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.
Searching through lists of unread texts I have squirreled away in my little library, I came across several unread pieces by an author I once loved greatly but hadn’t read in years and years: Ursula K. Le Guin. I actually discover Le Guin because she was the daughter of the anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber of Ishi fame (what, you don’t know all about Ishi, the last of his tribe who single-handedly waged war on the United States and later lived out his life in a San Francisco museum?).
Back in the sixties when Le Guin started being published, there was a youthful movement directed at getting closer to mankind’s roots and living in a more direct relationship with the earth and its bounty. It was a time of Diggers and Hippies and Communes and an emphasis on accepting responsibility for the whole earth. Le Guin’s imaginative fiction reflected these themes and became very popular.
There’s a lot to like in Zadie Smith’s award winning first novel, White Teeth: the characters are well drawn and cover a broad spectrum; the episodes are well constructed and often quite fun; the themes are all important and developed well; and the novel is that excellent blend of entertainment and understanding that makes for a good read and lasting impressions.
The characters vary from Bengali and Jamaican immigrants to working class Brits with an intellectual thrown in now and then. The episodes mostly take part in an England that is assimilating a great variety of new cultures. The time-sequence and multiple narrators bounce around a bit in order to insert the backstories and viewpoints of the characters but for the most part the narrative is never lost or confused.