The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (Norton, 1199 pages, $35). An utterly amazing book in an amazing book season. Until his death from cancer in April at the age of 78, J. G. Ballard was probably the most remarkable living writer whose literary reputation couldn't entirely throw off the knee-jerk condescension that always greets science fiction. (Other candidates for that mournful distinction over the years: Ursula K. Le Guin, the late Stanislaw Lem, and even, yes, the late Kurt Vonnegut once upon a time.) Ballard was a good deal luckier than most because the most valuable and tireless Ballardians included the likes of Graham Greene, Luc Sante, Christopher Hitchens and the Amises, pere Kingsley and fils Martin.
And, let's never forget, David Cronenberg who made that arresting movie of Ballard's arresting novel "Crash" and Steven Spielberg, whose adaptation of Ballard's "Empire of the Sun" is one of the great hidden masterworks of Spielberg's oeuvre.
Nothing, though, could quite prepare you for this gigantic assemblage of Ballard's life work in the short story, which is so far beyond any hidebound notion of "sci fi" that it's tragic to even have to mention it. The man who wrote the wickedly scurrilous and slanderous "Why I Want to F---Ronald Reagan" is a formally explosive and troublesome scrutinizer of the fundament of power. The guy who wrote the sneering wise guy "Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race" got his "useful lead" from proto-Dadaist Alfred Jarry's "The Crucifixion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race."
When Ballard's publisher claims that Ballard's influence can be seen and felt everywhere from graphic novels to video games to TV, this immense and wonderful World in a Book will give you no cause to doubt it.
-- Jeff Simon