I first came across Ballard when I was a teenager. He was a friend of my father’s, and my father championed his early work, calling him “the brightest star in postwar SF” (all purists call science fiction SF, and have nothing but contempt for “sci fi”). Ballard was a beautiful man, with a marvellously full, resonant face and hot eyes, and talked in the cadences of extreme sarcasm with very heavy stresses – he wasn’t being sarcastic, merely expressive. The friendship between the two did not survive Ballard’s increasing interest in experimentalism, which my father always characterised as “buggering about with the reader”. But I was always delighted to see Jim later on. Funnily enough, he was an unusually lovable man, despite the extraordinary weirdness of his imagination. His imagination was formed by his wartime experience in Shanghai, where he was interned by the Japanese. He was 13 at the time and took to the life in the camp as he would “to a huge slum family”. But it wasn’t just the camp that formed him – it was the very low value attached to human life, something he saw throughout his childhood. He told me that he’d seen coolies beaten to death at a distance of five yards from where he was standing, and every morning as he was driven to school in an American limousine there were always fresh bodies lying in the street. Then came the Japanese. He said “people in the social democracies have no idea of the daily brutality of parts of the east. No they don’t, actually. And it’s as well that they don’t.”
more from The Guardian here.