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Hello America (1981)

Author: • Sep 16th, 2006 •

Category: America, bibliography, celebrity culture, deep time, media landscape, William Burroughs

Ballardian: The Unlimited Dream Company

‘There’s gold, Wayne, gold dust everywhere! Wake up! The streets of America are paved with gold!’.

From the Carroll & Grad 1981 edition:

A century after America’s financial collapse and the climactic upheavals of the 1990s, Wayne stows away on SS Apollo, bound for the New World on a voyage of rediscovery. He and the crew encounter hazards at every turn and ghosts from the past as they travel West. In Las Vegas, roaming bands of Mexican teenagers welcome them to the citadel of late 20th century glitter. Their charismatic leader — a William Burroughs look-alike addressed reverently as President Charles Manson — invites Wayne into hs cybernetic stronghold. But suddenly the erratic president takes fright at Wayne’s alien presence and threatens to play deadly war games with an arsenal of leftover Titan warheads. Now it’s not just the Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe holograms that are at risk…

According to Ballardian contributor Umberto Rossi:

As we read Hello America we trek along a historical horizon, led by what we should call a historical-mythical imagery. The recession is not a retrogressive movement of evolutionary time, but a hallucinatory replica of American history. If The Drowned World celebrates the divorce of humans from their historical civilisation, Hello America offers a lucid and ironic anatomy of the American Myth (but we could call it the American Dream), a myth with a historical genesis and a historical unfolding. Every dead city visited by the research team led by Captain Steiner is the embodiment of a chapter of the American legend. At the same time, it is a transmutation of events and stages in US history.

Las Vegas is the ultimate telematic metropolis and Manson is its emblematic citizen until the end. It is no accident that his army is made up of teenagers. The model citizen of Videogame City is the eternal teenager, who can contact the world only through its image, through TV screens and computer networks. In the age of the information industry and data networks, the accomplishment of technical evolution, the process that Heidegger calls imposition [Gestell] of technics — the possibility of a total control, a total representability of the world — is the playability of the world. The world becomes a game. In this horizon of electronic simulation, any difference between true and false, between real and fictional, between presence and representation, becomes obsolete.”

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10 Responses »

  1. This book is ridiculous.

  2. Read this review for more explanations but you can realize it from the first 10 chapters.

  3. we’re sorry you think that way. perhaps you could give some of ballard’s other books a chance?

  4. Of course I will, Simon. 🙂

    My first message is quite strong probably because of the Ballard fame. Obviously, that is and wants to be no more than my opinion on this specific book.

    I also added the link to a real (even if brief) review which I think expresses my feeling the kind of feelings I felt reading “Hello America”, so that other people can agree or possibly disagree.


  5. This book has obviously gone right over maurizio’s head. Ballard again presents us with a “landscape of the mind” and to expect this novel to play out like a standard sci-fi adventure is ridiculous. Certainly there is a lot of humor involved in Hello America, but like most of Ballard’s work there is a lot more than meets the eye, which requires the reader to put aside expectations and go along for the ride. I don’t claim to understand what he is up to all of the time, but then again I don’t have to. Ballard’s unparalleled prose alone is reward enough.

  6. They don’t call Ballard a surrealist for naught. Like a surrealist painting, his landscapes are populated by symbolic and mythic elements, all juxtaposed in a manner that address meaning of human experience, the hidden motives for our actions, and the implications for us as a society. To try to read one of his novels as a conventional narrative misses the point entirely. Yet the web is full of people reviewing an author who they have no idea what he is all about.

    “Our universe is governed by fictions of all kinds: mass consumption, publicity, politics considered and managed like a branch of publicity, instantaneous translation of science and techniques into a popular imagery, confusion and telescopage of identities in the realm of consumer goods, right of pre-emption exercised by the television screen over every personal reaction to reality. We live at the interior of an enormous novel. It becomes less and less necessary for the writer to give fictional content to his works. The fiction is already there. The work of the novelist is to invent reality.”
    -J.G. Ballard, from the introduction of the French edition of Crash

  7. Well said, Mark.

  8. Poor Maurizio…
    The review he’s linked to has long gone, so it’s impossible to know what his beef is…

    Still, to be fair, ‘Hello America’ is not one of Ballard’s best novels. It starts out promisingly enough, and the basic concept is both interesting and original, but once we descend into the jungles the other side of the Rockies it all starts to go a bit Pete Tong. Those last few (Manson) chapters just don’t work, lacking emotional depth and ultimately coming across like some deranged James Bond spoof.

    Everything Umberto Rossi says may be true: at the ideational level the novel is fascinating. But as an emotional experience it just isn’t up to Ballard’s habitual high standard.

  9. I read Maurizio’s review before it was gone, and it was basically complaining that Hello America was disappointing in that it did not play out like some kind of conventional action-adventure narrative. He completely missed any of the subtext. He was expecting it to be Battlestar Galactica and he got a Magritte painting instead. And I agree it is not Ballard’s best but it is very funny at times, just ask GM and Pepsodent…

  10. Bit late to the debate but I love this book and its easily one of my all time favourites. Yes, it may be flawed but the imagery and subtext that it conjures is vivid and thought provoking as is all of Ballards’ work – chances are, he was taking the Micky out the whole sci-fi adventure genre, with the joke being at the expense of our own preconceptions. for the imagery alone, someone should make a film based on this book…..

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