Reports From The Deep End edited by Maxim Jakubowski & Rick McGrath

subtitled Stories Inspired by J. G. Ballard.

And what stories! In fairness, it’s hard to write anything nowadays about climate change, dystopias or class-stratified urbanization (and certainly not technological erotica, vehicular or otherwise) without being able to trace influences back to that same scrappy, complicated kid who was the focus of Stephen Spielberg’s WWII movie Empire Of The Sun.

But subject alone is not enough to make a story feel Ballardian. Tho I’m hardly an expert on his oeuvre, when I think of what makes Ballard stand out from his peers, I think of a sort of tension between the protagonists and the often inhuman, uncaring forces outside of their control, followed not altogether gracefully by a surrender to inevitability. It’s important, I feel, that the protagonists struggle till the very end, and only capitulate when there is no other choice. Change is rarely welcomed, only accepted.

In this, all of the stories in this brilliant anthology succeed. Some of the stories, like the excellent opener Chronocrash by Jeff Noon, and Adrian Cole’s The Next Time It Rains wouldn’t be out of place in any collection of sci-fi shorts. The indelible weirdness of tales like James Lovegrove’s Paradise Marina and Chris Beckett’s Art App are hard to forget. And, of course, there are some entries that are disturbingly sexy, including Preston Glassman’s The Astronaut’s Garden and David Gordon’s Selflessness. That last gives us these excellent lines:

Something was unfolding in his head, a narrow path that found its way through the buildings. The streets turned like sentences, clause inside clause, the object held in abeyance, until cornered by the mark of a question.

Some of the other stories are less universal, to differing success. Of the standouts, Pat Cadigan’s The January 6, 2021 Washington DC Riot Considered As A Black Friday Sale is an incredibly sharp sociopolitical analysis of contemporary American events that very much deserves to be widely read, whether by sci-fi fans or otherwise. Will Self’s Observations is the type of body horror that 100% inspires David Cronenberg. Maxim Jakubowski’s own The Hardoon Labyrinth By J. G. Ballard is a witty piece of fiction that made me exclaim with pleasure at the end, despite the tale being solidly entrenched in Ballardian trivia that I hadn’t been aware of pre-reading. The genius of that last story was in the way Mr Jakubowski included readers in on the joke — not always a trait shared by some of the more Ballard-biography specific pieces in the rest of the collection.

Hardcore Ballard fans, however, will find so much to love within this pages, not only for the overall top notch quality of the writing and atmosphere, but also for the many asides and homages. Novices may well be bemused by some of the tales, but hopefully this anthology will introduce more readers to Mr Ballard’s dazzling and prescient oeuvre. I recommend The Drowned World to start (as I did in college!) but there is a wealth of reading to be had that is only hinted at in this outstanding collection of stories inspired by the great man himself.

Reports From The Deep End edited by Maxim Jakubowski & Rick McGrath was published March 5 2024 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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  1. This sounds awesome.

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