The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard: Volume I (2001) 773 p.

I usually read short story anthologies in one go, but I wisely decided not to with this gargantuan beast, which I’ve been struggling through piece by piece since I was reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Why I thought it was a good idea to read such an enormous volume of work from an author whom I’d never sampled before I have no idea.

J.G. Ballard was quite famous, however, and I had heard of him. He was so renowned for the tone of bleak alienation in his books that a word was coined: “Ballardian,” meaning “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” Most of the stories in this anthology were written in the 1950s and 1960s, and there’s often a strong sense of a rigid consumerist post-war society, trapped between the stifling customs of the past (wives pour their husband a stiff drink when he gets home from work etc.) and the bleak ugliness of modern cities, architecture and ways of living.

By and large they are not only tedious, but bleak and depressing. One can’t fairly fault Ballard for writing bleak stories, if that’s his stock in trade, but it was a bit of a drag to read through thirty-nine of them. He seems particularly obsessed with abstract things like time, sound and vision, and if a story is set in his fictional desert city of Vermilion Sands, it’s an instant tip-off that it’s going to be a boring trudge through some crappy story about musical statues or audio technicians or something like that.

There are a few good stories in there; I particularly enjoyed Concentration City (about a man trying to escape a city that stretches on forever), The Watch-Towers (about life in a town dominated by mysterious observation towers) and The Venus Hunters (about an astronomer who falls in with a scientist claiming to have met Venusian explorers). On the whole, though, I regretted reading this book shortly after beginning it, and only finished it through sheer determination. Note to self: do not buy “the complete” anything of an author you haven’t read before.

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard, Vol I at The Book Depository