“Prima Belladonna,” J. G. Ballard, 1956 – A mysterious singer, Jane Ciracylides, arrives in Vermillion Sands, a resort town on Mars(?). Men fawn over her singular beauty, accented by exotic insect eyes and golden skin. Her parentage is sketchy–a father somewhere, a mother who was also a singer. The protagonist, the owner of a “singing flower” shop, cannot deny his attraction to her but has reservations regarding her motives and character, as he’s observed her cheating at i-Go, a form a “slow” chess. Despite his misgivings, they engage in an awkward date, after which she is drawn into a singing contest with the Khan-Arachnid orchid, the mightiest of the flowers in his shop. After their showdown, during which the orchid grows to nine feet, the orchid dies. She disappears, but he knows she’s out there somewhere, still playing nightclubs, still cheating at i-Go.
Comments: Read in Best of the Best. Recalls works by Brackett, perhaps Moore, perhaps for the setting, the use of the femme fatale, and the plant imagery. Perhaps interesting for the intensity of the protagonist’s discomfort and his immediate distrust of the Other; for the portrayal of her “alien” body and its uncertain origins; and the ambiguous and adversarial relationship with the mysterious orchid.
This story is part of Ballard’s Vermillion Sands collection; each story takes place is the resort town, a locale Ballard described as celebrating “the neglected virtues of the lurid, glossy and bizarre.” (Wikipedia) “Each story concentrates on different media – in some cases more than one – and most of them focus on a particular innovative, usually rather decadent/baroque twist on an existing artistic medium.” (Wikipedia)
Everything is Nice comments that it appears to be Ballard’s first published story. It contains his familiar tropes, including a group of “middle-class” individuals idling away their time in a “hermetic” environment resembling a California beach resort, trapped in a Burroughs-like boredom.
Author: Wikipedia: “James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction” and the author of Crash. There are several blogs devoted to Ballard’s fiction, including Ballardian and J. G. Ballard’s short stories.