Dystopia In Forty Stories

Despite the conventional narrative of Empire of the Sun, Ballard is probably better known for the science fiction slant in his fiction, especially related to future, generally dystopian, societies.

His novel, High-Rise (I. G. H. in Europe) is the distillation of many elements of a dystopian future into a single high-rise building. The idea is good, although not that original (although a decidedly different and vastly superior novel, make sure you read Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual [La Vie mode d’emploi]). Ballard envisions a cluster of self-contained forty story condominiums, one of which is the focus of the novel.

High-Rise is the story of the breakdown of a structured society and the violence and chaos that ensues.


First, the building itself is segregated by wealth and notoriety. As the society breaks down, the lower floors are the first to be attacked due to their lesser status but as the internal conflict continues and normal services are shut-off or broken, the lower levels begin to rebel against the privileged higher levels. Ballard asks: How would the inhabitants of an essentially closed society deal with the loss of services—food, electricity, water? It’s no Lord of the Flies but there’s plenty of violence and chaos.

Using the single building as a microcosm of the future breakdown of society is fine but Ballard doesn’t carry it beyond the level of a dime-store thriller. If Irwin Allen were alive he’d snap it up and turn it into a block buster movie (or maybe only a movie-of-the-week). My biggest complaint about High-Rise is that it contains too many holes in the logic of the situation. I would expect that an author such as Larry Niven could have taken the theme and created a totally believable, even if fantastic, world.

Not that I hold Larry Niven in too high an esteem.

Wikipedia provides and good list of J. G. Ballard’s works:

The Wind from Nowhere (1961)
The Drowned World (1962)
The Burning World (1964; also The Drought, 1965)
The Crystal World (1966)
The Atrocity Exhibition (1970, also Love and Napalm: Export USA, 1972)
Crash (1973)
Concrete Island (1974)
High Rise (1975)
The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)
Hello America (1981)
Empire of the Sun (1984)
The Day of Creation (1987)
Running Wild (1988)
The Kindness of Women (1991)
Rushing to Paradise (1994)
Cocaine Nights (1996)
Super-Cannes (2000)
Millennium People (2003)
Kingdom Come (2006)


Short Story Collections
The Voices of Time and Other Stories (1962)
Billennium (1962)
Passport to Eternity (1963)
The Four-Dimensional Nightmare (1963)
The Terminal Beach (1964)
The Impossible Man (1966)
The Overloaded Man (1967)
The Disaster Area (1967)
The Day of Forever (1967)
Vermilion Sands (1971)
Chronopolis and Other Stories (1971)
Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories (1976)
The Best of J. G. Ballard (1977)
The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (1978)
The Venus Hunters (1980)
Myths of the Near Future (1982)
The Voices of Time (1985)
Memories of the Space Age (1988)
War Fever (1990)
The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard (2001)
The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard: Volume 1 (2006)
The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard: Volume 2 (2006)
The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (2009)

A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews (1996)
Miracles of Life (autobiography; 2008)

Oh, they made a movie out of High Rise a couple of years back. I haven’t seen it.

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