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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Analysis of “Billenium” by J. G. Ballard

First appeared in New Worlds. Reprinted a dozen and a half times (some major retrospectives) by Amabel Williams-Ellis, Mably Owen, Edmund Crispin, Damon Knight, Edmund Crispin, Richard Curtis, Rob Sauer, Robert Silverberg, Martin H. Greenberg, John W. Milstead, Joseph D. Olander, Patricia S. Warrick, Bernard C. Hollister, Ralph S. Clem, Sheila Schwartz, V. S. Muravyev, Malcolm Edwards, Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Tom Shippey, Edel Brosnan, and John Joseph Adams.

Rather ingeniously if dismally plotted.  In a world overpopulated--well over 20 billion--a pair of friends luckily live in a 4.5 square meter cubicle, if understairs. Minimum is four.  However, they hear it will soon be 3.5.  They debate this but the trump argument was that people could not live in four.  Soon they and girlfriends lose apartments.  The boys move into a broom closet.  At this nadir, they discover an unoccupied room of fifteen square meters!  Soon they invite the girls to live with them, who in turn invite family, etc. until...

Beautiful story construction:  crush protagonists, reprieve, and crush again.  Misery compounded until... they have a secret room all to their own, we breathe a sigh of relief for these gentlemen.  An average room invokes a sense of wonder for the reader as we boggle at its comparative enormousness.  Then their generosity puts them in the same fix they started off with.  There's a note of optimism at the end, but is it intended ironically?  I suspect so.  Ballard may have seen this as frogs accustoming themselves to life in a slowly cooking pot.  It's little wonder that Ballard was disliked by those who prefer the triumph of human spirit.

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