The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Unlimited Dream Company, by J.G. Ballard

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Unlimited Dream Company, by J.G. Ballard

Cover by Bill Botten
Cover by Bill Botten

Cover by Carlos Ochiagavia
Cover by Carlos Ochiagavia

Cover by Peter Goodfellow
Cover by Peter Goodfellow

The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards have been presented by the British Science Fiction Association since 1970 and were originally nominated for and voted on by the members of the Association. The Best Novel Award was one of the original awards and the first two were won by John Brunner for his novels Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit. J.G. Ballard would be nominated for the Best Novel award three times, only winning on his first nomination in 1980.

Ballard’s novel The Unlimited Dream Company is told by Blake, an antihero and narrator so unreliable it is difficult for the reader to determine if anything he says in the course of the novel is real or merely the result of Blake’s own warped perception. The novel opens with Blake relating how as a young man he moved in with a woman, wound up killing her, and stealing an airplane before crashing it into the Thames. His first victim is never mentioned again and throughout the novel it isn’t clear if Blake died in the crash, if everything he relates in the book is the subject of visions brought about by his drowning and asphyxia, or if any of it actually happened to him and the community of Shepperton, where all the action takes place.

Because there is so much ambiguity over Blake’s state of being and his truthfulness, it is difficult to feel as if anything in the novel really matters. Blake’s actions, whether against his fiancée, the theft of the aircraft, or with relation to many of the residents of Shepperton, all appear to be without consequence. Since Blake is an antihero, this also gives the novel a particularly amoral slant. Neither the support characters nor the author comment on Blake’s apparent need to have sex, coerced or consensual, with practically all the other characters, no matter the age, gender, or relationship to others. At most, one of the other characters, most likely, the local doctor, Miriam St. Cloud, may comment on the activity’s inappropriateness, but Blake’s actions appear to be forgotten almost immediately.

Eventually, Blake acquires a messiah complex, convinced that he can save the people of Shepperton, although he isn’t clear exactly what he is saving them from, simply that he can impart to them the ability to fly. Aside from the desire to fly, Blake never makes it clear why any of the villagers of Shepperton would chose to follow him and, in fact, the only do so for a brief period, to experience the novelty.

While taken on its own, The Unlimited Dream Company appears to be somewhat nonsensical and surreal, Ballard wrote it as a tribute to the Scottish poet William Blake as a response to Blake’s own work Milton: A Poem. Just as Milton returns from Heaven in Blake’s work, a character named Blake (although not recognizable as the poet) returns to Earth in Ballard’s book. Blake’s Milton combines with Blake, much as Ballard’s Blake combines with the citizens of Shepperton, in an attempt to explore how authors and their influences create new works.

Ballard’s competition for the British Science Fiction Award included Rob Swigart’s A.K.A.: A Cosmic Fable, Tom Reamy’s Blind Voices, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise, and Thomas M. Disch’s On Wings of Song.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. His most recent anthology, Alternate Peace was published in June. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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