LONDON – Writer J.G. Ballard, best known for the autobiographical novel “Empire of the Sun,” which drew on his childhood detention in a Japanese prison camp in China, died Sunday, his agent said. He was 78.
Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. He had been ill “for several years” and died in London at the home of his long-term partner, his agent Margaret Hanbury said. She did not give the cause of death.
“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,” Hanbury said.
Ballard was born in Shanghai, China, and was interned there in a prison camp by Japanese troops in 1941 – an experience he drew on in the 1984 novel “Empire of the Sun,” later adapted as a film by U.S. director Steven Spielberg.
The writer moved to Britain in 1946, where he lived until his death.
Ballard was sometimes controversial. His 1973 novel “Crash,” which explored contentious themes about people who derive pleasure from car accidents, was made into a film by David Cronenberg in 1996.
“J.G. Ballard has been a giant on the world literary scene for more than 50 years,” Hanbury said.
“Following his early novels of the 60s and 70s, his work then reached a wider audience with the publication of “Empire of the Sun” in 1984, which won several prizes and was made into a film,” she said.
The book told the story of a young boy living through Japanese occupation of Shanghai, detailing his struggle and complex emotions toward the invading forces.
“I have – I won’t say happy – not unpleasant memories of the camp. I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time!” Ballard once said of his childhood internment.
Born James Graham Ballard, the author was a sharp critic of modern politics, who once mocked the West’s search for “near mythical weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, in the buildup to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Ballard focused heavily in his work on what he saw as the negative effect on mankind of advancing technology and rejected the belief that humans can constantly improve themselves.
Ballard often portrayed social and technological developments as adding to a sense of human worthlessness, rather than aiding the progression of mankind.
“The enlightenment view of mankind is a complete myth. It leads us into thinking we’re sane and rational creatures most of the time, and we’re not,” Ballard said in a 2003 interview with Australian newspaper, the Age.
Ballard was educated at Cambridge University and served as a British Royal Air Force pilot before working as a writer.
He revealed in a January 2008 interview that he had been diagnosed in 2006 with advanced prostate cancer.
Ballard married Helen Matthews in 1954. She died in 1964. He is survived by their three children.
There was no immediate word on funeral plans.