It is now fifty years ago that J.G. Ballard published his first short stories. Rereading one of these, ‘Prima Belladonna’, recently I was surprised how much of the story is rooted in the form of fifties British SF, forgetting how much his work and the issues he writes about have changed, even though his preoccupation with surreal landscapes has always been there. Ballard’s vision of Vermillion Sands, the near future desert resort populated by idle dilettantes, first described in ‘Prima Belladonna’ remains pertinent, although perhaps its location would now have shifted to Dubai.
Another constant in Ballard’s work is his interest in landscapes transformed by military technology. In The Guardian last week, he was describing the strange Modernist structures of Utah Beach, which resemble those blockhouses of a nuclear testing site that feature in his story ‘The Terminal Beach’ (1964). Ballard implies in his article that few tourists visit Utah Beach, although surely it is only a matter of time before there are guide books to such sites, following the example of Robert Smithson’s essay ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic’. There is already a J.G. Ballard group on Flickr, where seekers of the Modernist picturesque can view and deposit photographs of decaying military installations, abandoned hotels, failed utopias and entropic ruins.