Tag Archives: Thriller Fiction Review

GUEST BLOGGER: CHRIS LAMPTON — on J.G. Ballard

ON SOME BOOKS BY J. G. BALLARD

by Chris Lampton

from his WordPress site 52Books52.wordpress.com

For some reason, in the 1950s through the 1970s, British science fiction writers became obsessed with the idea of global disaster and wrote novel after novel in which the entire human race falls victim to some horrible shift in the balance of nature. I suppose one could argue that this trend really began with the 1906 H.G. Wells novel In the Days of the Comet, where mysterious gases from a comet’s tail put everyone on earth to sleep for three hours, or even his 1898 The War of the Worlds, where England is devastated by a Martian invasion, but the movement got underway in earnest with John Wyndham’s 1951 The Day of the Triffids, where not only does everyone on earth go blind from meteor light but the planet is simultaneously invaded by sentient plant life. It was as though Wyndham wanted to combine the two Wells novels into a disaster two-fer, with the invaders and the comet conspiring together to end civilization. And then there was John Christopher’s 1956 No Blade of Grass (AKA The Death of Grass), about global famine, and John Brunner’s one-two ecological punch of Stand on Zanzibar (1968) andThe Sheep Look Up (1972), where the earth is devastated by overpopulation and pollution, respectively. (One could also argue that this trend in British SF has never really ended and that P.D. James’ 1992 The Children of Menbelongs to it as well.)

No writer, British or otherwise, has ever become quite so obsessed with the disaster novel as James Graham (J.G.) Ballard. These days the late Mr. Ballard is better remembered for his 1973 flight of surrealism Crash, about people with a sexual fetish for automobile accidents (made into a 1996 movie by David Cronenberg, not to be confused with the 2004 Academy-Award-winning Crash by Paul Haggis), and his semi-fictionalized autobiographyEmpire of the Sun, made into a film by Stephen Spielberg with the young Christian Bale as the teenage Ballard’s avatar. He also became part of the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 70s, based around the British short story magazine New Worlds, where a group of young writers, both British and American, tried to demonstrate that science fiction could be a form ofavant-garde literature, a movement that eventually died but that immeasurably elevated the writing level of most science fiction that followed even as Star Wars was trying to dumb it back down. However, his writing career began in 1961 with the apocalyptic science fiction novel The Wind from Nowhere, which was followed by three more remarkably similar works of apocalyptic science fiction. It was almost as though Ballard were trying to write the same novel over and over again until he finally got it right. I read the first of these when I was in high school and found it enjoyable, but the other three sat on my shelf in their original paperback editions unread for many years. I finally decided to simply read all four in one long session to see just what the hell Ballard had been up to.

REST OF ESSAY CONTINUED 

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THRILLER REVIEW — MIXED BLOOD

MIXED BLOOD

By Roger Smith

Henry Holt and Co.

What the heck is a Gatsby?
No, not the “Great Gatsby” from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel — the thing in Cape Town, South Africa?
Well, when you find out in this smoking hot thriller from Roger Smith it will be one less reason you’ll want to visit Cape Town. You’ll find plenty more here, believe me.
Cape Town is the hideout of choice for misbegotten bank robber Jack Burn after a half-bungled bank robbery. South Africa, the anti-hero protagonist reasons, is enough off the map from U.S. reach, yet with enough civilized amenities to care for his pregnant wife Susan and his four year old son Matt. He’s smart enough to have salted away millions from the heist in a Swiss bank account. Now he just has to lay low in a place with enough civilization to enjoy life — yet with enough chaos to be off the beaten path.
Too much chaos, it seems.
Smith, who lives in South Africa, is certainly no salesmen for Cape Town tourism. But then, the crime and squalor and corruption is exotic enough to make for a fascinating backdrop. At the spine of the book is the seething past of apartheid, and the villainy of certain white Africaaners, personified by Rudi “Gatsby” Bernard, a fat, disgusting, evil cop who gets wind of Jack’s loot because of Jack’s defense of his family when two meth-heads pay a nasty visit. Throw in Benny Mongrel, an ex-con night watchman and Disaster Zondi, a Zulu detective, plenty of sadistic violence and some damned fine thriller writing and pacing and you’ve got a nice debut for a crime thriller writer who puts a new spin to the word “afterburn”.
Alas, while Smith handles the other characters well, he makes “Gatsby” such a one-dimensional cartoonish villain that the novel is ultimately so garish and unbelievable that it really should have had a cover from one of those infamous “shudder pulps” of the 30’s — the ones with dwarf hunchbacks torturing scantily glad dames with red-hot pruning shears.
Still, Smith shows a lot of skill and promise.
One can only hope that the odd ending implies an action-packed sequel and not the end of Jack Burn’s misadventures.