Ballard’s narrative is sorrowful as well as unexpectedly emotional, a big cry from his more conventional scientific approach to the character. It tells the story of Tavern, a lonely man who seeks sanctuary on the nuclear testing island of Eniwetok following the death of his wife and son (Ballard). Like many of his works, the plot connects the degeneration of the environment to the character’s mental health, with the nuclear fallout from numerous tests endured by the terrain degrading in tandem with Travern’s inner state.
Ballard appears to character assassinate his character by offering a segmented tour of the island and the carcass of its infrastructure rather than by delving deeply into his background. Tavern is looking for answers in his own damaged mind just as much as he is in the shattered pavement. He even conceals from a naval search crew that appears to symbolize everything he despises about civilization. The solitude of ruins is preferable to the company of the offspring of the atom.
“The Terminal Beach,” a gripping narrative, depicts one man’s descent into insanity on an Island in the pacific as a consequence of exposure to radiation during the creation of a thermonuclear device. Ballard establishes a large amount of empathy without blatantly manipulating the reader, all the while summoning his customary skepticism about the march of civilization (Baxter and Wymer). In certain aspects, the symbology of the man’s environment gradually mixes with that of his brain to significant literary effect.
However, as a compendium, it is a fantastic show of breadth, genres, and personalities, with four or five really ageless, hard-core Ballard masterpieces. Ballard is sometimes regarded as the great poet of a particular type of urban alienation, yet a quick scan through these tales reveals he was nearly the polar opposite of urban: almost all of them are set in profoundly foreign, non-urban settings.
Ballard, James Graham. The Terminal Beach. 1964.
Baxter, Jeannette, and Rowland Wymer, eds. JG Ballard: Visions and revisions. Springer, 2011.