I’m convinced that Ballard didn’t care what people thought.
Of course he did, though. His sentences are polished enough that he ironed most of them out like a fussy tailor. He shines best in his short novels, when he just takes one simple idea and draws it out to the extreme of absurdity. His landscapes retain a corny sort of Twilight Zone quality. Concrete Island is a representative work for him, I think, because it shows what he can do with a couple satirical characters in a nightmarish situation. Even more than High-Rise, I think this book epitomizes what he was going for. One puts oneself in the character’s shoes, wondering if it would be possible to live under such circumstances. Next time you pass a freeway island you’ll wonder, imagine yourself erecting a lean-to on the side of the road.
The main problem one will encounter while reading Ballard’s novels is interchangeability. They all feel the same. You get a natural disaster or something happens to tear holes in the fabric of society, and his characters are still sipping Perrier from crystal snifters as their mansions burn. They are like obnoxious sitcom characters. But Ballard’s satire is often effective enough to cause a chuckle. If you can’t decide where to start, this novel is a good appetizer.
Many of his stories lack these easily dismissed character cliches and rely so much on imagery that they can muddle your memory of them. He did write many brilliant stories, but there are some that I find a major slog. For this reason I think Bradbury is a superior writer, though Bradbury always worked in the safe territory, colored inside the lines, and Ballard laughed at the lines, deliberately avoided them, and danced around the borders. He was a bold writer, got to give him that, but would you really be able to hand one of his books to your mother and say, look here, you might enjoy this? Probably not. Bradbury on the other hand, can sit right alongside any other book on the shelf without getting dirty looks from the other books (strained metaphor).