J.G. Ballard, at 78; wrote 'Empire of the Sun,' 'Crash'

By David Stringer
Associated Press / April 20, 2009
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LONDON - Writer J.G. Ballard, best known for the autobiographical novel "Empire Of The Sun," which drew on his childhood detention in a Japanese prison camp in China, died yesterday in London, his agent said. He was 78.

Mr. Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. He had been ill for several years, agent Margaret Hanbury said.

"His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status," Hanbury said.

Born in Shanghai, James Graham Ballard was interned there in a prison camp by Japanese troops in 1941 - an experience he used in the 1984 novel "Empire of The Sun," which was adapted as a film by director Steven Spielberg.

The book told the story of a young boy living through Japanese occupation, detailing his struggle and complex emotions toward the invading forces.

"I have - I won't say happy - not unpleasant memories of the camp. I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time!" Mr. Ballard once said.

The writer moved to Britain in 1946, and lived there until his death.

He was educated at Cambridge University and served as a British Royal Air Force pilot before working as a writer.

Mr. Ballard was sometimes controversial.

His 1973 novel "Crash," which explored contentious themes about people who derive pleasure from car accidents, was made into a film by David Cronenberg in 1996.

He was a sharp critic of modern politics, and mocked the West's search for "near mythical weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, in the buildup to the 2003 US-led invasion.

Mr. Ballard focused much of his work on what he saw as the negative effect of advancing technology, rejecting the belief that humans can constantly improve themselves.

He often portrayed social and technological developments as adding to a sense of human worthlessness.

"The Enlightenment view of mankind is a complete myth. It leads us into thinking we're sane and rational creatures most of the time, and we're not," Mr. Ballard said in a 2003 interview with Australian newspaper The Age.

Mr. Ballard married Helen Matthews in 1954. She died in 1964.

He leaves three children.