"Miracles of Life" by J.G. Ballard. Illustration by Nathan Gelgud, 2013.
J.G. Ballard doesnâ€™t mince words. Reading "Miracles of Life: From Shanghai to Shepperton," readers can find out in no uncertain terms what he thought of his parents, the use of nuclear weapons on Japan, the sorry demeanor of post-war England, and the science fiction literary establishment he began to break into in the late 1950s.
It's a compact, punchy book, especially for an autobiography. The first half focuses on Ballardâ€™s childhood in Shanghai (hisÂ father was stationed there as chairman of an unnamed company), and he sometimes wonders if "everyday reality was the one element missing" from the city. He evokes the mish-mashed cultural feeling of growing up there, near an international settlement, being a boy without a national identity before he understood what a national identity might be.
The book's second half centers on his life in England. Ballard, English by lineage, only made his home there in the years following World War II. The way he tells it, this was no place he was going to fall in love with. He came "home" to a drastically changed place he had never really known.
Maybe this sense of being forever on the outside made him a perfect fit for writing groundbreaking science fiction. Two of his books ("Empire of the Sun"Â and "Crash") were adapted into major motion pictures, and he has a fevered following. Despite carving out a generous niche in the sci-fi market that once rejected him, one gathers from his autobiography that he never felt a sense of belonging anywhere.