Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Billenium

Book Review: 'Billenium' by J. G. Ballard

4 / 5 Stars

‘Billenium’ (159 pp) was published in 1962 by Berkley; the cover art is by Richard Powers.

The stories compiled in this anthology all saw print previously during the interval from 1956 – 1962 in various UK and USA science fiction magazines.

All of the stories in this collection, however engaging (or not), are clearly miles ahead of anything else being published in the genre during the early 60s. Those other writers who received praise at that time for their ‘literary’ qualities, such as James Blish with his ‘Cities in Flight’ novels, are mediocre by comparison. Ballard’s writings, while always understated and subtle – in the British sf tradition – display a use of language, setting, plot, and atmosphere that seem relevant and timely even today, more than 50 years later.

As well, the theme of entropy – although it was never disclosed as such – permeates many of these stories, giving them an imaginative flavor that other sf writers wouldn’t come to adopt until the end of the decade.

A brief summary of the contents:

Billenium: still one of the best Overpopulation stories ever written.

The Insane Ones: in the future, psychiatry is outlawed.

Studio Five, The Stars: a ‘Vermilion Sands’ story set in that entropy-laden resort. A dull tale about the editor of a magazine that publishes poetry written by computer; there is trouble when the computer breaks.

The Gentle Assassin: still one of the best time-travel stories ever written.

Build-Up: in a city that spans the entire planet, a young man searches for empty space to cure his anomie.

Now Zero: the narrator relates his efforts to find the perfect way to seize power from an unsuspecting populace. A ‘trick’ ending.

Mobile (aka Venus Smiles): a piece of abstract sculpture displays unusual properties.

Chronopolis: offbeat story about a dystopian future in which the regimentation introduced by the discovery of clocks and time-keeping has been overthrown, replaced by decay and aimlessness.

Prima Belladonna: another Vermilion Sands story, this one also rather dull: a mysterious woman upsets the social order among the Sands residents.

The Garden of Time: another offbeat, inventive story; this one about a couple who confront impending disaster with grace and style. One of the best sf stories Ballard wrote.

The verdict ? While the 'Vermilion Sands' stories are the weaker entries, the good quality of the other stories make this collection well worth searching for.


Will Errickson said...

My favorite Ballard is his novel THE UNLIMITED DREAM COMPANY, one that doesn't get brought up much when he's discussed. Years ago I was fairly obsessed with CRASH, ATROCITY EXHIBITION, HIGH-RISE, etc. I haven't read anything by him that wasn't less than brilliant, and I think your comments on him here are spot on!

sciencefictionruminations said...

I am continually impressed with Ballard's work -- this collection included.

High-Rise and The Drowned World are darn good -- want to read Concrete Island...