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on 15 February 2009
JG Ballard is the charter of obscene modernity, of social breakdown and social control, consumerist pathology and ecological destruction. The appeal of his work is precisely its ambiguity - a great attraction to the machinery and possibilities of the modern, laced with a deep suspicion of its forms and consequences. For Ballard, the trappings of civilization try to supress something essential in us (aggression, madness, fornication, hierarchy), which is actually only rearticulated in a new variation on these themes. In a way, his entire canon can be read as a set of dramas based on Freud's 'Civilization And Its Discontents'. Politically, there is obviously a tension here. As well as a critique of consumer capitalism, atomised social existence and technological folly, Ballard can also be read as a Hobbesian essentialist, forever warning that when the controlling institutions of government collapse, so do the very possibilities of human existence.

Many of these familiar themes are central to 'Hello America', which falls mainly within the strand of Ballardian thought that concerns ecology ('The Drowned World' or 'The Drought') but peppers it with some ruminations on society that are more associated with his work on the contemporary ('High Rise' or 'Cocaine Nights'). In it, an expedition of Europeans explore an America long abandoned and reduced to desert by the collapse of its oil-sustained economy and society. Like Ballard, these individuals all have a love for America as a land of discovery and possibility. But the series of disasters that befall them have more to do with attempts to realise those dreams than with destroyed American in the first place.

All this is great conceptual stuff, and Ballard writes, as always, in a smooth and easily engaging style. Which is part of the problem. I found myself wanting 'Hello America' to be a more convaluted read, to induce in me the kinds of sensations I got from reading 'Crash' or 'The Atrocity Exhibition' - a language and structure worthy of its narrative. Instead, everything happens just a bit too easily.

There is also an obvious dating here - this book is from 1981 and its imaginary landscapes and dilemmas reflect those times (the presidency of Richard Milhouse Nixon, the Cold War, Charles Manson, city-destroying nuclear weapons) as much as themes that still resonate today (oil shocks, authoritarian power, environmental decline). None of this is helped by a slightly heavy-handed approach to the American survivors, who are given individual names taken from the old corporate beasts (such as Xerox, GM, Pepsodent and Heinz) and assigned clans named after the social classes of the forgotten America (The Bureaucrats, The Divorcees, The Astronauts). The allegory is clear enough but doesn't quite function as it might.

None of this is to suggest that 'Hello America' is a bad book. It has many qualities and a suprisingly thrilling narrative. But it is not a touch on the other greats, which remain the standard for what the Ballardian can do for your mind.
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on 14 June 2015
I am in the middle of a personal Ballard festival. I am attempting to read all of his books and in any order. I have read all of his biographicals at this stage,these are absolute favourite,and add real insight into understanding him as a writer. Some of his 1960s, sci-fi is proving to be the most difficult for me,some I are amazing others are,well rubbish. Out of the four or five I have got though this was by far my favourite. All of the ideas and concepts are wonderful,but I just find some better reading than others. I am on crystal world now and can see the the themes and ideas from him as a writer,after this book I am planning to read is later 1990s stuff
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on 22 June 2013
This shows much promise at the start when the party first arrive in America,but when they get to Las Vegas and meet President Manson,it all gets a bit daft/predictable and the vision of the future becomes rather dated;Ballard refers to characters called 'Xerox' and of course the technology discussed has already been surpasssed in reality in many instances.(Ballard was not to know of the emergence of the internet,but could have dreamt that up for himself maybe?)

It all gets rather reminiscent of a bad episode of Doctor Who at the end,which I have to say I skipped quite a lot.

I'd avoid this if I were you.

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on 6 August 2015
This felt like a pastiche of JG Ballard, and a satire - either of America, or of JG Ballard's stories. It's not one of his best, but definitely worth reading.
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on 21 December 2009
JG Ballard is better known for his 'true' historical fiction (Empire of the Sun) then for his alternate history novels and with good reason. Ballard imagines a world where the US has been destroyed as the result ecological warfare. The Russians had built a damn across the Behring Straits and caused the center of America (the great plains) to turn into a desert. Even the mighty Mississippi River had dried up, while huge sand dunes (like in the Sahara) had covered all of the USA from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast.

Those Americans who could get across the sea to Europe were assimilated back into their countries of origin while a few ended up in ghettos in Dublin and Berlin. The rest of the world had been taken over by the Russians. In the next hundred years a few rescue missions sailed for the Western Hemisphere, but none came back to tell any tales. The current mission, led by an ex-Israeli naval captain and made up of some ex-american descendants, aimed for New York City to find the Statue of Liberty and any other objects that could be brought back.

Having landed in NYC and finding that the city was covered by ten or more feet of sand, they decided to do some exploring or the vicinity. While in New Jersey they ran into some 'real' americans who had survived like bedouins in the harsh climate. OK. Are you getting bored? I was.

Blah, blah blah. They get to Las Vegas. It's run by a maniac who calls himself Charles Manson. He has nuclear missiles. Blah, blah blah. You get the point.
Truly disappointing. Kids though should enjoy it because a lot of things get blown up.

Zeev Wolfe
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on 28 July 2012
Hello AmericaTick-box culture
Ballard is popular among a certain literary set because his work ticks the right boxes, it fits neatly into an academically acceptable ideological framework. However, High Rise and Running Wild excepted, much of his fiction is poorly executed. His prose is flat, his characters one dimensional, the dialogue unvarying from one novel to the next ("Charles? We have to go....", "Catherine? I'm on my way..."), his ideas simplistic and his obsessions tiresome.
Martin, Newcastle
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