James Ballard reached his widest audience with Empire of the Sun, his memoir of his childhood during World War II, but I first discovered him thanks to David Cronenberg, whose film of Crash (the only good movie with that title) led me to the novel of Crash and also to Concrete Island and The Atrocity Exhibition - novels that are cold, detached, filthy, deranged, deterministic. They also represent frighteningly well the second half of the 20th century, that period when machinery and regimentation really took over the industrialized West. Ballard's triumph as a writer was to combine the radical pornographic defiance of William S. Burroughs with the modern post-War environment of parking garages, freeways, and reality TV.
The real triumph of his work, though, was the beating heart that permeated it - his was no attitudinal posturing, as his modern successors like Chuck Palahniuk can often fall into - Ballard was a traumatized intellectual, sharing his trauma, both personal and sociological, with the world. And for that, I thank him.