Title: Vermilion Sands
Author: J G. Ballard
Publisher: Vintage, Penguin Random House
Pages: 208 pages
Why did I chose to read this book? I have enjoyed previous Ballard titles and this one’s descriptive blurb piqued my interest and hinted at a completely unique reading experience.
Where to read this book: Zetta Townhouse, the grandiose design of the cocktail lounge makes the perfect reading room.
Refreshments: Cocktails, potent and strong to suit the surreal mental images that are about to be evoked – as I was reading this I became quite friendly with the Zetta’s Flintock cocktail which is gin-based and includes gunpowder tea, which involves a small explosion before you can start drinking it… naturally.
Vermilion Sands is a fully automated desert-resort designed to fulfil the most exotic whims of the idle rich, but now languishes in uneasy decay, populated only by forgotten movie queens, solitary impresarios and the remittance men of the artistic and literary world. It is a lair for beachcombers, hangers-on and malignant obsessions – a place where sensitive pigments paint portraits of their mistresses in a grotesque parody of art; where prima donna plants are programmed to sing operatic arias; where dial-a-poem computers have replaced poets; where psychosensitive houses are driven to murder by their owners’ neuroses; and where love and lust, in the hands of jewel-eyed Jezebels, pall before the stronger pull of evil.
Unexpectedly this is set out as sequence of short stories all based in the fictitious Vermilion Sands and it’s environs. Ballard’s surrealist style is at a peak as he weaves such unique and imaginative settings around fantastical characters. Mixing allegories with his archetypal mind-bending smilies you, as the reader, are dragged straight into his stunning Dali-esque worlds.
Juxtaposing familiar human beings with the outrageous, usually the deadly beautiful and alluring women of Ballard’s mind, you become familiar with extreme character traits and appearances; ‘her white hair lay in a coil over one shoulder like a nacreous serpent’ and ‘her white face, like a devious adolescent’s, more than ever resembled a surgical mask.’ The male characters are usually rather humble affairs, save for a couple, and are notoriously bewitched by these bejewelled dramatic females that slip in and out of their lives like the very sand they walk across.
Ballard’s genre is science fiction, a genre I am often quick to dismiss – as a result of not being overly fanatic about travelling by hovercraft or inhabiting Mars, stereotypical I know – however his wonderous prose and completely absurd reflections on mankind’s nature which, to a degree, offers us a cautionary tale about our descent into the future, is a force to be reckoned with and hard to dismiss.
Supporting Ballard as the godfather of sci-fi,and also perhaps conveniently, was the sales assistant at Waterstones whom I overheard, whilst I was buying my copy, say to another shopper who was perusing the science fiction that – ‘Ballard didn’t grace those shelves as he was too good for them,’ – a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Vermilion Sands won’t be for everyone, it is bizarre and confusing, but if you stick with it you’ll be transported away from your current life for a few hours to inhabit another fantastical world.
Rating: 9 out of 10