In J.G. Ballard’s science fiction, the world has ended and become a mausoleum, but nobody has noticed. War Fever, a collection of 14 stories (some written as recently as 1991, others as long ago as 1975), is typically bleak stuff, and the characters are the usual Ballard burnouts: history’s existential puppets, conspiracy’s chumps. A Brazilian journalist sets out to expose a charlatan who has been passing himself off as an American astronaut, but then ends up assuming the role himself; a Jamaican seaman leaps at the opportunity of becoming the captain of a tanker, only to find that the cargo is toxic waste; a Beirut street fighter discovers that Lebanon’s infinite civil war is merely a laboratory for behavorial scientists — nothing more, nothing less.

A potluck of unnervingly quiet sketches, War Fever is literate and polished and — almost always — angry. What’s missing is the invention and energy that have made Ballard’s novels (Crash, High-Rise, The Crystal World, and Empire of the Sun) so much fun to read despite their dogged pessimism. C+

War Fever