“Build-up,” J.G. Ballard, 1957 – (Alternate title: “Concentration City“) Overpopulation in the future has led to such building density that an aspiring aircraft designer and physics student, Franz, can’t find enough “free space” to “re-discover” the concept of flight. He takes a high-speed train through the metropolis, checking the price of space at each stop, in a desperate attempt to locate an area where space might be found.
While riding the train, he reflects on his society and its incurious and complacent citizenry. He muses that to them everything that has been built is of course present and obvious; they are enmeshed in their environment, unwilling to leave the small, assigned territories of necessity. They can’t conceive of anything else but life in the City, partly because they can’t recall what was there before. Concepts such as flight have been forgotten. Even the founding of the city–its Foundation stone or first brick–is shrouded in myth. The idea that the City might have bounds, floating in the middle of nowhere, is nonsensical. Instead, some believe that the City stretches on forever, without limits, while others contend that there is a Wall.
He begins to suspect that the train is now traveling in the opposite direction, but he’s unable to confirm this. After being captured for riding on the train without a proper ticket, Franz is sent to a surgeon, who sympathizes with his dream yet still intends to send him to a psychiatrist. While in his office, Franz discovers that after riding the train for at least ten days it is still the 12th of August, the date of his departure.
Comments: Themes of sprawl, endless city, religion, time, quest, dream, invention, memory, myth. Read in Connoisseur’s SF.
Author: Wikipedia: “James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction” and the author of Crash. There are several blogs devoted to Ballard’s fiction, including Ballardian and J. G. Ballard’s short stories.