Before the success of Empire of the Sun Ballard was known principally for darkly surreal novels such as The Crystal World (1966), which described a West African country undergoing an inexplicable process of petrifaction, and Crash (1973), in which he put forward the idea that modern society finds traffic accidents erotic. Despising the term science fiction, Ballard never used it, preferring to describe his work as "apocalyptic".
Despite Ballard's avuncular appearance and booming voice, his air of bonhomie belied a much darker side. Acquaintances recalled that as young man he was "obsessed" with topics such as assassination, car crash injuries and psychosis. One of Ballard's more outré projects had been an "installation" at the ICA called The Assassination Weapon featuring a story about a deranged bomber pilot simultaneously screened on three walls to the sound of cars crashing.
Friends, while remembering Ballard as "generous and jovial" also described him as "jolly peculiar" and on occasion "straightforwardly mad".
Ballard admitted to spending much of his adult life drinking too much. "It was a great sense of achievement," he recalled, "when my first drink of the day was not at nine in the morning but at noon and then at eight. Life got much duller as a result." No doubt as an antidote to boredom he began taking the mind altering drug LSD and recalled "an indulgent over use" of silver spray-paint in decorating his footwear. [ à suivre sur London Telegraph ]