Friday, 21 January 2011

J G Ballard Post 1 - Vermilion Sands

Vermilion Sands is a short-story collection by J. G. Ballard, first published in 1971. All the stories are set in an imaginary vacation resort called Vermilion Sands which suggests, among other places, Palm Springs in southern California. The characters are generally the wealthy and disaffected, or people who make a living off them, and parasites of various kinds.

In the preface, Ballard himself wrote: "Vermilion Sands has more than its full share of dreams and illusions, fears and fantasies, but the frame for them is less confining. I like to think, too, that it celebrates the neglected virtues of the glossy, lurid and bizarre."
Each story concentrates on different media - in some cases more than one - and most of them focus on a particular innovative, usually rather decadent/baroque twist on an existing artistic medium. For instance:
  • "Prima Belladonna" focuses on music, especially singing, via singing plants and a 'mutant' voice;
  • "The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista" focuses on architecture, via mobile, mood-sensitive houses;
  • "Cry Hope, Cry Fury" focuses on painting, through paints that respond to the presence of light/objects (an example of decadence through the evaporation of skill);
  • "Venus Smiles" focuses on sculpture, through the creation of a (strangely growing) sound sculpture;
  • "Studio 5, The Stars" focuses on poetry, through automated poetry machines (another example of skill vanishing, this time into automation);
  • "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" focuses on a peculiar kind of sculpture made by carving clouds - painting also appears in this one;
  • "Say Goodbye to the Wind" focuses on fashion via living fashion and sound jewelry (non-aural music and erotic food are also mentioned in passing);
  • "The Screen Game" has no unusual technologies, but an unusual aesthetic - jewels and screens dominate;
  • "The Singing Statues" returns to sound sculpture (which may have been why it was removed from the American Berkley Medallion edition of 1971).

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