Vermillion Sands; A collection of short stories by J.G. Ballard

When I run out of new books to entertain me, I turn to the classics. Obviously the last foray into classical literature was less than successful (see Madame Bovary) however my more recent one was far better. Not nearly as old, Vermillion Sands is a collection of short stories, connected only by geographical location. Written in the fifties and compiled more recently, the stories of Vermillion Sands are a bizarre mashup of science fiction and outright fantasy. As pure entertainment they are brilliant. Fucking brilliant.

The setting is never described completely. It is a resort town located somewhere in California, perhaps, but the reader doesn’t know. It is hot and sandy, but not too hot. The majority of it is beaches and beach towns, expensive villas and shops catering to tourists and the eccentric rich. It is the eccentric rich that form the core of interest. Each story is told from the perspective of an nominally average person, usually male, who lives in a modest place at Vermillion Sands and encounters by chance some wealthy eccentric. An editor meets a poet who fancies herself the muse of poetry and uses magic or something like it to play nefarious pranks. A beautiful pirate ranges the sand lake on her wheeled yacht, looking for an old love and controlling a pack of enormous flying manta rays. A singer is enthralled by a temperamental singing orchid and falls for its charms. A self absorbed socialite has a troupe of performers carve her face in the clouds and drives them to suicide and murder in the process. A house reverberates with the memories of its previous tenants and reenacts their violent relationship on the new owners. Sculptures sing and grow to immeasurable proportions, portraits paint themselves, and fabrics live and react to the emotions of their wearer. The goings on at Vermillion Sands are fantastical. The setting is a beautiful and curious backdrop for beautiful and curious people to live their beautiful and curious lives.

I highly recommend this collection. In fact I have already pressed it upon a friend and it took her only moments to be come enthralled by the characters and peculiarities of J.G. Ballard’s universe. Good for adults young and old, the themes and writing is probably a bit over middle school (except for those precocious readers of which I like to consider myself one). It is also a great bus read or bedtime story because it is a collection, not a novel. I encourage you to pick up any anthologies you can find of his work. If this collection is any indication, it is all magnificent.