Writer JG Ballard dies age 78


June 18, 2010 Updated Apr 21, 2009 at 3:16 PM EDT

JG Ballard, a cult author best known for his book "Empire of the Sun" about his childhood struggle to survive in a Japanese internment camp, has died after a long illness, his agent said. He was 78.

Margaret Hanbury announced his death from cancer on Sunday with "great sadness", saying he had been ill "for several years".

Hanbury, who had been Ballard's agent for more than 25 years, described his "acute and visionary" observation of the world, which led him to produce disquieting novels and won him a cult following.

Despite regularly being referred to as a science fiction writer, Ballard said what he was really doing was "picturing the psychology of the future".

Although he began writing relatively conventional science fiction short stories, he moved to a more adventurous, "new wave" style, which focused less on the world beyond the stars and more on the society around him.

Ballard honed his experimental writing in stories published in the ground-breaking magazine "New Worlds" over more than a decade.

In a series of early apocalyptic novels written in the early 1960s -- "The Drowned World", "The Wind from Nowhere", "The Drought" -- he imagined the world after it had been hit by different kinds of disasters.

Ballard's imagination and the quality of his writing -- in a genre where ideas often triumph over style -- made him a commercial success.

But it was "Empire of the Sun", published in 1984, that brought him a wider audience.

It is a fictional account of his childhood in colonial Shanghai, where he was born to English parents on November 15, 1930, and where he was when Japanese forces swept in after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

He was interned with his family in a prison camp, and the book is a tale of devastation and survival that catapulted him to worldwide fame when it was adapted into a film by US director Steven Spielberg in 1987.

"I have -- I won't say happy -- not unpleasant memories of the camp," Ballard once said of his childhood.

"I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing 101 games all the time!"

Ballard also won acclaim for "Crash" (1973), which described what he called "the perverse eroticism of the car crash" and which was brought to the big screen by Canadian film-maker David Cronenberg in 1996.

He questioned what would happen if people's desires or habits are taken to the limit, a theme he returned to in "Cocaine Nights" (1996) and "Super-Cannes" (2001) which describe ordinary people whose lives are liberated by violence.

"JG Ballard has been a giant on the world literary scene for more than 50 years," said Hanbury.

She added: "His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status."

James Graham Ballard returned to Britain from China in 1946.

He studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and worked as a Royal Air Force pilot, a salesman, an advert agency copywriter and as assistant editor of a scientific journal before turning to full-time writing.

He stayed in Britain for the rest of his life, living in the same house in Shepperton in Surrey for much of the past half a century.

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