discover that his attempt results in her death.

‘The Sudden Afternoon’ is a well-written description of one consciousness slowly taking over another, but is otherwise unremarkable.

In ‘The Insane Ones’ an irrational dictator bans all therapy and psychiatric treatment, to the extent that preventing a suicide becomes a crime. It’s an interesting concept, but one which really to deserves to be explore more fully. The ex-psychiatrist is put in the awkward position of feeling himself compelled to treat a man whose desire is to kill the irrational dictator.

‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’ is one of Ballard’s more memorable and controversial creations, heralding an obsession with the President, and indeed with other media icons, who turn up in later stories and novels.

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One response

  1. Thanks. Ballard was an astoundingly original and radical writer. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in now)

    July 8, 2014 at 5:02 am

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