The imminent release of a Ben Wheatley’s film of this novel led me to re reading “High Rise”for the first time since its original publication in 1975.
“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
These are the opening lines of the book, so from the start you know that things have not gone to plan for this new, exclusive tower block development in the derelict docklands east of the City.
The disintegration of life in the block is examined through the viewpoints of three main characters, the architect of the block living in a penthouse suite, a doctor midway up the block and a film maker on the lower levels. Though you could make a strong case for the block itself as a main character. You will however, look in vain for any credible female characters, they are just not there.
The separate “levels” soon turn against each other as the building seems to engender a malign influence on its new inhabitants. Ballard has written an enthralling dystopian novel, which was a lot better than I remembered, with beautiful descriptions of the building and its natural surroundings as it slowly disintegrates into chaos and anarchy. His genius is in making us believe in this story as bit by bit the inner space of the tower becomes for its inhabitants the only true reality that they can acknowledge.
Robinson is a long way from earth, however some of the same issues affecting the tower block in “High Rise” rear their heads in this tale of human spacefaring. A generation star ship has been sent from Saturn out to the Tau Ceti system to colonise a planet’s moon, an Earth analog, named Aurora. The story is mainly narrated by the ships AI, which gives a fascinating insight into the “humans” in its charge. Here we don’t have “levels” but separate “biomes” that diverge and clash over the missions goal. This is a tightly plotted novel with excellent characters – and in contrast to the Ballard, excellent female main characters – facing up to terrible decisions as they move towards Tau Ceti. It had me hooked and enthralled to the end.