The sheer luminosity of metaphor

“After the flash and filigree of the sixties, the next decade can seem rather docile, even disappointing. It is widely regarded as an interval of integration and bruised armistice. David Hartwell, scholar and important sf editor (he bought both Herbert’s Dune and, fifteen years on, Gene Wolfe’s incomparable Book of the New Sun and its successors), declared: “There was much less that was new and colorful in science fiction in the 1970s and early 1980s, given the enormous amount published, than in any previous decade … a time of consolidation and wide public acceptance” (Hartwell, 1984, 182). At the end of the seventies, in the first edition of his magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Peter Nicholls ran the two preceding decades together, noting an on-going and complex generic cross-fertilization. “The apparently limitless diversity opening up is an excellent sign of a genre reaching such health and maturity that paradoxically it is ceasing to be one” (Nicholls, 1979, 287).

“This bursting open of a previously secluded or mockingly marginalized narrative form happened on the largest possible scale in 1977. Two prodigiously successful movies were released: Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, vigorous and even numinous [if equally set at child’s-eye level], unabashedly revived and exploited the sense of wonder known until then mostly to the few hundred thousand devotees of print sf – and the many who watched bad monster movies and clumsy early episodes of Star Trek, which premiered in 1966. In part this success was enabled by technical advances that finally came close to matching the immense spectacle of space travel, physical transformation, and sheer luminosity of metaphor that had always worked at a dreamlike level in classic sf. That impulse has not yet faltered, carrying sf/fantasy [of a rather reduced, simplified kind] to the point where it accounted for most of the highest-grossing films of the last two and a half decades.”

Damien Broderick, “Where We Came From: The Third Wave”, Unleashing the Strange: 21st Century Science Fiction Literature. Rockville MD: Wildside Press/Borgo Press/, 2009. pp 44-45.



The pivotal story that intensified Ballard’s divisive status [among SF authors] was the first of what he called his ‘concentrated novels’, ‘The Terminal Beach’. The text is presented in short, titled blocks of prose, which abandon linear sequence, and strip out the extraneous connective material of conventional narrative. The prose-blocks juxtapose imagistic evocation, found texts, gnomic dialogues and different technical registers. Ballard pursued this experimental style between 1966 and 1970, eventually publishing the texts as The Atrocity Exhibition. Merril immediately included ‘The Terminal Beach’ in her manifesto Year’s Best in 1966, and Moorcock editorialized in New Worlds in the same year under the headline ‘Ballard: The Voice’, proclaiming that these new experiments were ‘the first clear voice of a movement destined to consolidate the literary ideas – surrealism, stream-of-consciousness, symbolism, science fiction, etc. etc. – of the 20th century’.12Ballard delivered his own manifesto, ‘Notes from Nowhere’, in the same issue. It was full of puzzling juxtaposed assertions: ‘Neurology is a branch of fiction: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessel are the written mythologies of brain and body. Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” In a central passage, however, Ballard crisply explained his experiment:

Planes intersect: on one level, the world of public events, Cape Kennedy and Viet Nam mimetised on billboards. On another level, the immediate personal environment, the volume of space enclosed by my opposed hands, the geometry of my own postures, the time-values contained in this room, the motion-space of highways … On a third level, the inner world of the psyche. Where these planes intersect, images are born. With these co-ordinates, some kind of valid reality begins to clarify itself.

“This method was essentially one of Modernist collage reanimated by the 1960s avant-garde. Disregarding boundaries between discourses at the level of the sentence, Ballard’s experiments also moved between different media. He published a number of pieces in New Worlds but also in non-SF ‘little’ journals like Ambit and Transatlantic Review. He designed mock-advertisements, and sought funding from the Arts Council for billboard art (of the kind being done by Daniel Buren). He also organized an exhibition at the London Arts Lab to explore new psychopathologies. This was, needless to say, anathema to an American SF that Ballard characterized as ‘an extrovert, optimistic literature of technology’ compared to ‘introverted, possibly pessimistic’ new SF.” The first American print-run of The Atrocity Exhibition was pulped for fear of litigation; it eventually appeared in a Grove Press edition, the home of avant-garde fiction by Georges Bataille and William Burroughs.”

Roger Luckhurst, “Decade Studies: The 1960s”, Science Fiction. Cambridge: Polity. 2005. p 149-150.

Image: Stanley Donwoo, Teeth, 2006, via New Shelton

Crash! [1971]

“When Paul Haggis won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005 for a film called Crash, fellow Canadian David Cronenberg wasn’t among the well-wishers. In fact Cronenberg was positively livid, accusing Haggis of ‘functional stupidity’ for allegedly stealing the title of the Baron of Blood’s 1996 Ballard adaptation. But funnily enough Cronenberg wasn’t the first to direct a film called Crash. He wasn’t even the first to direct a Ballard adaptation called Crash. That’s a title claimed 25 years earlier (allowing for the presence of a rogue exclamation mark) by Harley Cokeliss (formerly known as ‘Harley Cokliss’), who made the 1971 short film ‘Crash!’ from fragments found in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition (including the film’s title, punctuation and all, lifted from the title of an Atrocity chapter). Of course, Cokliss also pre-empted Jonathan Weiss’s feature-film version of Atrocity, released in 2000.”

Brothers of The Head

“Brothers of the Head is the 2005 mockumentary featuring the story of Tom and Barry Howe (Luke Treadaway and Harry Treadaway), conjoined twins living in the United Kingdom. The brothers form a punk rock band calling themselves the Bang Bang. As the band’s success grows a music journalist, Laura (Tania Emery), follows the band writing an article. A romantic relationship develops between Laura and Tom causing friction between the two brothers.” – Wikipedia.