Miracles Of Life by JG Ballard
Trade, Harper Perennial, 278 p.
The British writer JG Ballard died this past April. I've always been a big fan of his science fiction books from the first 10 years of his career. Only recently did I see the film that was made from his semi-autobiographical book, Empire Of The Sun. When I saw this autobiography I knew I wanted to pick it up just to learn about his background.
I'm glad that I did because it turns out that Ballard's early days growing up in Shanghai were pretty interesting. Similarly to the book, Ballard's parents were upper middle class expatriates in China which made them essentially the upper class. Large estates, drivers, staff and boarding schools were all the norm for Ballard until Pearl Harbor. After that the Japanese occupied the International Settlement and in 1943 he and his family were interned for the remainder of the war. Camp life for Ballard in many respects paralleled what he wrote in his book with the obvious difference being that he was with both his parents for the whole time.
Ballard and his family then moved back to England by way of Canada. After school he intended to become a medical doctor but some interest in stories he had written convinced him to become a writer. He was however, profoundly unsuccessful at getting any of his work published and so had to try his hand at a wide variety of jobs. Eventually, while training for the RAF in Canada, he came across some American science fiction magazines and was inspired to write sf. Even then, many of his ideas were considered far too avant garde for the mainstream sf world.
In this book he is quite dismissive of his first books such as The Wind From Nowhere and The Drowned World. Nevertheless, he was able to become a writer full time at this point in his life and raise a family in England. In 1964 his wife died and left him to raise their 3 children on his own.
The autobiography becomes somewhat less interesting at this point because Ballard did himself. He never remarried and he devoted himself to basically two things: writing and raising his kids. He gained some notoriety in the early 1980's with the success of Empire Of The Sun and the subsequent Spielberg movie. For the most part, Ballard was a quite writer who kept to himself.
This was a great book for anyone who is interested in finding out a bit more about the man behind the pen.