JG Ballard, 1930–2009

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Panther Books paperback edition, 1968; cover painting: The Eye of Silence by Max Ernst.

If I can’t remember when I first encountered JG Ballard’s work, it’s not because I was reading him at a very early age, more that a childhood enthusiasm for science fiction made his books as omnipresent in my early life as any other writer on the sf, fantasy and horror shelves. I know that when I started to read the New Wave sf writers his work immediately stood out, not only for its originality but also for the numerous references to Surrealist painting which litter his early fiction, references which meant a great deal to this Surrealism-obsessed youth. Ballard was a lifelong and unrepentant enthusiast for the Surrealists, with repaintings by Brigid Marlin of two lost Paul Delvaux pictures prominent in one of his rooms (often featured in photo portraits). I always admired the way he never felt the need to apologise for Salvador Dalí’s excesses, unlike the majority of art critics who dismiss Dalí after he went to America. The paintings of Dalí, Delvaux, Tanguy and Max Ernst became stage sets which Ballard could populate with his affectless characters.

Once I’d encountered the New Worlds writers—Ballard, Michael Moorcock, M John Harrison, Brian Aldiss and company—and their American counterparts, especially Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany and Norman Spinrad, there was no returning to the meagre thrills of hard sf with its techno-nerdery and bad writing. Ballard and Moorcock were the gateway drug to William Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges and countless others, and I thought enough of his work in 1984 to attempt a series of unsuccessful illustrations based on The Atrocity Exhibition. It’s been an axiom during the twenty years I’ve worked at Savoy Books that Ballard, Moorcock and Harrison were (to borrow a phrase from Julian Cope) the Crucial Three of British letters, not Rushdie, Amis and McEwan. One of the books I designed for Savoy, The Exploits of Engelbrecht by Maurice Richardson, was a Ballard and Moorcock favourite, and included appreciations of Richardson by both writers. I wish Ballard could have seen the new (and still delayed) edition of Engelbrecht but he got a copy of the earlier book. Sometimes once in a lifetime is more than enough.

Ballardian.com
Pages of obits and MM comment at Moorock’s Miscellany
Ballard interview by V Vale at Arthur with an special intro by Moorcock
Jeff VanderMeer at Omnivoracious
Guardian | Times | Independent | Telegraph

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ballard in Barcelona
1st Ballardian Festival of Home Movies
Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
JG Ballard book covers

Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

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The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851).

Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision is an exhibition of Victorian paintings at Manchester’s City Art Gallery which they describe as “the first international exhibition in over 40 years dedicated to the life and work of Pre-Raphaelite master William Holman Hunt.” It helps that they own some prime examples of Hunt’s work, including The Hireling Shepherd, a painting I used to look at a great deal when I first moved to Manchester.

This isn’t my favourite Holman Hunt work—that would be The Lady of Shalott—but The Hireling Shepherd has a wealth of the insane detail which was his forte. For anyone who’s tried painting in this hyper-real manner it’s good seeing how he rendered the flowers, grass and fabrics. The picture is laden with typical Victorian morality, of course; the shepherd is distracted so his flock is straying. That never interested me, far more fascinating was looking at the original of the work which Brian Aldiss uses in his experimental science fiction novel, Report on Probability A (1968). In one of Aldiss’s parallel universes Holman Hunt’s painting is exactly the same as the one we know but for the addition of a book entitled Low Point X which can be seen lying incongruously on the grass. Whenever I’ve been in the City Gallery I’m always disappointed that the book is missing from the picture.

Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision runs to 11 January 2009.

Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others

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The Singing Citadel (1970).

Michael Moorcock’s Elric books are being prepared for republication by Del Rey in the US next year. I’ve assisted with some minor parts of this preparation, including sourcing pictures from Savoy’s edition of Monsieur Zenith the Albino. (Anthony Skene’s albino anti-hero is a precursor of Moorcock’s albino anti-hero.)

Discussion of the Elric books with Dave at Savoy prompted my excavation of this battered Mayflower paperback from the retired book boxes. This slim volume collected four fantasy stories: the title piece (possibly the first Elric story I read), Master of Chaos, The Greater Conqueror and To Rescue Tanelorn…. I’d forgotten about the garishly strange cover, one of many that Bob Haberfield produced for Moorcock’s books during the 1970s. Haberfield is one of a number of cover artists from that period who worked in the field for a few years before moving on or vanishing entirely. The swirling clouds derived from Tibetan Buddhist art identify this as one of his even without the credit on the back; later pictures were heavily indebted to Eastern religious art and while technically more controlled they lack this cover’s berserk intensity. Haberfield’s site has a small gallery of his splendid paintings, including a rare horror work, his wonderfully eerie cover for Dagon by HP Lovecraft.

Searching for more Haberfield covers turned up these two examples, both part of the SciFi Books Flickr pool, a cornucopia of pictures by vanished illustrators. Browsing that lot is like being back inside the In Book Exchange, Blackpool, circa 1977. The digitisation of the past continues apace at the Old-Timey Paperback Book Covers pool and the Pulp Fiction pool. Don’t go to these pages if you’re supposed to be doing something else, it’s easy to find yourself saying “just one more” an hour later.

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And in other Moorcock-related news, Jay alerts me today to the existence of an archive of New Worlds covers, something I’d been hoping to see for a long time. New Worlds was one of the most important magazines of the 1960s, mutating under Moorcock’s editorship from a regular science fiction title to a hothouse of literary daring and experiment. As with so many things in that decade, the peak period was from about 1966–1970 when the magazine showcased outstanding work from Moorcock himself, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany, M John Harrison, Norman Spinrad and a host of others. For a time it seemed that a despised genre might be turning away from rockets and robots to follow paths laid down by William Burroughs, Salvador Dalí, Jorge Luis Borges and other visionaries. We know now that Star Wars, Larry Niven and the rest swept away those hopes but you can at least go and see covers that pointed to a future (and futures) the world rejected.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer
100 Years of Magazine Covers
It’s a pulp, pulp, pulp world