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A User's Guide to the Millennium
J. G. Ballard
Picador USA, 304 pages

A User's Guide to the Millennium
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A review by Thomas Myer

I have to love J.G. Ballard, and not just because he calls the Warren Commission Report "the novelization of the Zapruder film" and refers to Kitty Kelley as a "Chain-Saw Biographer."

And not just because the screenplay of his novel, The Empire of the Sun, gave me chills (especially the scene in which the P-51 Mustang flies by the prison camp in slow-mo, and the little boy shouts out, "P-51 Mustang, the Cadillac of the Sky!")

I have to love him now for his book A User's Guide to the Millennium, a compilation (nay, a veritable seraglio) of essays, reflections, and reviews. This thirty-year review marks Ballard as one who has gazed upon the multitude and the throng, and has heckled them.

A particularly intriguing essay, "Which Way to Inner Space" (published in 1962), rings as true now as it did then, when America was gearing up for the space race against the Russkies. Ballard rushes the berms of what he feels is an ailing fortress: the predominance of space-oriented science fiction. One almost feels a certain inter-penetration of pity and overwhelming regard for Ballard as he jams his finger in the eye of the charging rhino of mainstream science fiction, with its ray guns, spaceships, and space stations.

Even though I'm not a fan of long quotes (they make me feel inadequate, and like an intellectual brown-noser), I really have to quote Ballard directly, and at length:

The biggest developments of the immediate future will take place not on the Moon or Mars, but on Earth, and it is inner space, not outer, that needs to be explored. The only truly alien planet is Earth. In the past the scientific bias of s-f has been towards the physical sciences--rocketry, electronics, cybernetics--and the emphasis should switch to the biological sciences. (197)

Guess what--he was right. With the current hubbub over cloning, biochips, nanotechnology, and human-machine synthesis, his words don't just paint a landscape of opinion. They mark him as the intellectual godfather of Gibson, Sterling, and Stephenson; the eminence grise of late Twentieth Century criticism.

Copyright © 1997 by Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is a technical writer and freelance scoundrel. When he's not reading or writing, his family (wife Hope, and dogs Kafka and Vladimir) makes him mow the lawn and scrub floors. He also happens to be an excellent scratch cook.

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