Ballardian adj 1 of James Graham Ballard (1930–2009), the British novelist, or his works 2 resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard's novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

In 1974 four of the J G Ballard titles on Penguin's backlist were reprinted with cover paintings by David Pelham and sold as a boxed set with another Pelham painting on the slip-case. Pelham had first met Ballard some years earlier through a mutual friend, the artist Eduardo Paolozzi, and the three men enjoyed long conversations at Ballard's home in Shepperton, a suburban town south-west of London near Heathrow Airport and the M25 orbital motorway. Ballard named his protagonist 'Pelham' in one of The Terminal Beach stories, and David Pelham was in turn a great admirer of Ballard's work, being drawn to what he called their 'apocalyptic imagery' and 'depiction of technological and human breakdown and decay'. So when the Penguin reprints came along Pelham went to discuss his ideas with Ballard.

Starting with the same layout as his sf covers of 1972-73, Pelham replaced the computer typeface used for the author's name with a stencilled effect and transformed the black background and coloured lower band of the earlier covers into a crepuscular sky above a barren expanse of water, sand or sunbaked earth. Set against this backdrop is an atom bomb, a Cadillac and other artifacts which, according to the September 1974 issue of Science Fiction Monthly, depict 'the debris of our society'. Pelham, the article explained, 'finds romance in seeing the future as if it were already the past – in visualizing ruins created from the artifacts we are manufacturing now'. But the paradox of Pelham's artifacts is that they are not in ruins, and his pristine machines are at odds with their apocalyptic settings. Half buried or submerged, they are tombstones to ostentation and brutality. These, then, are the icons of man's arrogance.

slip-case for a J G Ballard boxed set, 1974 Slip-case with a painting by David Pelham for
a boxed set of J G Ballard reprints in 1974.

An American bomber lies half-buried in the shifting sands on the slip-case while its payload – a sister to the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, and the mother of all UXBs – rests nose down in the sand flats of The Terminal Beach. The bomb's tail-box tilts skywards like the flower of a strange fruit whose hard shell hides an exotic interior. In the belly of the bomb are the seeds of mass destruction, two stones of a ripening plutonium core waiting for the conditions that will trigger them to germinate. But unapproachable and unknowable the bomb is quantum uncertainty writ large; it is Schrödinger's cat inside Pandora's box. This atom bomb sitting in the sand is as surreal as the relativity of time and space or Salvador Dalí's melting clocks, for all are part of the same chain reaction. As mankind cowers with his fingers in his ears and his eyes squeezed shut, so the bomb and slip-cased Superfortress have their heads buried in the sand, as if in denial of this nightmarish world and the roles they have played in its creation.

J G BALLARD The Terminal Beach, 1974 The Terminal Beach (2499) by J G Ballard

April 1974 reprint with a cover painting by David Pelham.
J G BALLARD The Drowned World, 1974 The Drowned World (2229) by J G Ballard

April 1974 reprint with a cover painting by David Pelham. The Chrysler Building
is based on a photograph by Evelyn Hofer in New York Proclaimed (1964) >>

The Drowned World presents a peaceful enough scene. The surface of the water is flat as a millpond, a sea of tran- quillity broken only by the art deco spire of the Chrysler Building which, like the crown of a colossal King Canute, bears silent witness to the deluge that has turned Manhattan into a man-made reef and New York into a new Atlantis.

J G BALLARD The Wind From Nowhere, 1974 The Wind From Nowhere (2591) by J G Ballard

April 1974 reprint with a cover painting by David Pelham.

The Wind From Nowhere flips a tank while The Drought transforms a Cadillac into a memorial of chrome and streamlined angularity, its rocketship rear styling and flared tail fins an epitaph to the flamboyance of the American automobile.

J G BALLARD The Drought, 1974 The Drought (2753) by J G Ballard

April 1974 reprint with a cover painting by David Pelham. The Cadillac Coupe de Ville
is based on a photograph by Evelyn Hofer in New York Proclaimed (1964) >>

By the time The Four-Dimensional Nightmare was reissued with a Pelham cover painting the icons were on tv: "Howdy all you folks out there and welcome to tonight's simulcast, where we'll be serving y'all up a rib-ticklin' double bill of comic capers. On one channel we've got your old pal Mickey Mouse, while on the other we'll be beaming you live footage of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's quest to become the first man in space. That's right folks, the Ruskies are finally uppin' sticks and headin' home to the 'red' planet!" [canned laughter] "Will he do it? Who cares! It'll be a laugh a minute..." The machine spools the tape to the end and then rewinds and starts again, filling the airwaves but watched by no one.

J G BALLARD The Four-Dimensional Nightmare, 1977 The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (2345) by J G Ballard

Reissued November 1977 with a cover painting by David Pelham. The Overloaded Man
and Thirteen to Centaurus replace Prima Belladonna and Studio Five, The Stars in
the previous edition.

The Voices of Time
The Sound-Sweep
The Overloaded Man
Thirteen to Centaurus
The Garden of Time
The Cage of Sand
The Watch-Towers

The use of artifacts to depict apocalyptic ruination has of course been done before. The Statue of Liberty has been left in various stages of burial, collapse or decapitation by numerous cataclysms (including Ballard's Wind From Nowhere), while the Statue's cameo in the final scene of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes is one of the most memorable denouements in cinematic history, a classic twist in the tail that still cools the blood today. Such images may thrill and perhaps even shock but the explanation is invariably straightforward because the machine, the artifact, the icon is in ruins. Where Pelham's images differ is that they defy such explanation. The scene is apocalyptic but the machine is immaculate, and the two are not easily reconciled.

The Artist in Science Fiction, 1974 The Artist in Science Fiction

Science Fiction Monthly

September 1974
Landscapes From a Dream Landscapes From a Dream


Autumn 2009
Surrealist Sci-Fi Surrealist Sci-Fi

Creative Review

March 2012