J.G. Ballard is a renowned writer across many fields of literature. From science fiction catastrophes like The Drowned World to the highly experimental, post-modern literary collage comprising The Atrocity Exhibition, the semi-autobiographical The Empire of the Sun to the controversial social commentary of Crash, urban dystopias like High-Rise to free-form representation of the art and ideology of William Blake in The Unlimited Dream Company—Ballard’s oeuvre covers a lot of ground. All novels, seemingly only people in the know are aware of what a powerful short story writer Ballard was. The transition to short form not something every great writer can do, Ballard made it look easy—the ideas and themes of his novels deftly rendered in a dense, paucity of pages. His 1964 collection The Terminal Beach contains some of his best.
Opening the collection is one of Ballard’s most straight-forward pieces of fiction: “A Question of Re-entry” starts in Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness mode, but quickly gets conspiratorial, science fiction style. A UN agent named Connelly hires a boat captain to pilot him deep into the jungles of South America and find a crashed space shuttle. Arriving at their first waypoint, Connelly meets a half-crazed foreigner who lords over the village and its native inhabitants. Something inexplicable about the foreigner, Connelly’s search for the fallen craft ends up turning over more than he expected. The story lacking a lot of the psychology and symbolism Ballard is known for, the stripped down piece nevertheless reads very Ballardian, even as it represents humanity’s penchant for megalomania and criticizes the US space program.