But still, he could gaze out of the window of his parents’ big American car as the chauffeur drove him and his nanny through the city, marvelling at the ?bright but bloody kaleidoscope’ outside: ?the prosperous Chinese businessmen pausing in the Bubbling Well Road to savour a thimble of blood tapped from the neck of a vicious goose tethered to a telephone pole; young Chinese gangsters in American suits beating up a shopkeeper; beggars fighting over their pitches; beautiful White Russian bar-girls smiling at passers-by’. It struck him as ?a magical place, a self-generating fantasy that left my own little mind far behind’. Later, after the Japanese invasion of 1937 but before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the internment of American and European civilians in 1943, he would ride his bike for hours around the city. ?Even as a ten-year-old who had known nothing else, the extreme poverty of the Chinese, the deaths and disease and orphans left to starve in doorways, unsettled me as it must have unsettled my parents.’ It is almost too obvious to need saying that the seeds of Ballard’s science fiction, of all his dystopian futures, were planted during his childhood in Shanghai. When Empire of the Sun was published in 1984, ?sympathetic readers of my earlier novels and short stories were quick to spot echoes . . . the drained swimming pools, abandoned hotels and nightclubs, deserted runways and flooded rivers.’

Full Story: London Review of Books.