Tom Hunter asks, "Are the novels of JG Ballard the perfect candidate for a summer of science fictional reading?"
Ballard once famously declared that SF was the dominant literature of the 20th century and now, long years after our genre's monolithic 2001 apex has been and gone, it's writers like Ballard who continue to inhabit the role of tour guide as we move cautiously into this second decade of our newly science fictional world.
I imagine the role of tour guide would have suited Ballard rather well. Picture him in his white linen jacket, sitting patiently in the bar of the Heathrow Hilton sipping a whiskey and soda while he waits for the latest travel party of the inner space jet-set to join him.
Then again, as he notes in Millennium People : "Travel. Is it a kind of confidence trick? The same hotels, the same marinas, car-rental firms. You might as well stay home and watch it on television."
Whatever the destination, I invariably make sure to pack at least one Ballard novel in my holiday luggage. With his fictional visions of terminal beaches, low-flying aircraft and vermilion sands, he's always the perfect travelling companion and empty poolside read.
After all, the beach, says Ballard, is where even "the sun goes to doze and dream."
So, which of Ballard's books should be top of the hand luggage checklist for any self-respecting 21st century traveller?
I'd start with The Drowned World , one of his earliest, and most openly science fictional books. Here the protagonist spends his dreaming days living in the top floors of an abandoned hotel on the edge of a great lagoon once known as London. The water is rising but time itself seems to have slowed as the last surviving humans adapt themselves to the dawning of a new Triassic period.
By contrast Hello America follows a group of explorers, returning to the lost continent of the United States one hundred years after it collapsed in the throes of a global energy crisis. The spiritual home of the theme park is recast as one vast adventure land with the travellers journeying from the remains of Manhattan to America's mythological heartland, Las Vegas.
Finally, if you believe Ballard's assertion that "jetliners, the colour-coordinated nature trail and the Holiday Inn mean that travel has almost died out and been replaced by tourism" you may want to remove yourself from the grid entirely and go live on a Concrete Island instead. Ballard's urban re-imagining of Robinson Crusoe strands his lone hero in the no-man's land of a motorway intersection rather than a desert island, and is quite possibly based on a very real space located somewhere between London's Westway interchange and the M4 motorway on the road out of the city and pointing towards Ballard's beloved suburban home in Shepperton.
What Ballard tells us is that the imagination, our inner space, is perhaps the one last wilderness remaining to us, more so than the packaged atolls and cosmetic beaches of any summer holiday brochure.
So, if budgets are tight this year, why not forget the bargain beach break, stay home and invest in a bit of the Ballard back catalogue instead?
This is a personal article by Tom Hunter, who you may know as the administrator of the Arthur C Clarke Award. Follow him on Twitter here .
The SFX Summer Of SF Reading is in association with Waterstone’s , where you can buy all the books you’ll be reading about.