Ballard is known as a dark, even morbid prober of the psyche: and certainly is, and already was in these stories (the first one is his first published work; the others span the period of the “catastrophic” novels).
But he is also at his dandy-est here, creating a glitzy and artsy resort, a sort of Cannes in the golden Sixties. The atmosphere is exactly like that: fine arts, movie stars, decayed (or not) aristocracy, still in the same world; it is not easy today to take for granted such a carefree attitude, nor everybody would remember Soraya, the gorgeous but unhappy first wife of the Shah of Persia, or other past celebrities.. there is even a living-dresses shop called Topless in Gaza! So laid-back is the characters’ lifestyle that they suffer of “beach fatigue”..
Each story features: a different art form of the future, often the technological evolution of a present art (sonic statues, cloud-sculpting, singing flowers..); a "Belle dame sans merci", who revels in it, usually scheming for revenge on a lover who deserted her; the main character, lured into her enchanted mansion, having a more or less dangerous crush on her.. Within this scheme, JGB weaves romances imbued with decadentism and irony, ranging from the psychoanalytical nightmare of Screen game to the humorous slapstick of Prima Belladonna.
While these femmes fatales are faithful quotations of pre-raffaellite beauties come alive, the landscape of red dunes, cerise crags, rocky ledges is an original and haunting creation: a backdrop for the subconscious, reminiscing of Ernst and Dali, which provides a different, fitting facet to each story.
Ballard here is creating the aesthetic language and tools he will be using later on in his deeper work, that is the novels; here, a somewhat lighter, more enjoyable tone is used.
In time, the stories take on darker tones: ”Beside me, near the derelict bar, stood one of the beachcombers. His dead clothes hung on his muscular body like the husk of a violated fruit. The oil on his dark chest lit up his drug-filled eyes, giving his broken face a moment of lucid calm”. The beginning of Say goodbye to the wind might be by Delany.
There is even a story with a double-final, first tragic, then farcical: Studio5, the stars, maybe the richest story in themes. Poetry has become just a matter of programming word-processors; but a poetess, believing herself the reincarnation of a Greek goddess (to whom a young shepherd was sacrified..), surrounded by enchanted sand-rays wherever she goes, is bent on reviving the old, manual ways; no matter what will be necessary to persuade the modern poets..
The last story, The thousand dreams of Stellavista, is a melancholy anti-climax, the feeling of the end: no more genius artists and deranged heiresses, but a bourgeois couple, torn apart by the memories of a dead actress, still living in her biological, adaptable house..
Were I to pick a perfect sample of this collection, it would be Cry Hope, cry Fury! Here landscape, romance, futuristic art blend perfectly. The setting is a rock island in the sea of sand; the futuristic art, “spontaneous” portraits done with adapting paints (also literature is called upon, via a quotation from the Ancient Mariner, to whom the main character, having needlessly shot a sand-ray, is compared); the “dark lady” will rescue him from shipwreck, then have him sit for a portrait with her, but she will become finally deranged at what the portrait will reveal..