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Crusoe in Concrete: J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece

‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.

Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry

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Wells’s Heir? John Wyndham’s The Seeds of Time

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle dusts off the half-forgotten science-fiction stories of John Wyndham

A good many of the books that feature in this weekly Friday column are found in charity shops while I’m looking for something else. So it was with this week’s featured book, or rather pile of books, by John Wyndham, who has been called the most successful British science-fiction writer after H. G. Wells. In his lifetime, Wyndham was a bestselling novelist. How many people read his novels and short stories now, I wonder?

Like many people, I knew the titles before I picked up the books: The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids. A number of Wyndham’s novels have been successfully adapted for film, with The Midwich Cuckoos being made into a feature film titled Village of the Damned on not one but two occasions. ‘Triffid’ has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as follows: Read the rest of this entry

Literary Film Review: The Terminator

This month’s classic film review analyses the inaugural film in the ‘tech noir’ genre, James Cameron’s 1984 powerhouse The Terminator

‘But The Terminator wasn’t based on a novel, surely?’ I hear you protest. You’re right, it wasn’t, so what’s The Terminator doing being featured in this monthly literary film review? Well, for one, because there are notable literary precedents for James Cameron’s 1984 science-fiction thriller, even if these are not direct influences per se.

One such precedent is Vernor Vinge, whose fiction often makes reference to an event Vinge (pronounced ‘Vin-jay’) calls the ‘Singularity’, when the machines ‘become smart’ and attain a level of intelligence far in excess of the humans who made them. (Vinge’s 1981 novel True Names, published three years before William Gibson’s far better-known Neuromancer, has been called the first novel to explore the idea of Read the rest of this entry