Tag Archives: dystopian

“High Rise” by J. G. Ballard

 

 

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Pages: 208

Published: 1975

Movie Released: April 28, 2016 in USA

 

 

High Rise is a horrific novel about a building that begins to have a strange hold over its residents.  The high rise is a virtual vertical city, with the higher levels representing higher social class status.  The building has it’s own school, restaurants, pools, grocery store.  The only reason for its’ residents to leave is to go to work.  The residents begin to throw louder and wilder parties and begin leaving the building less and less often to go to work.  Often if they do go, they rest at work for a few hours and then return to the high rise, or they may get to their car and then turn right around and go back to the high rise.   The parties turn to violence, vandalism, voyeurism, raiding, raping,  murder and cannibalism with the ultimate goal being survival of the fittest.  The characters become either checked out or fully engrossed in the “game” they are playing.   Although there is some hope they will get caught, no one ever bothers to call the police or seek outside help.  The men and women revert to hunter/gatherer roles.  The women seem banded together by the end and it appears the women have come out on top, however, no one really is a winner in this book.  Reading this novel from 1975 did not feel much like I had jumped back in time with the exception of the polaroid cameras and lack of cell phones/social media.  This novel was many things at once:  a horror story, a dystopian science fiction story,  and most impressively a chilling social commentary.   It  is a commentary on the psychological effects of modernization and technological advancement.  This advancement leads to an increasingly fragmented and socially insular society that yearns for more connectedness even if that connectedness is horrific. The writing was excellent and I look forward to watching the movie.  images-2

 

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Interestingly, J. G. Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) grew up in in Shanghai, which came under Japanese control in 1943.  He spent 2 years in an internment camp with his family.  Presumably this early exposure to the atrocities of war shaped his writing and the horror it contains.  In 1945, he returned to Britain with his mother and sister.  He began medical school in 1951 with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist, however, abandoned his medical studies 2 years later, to pursue a career in writing.  Since then, he led an incredibly interesting life with various twists and turns.  His wife and mother of his 3 children died young of pneumonia and he was left to raise 3 children.  He has had movies and television series made of his stories and novels.  He has influenced the genre of dystopian science fiction literature, art and music.  With the publication of “The Atrocity Exhibition,” there was an obscenity trial and in the United States, the publisher destroyed nearly all of the print.  He had become an icon with this work.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who ends up on top, the women or the men?
  2. How is this book a literal struggle to the top?
  3. How are the characters psychologically affected?  Why do they become that way?
  4. How do you think J. G. Ballard’s background affected his writing?
  5. Laing isn’t sure if what is happening is all in his head.  Could the building be a Freudian representation of himself?
  6. Debate which the better, the movie or the book?

Review at Fantasy Book Review

Book/Movie Comparison:

I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book.  I thought it had a similar dreamlike surreal quality to it.  The events occurring in the book are horrific and repulsive yet somehow, in both reading the book and watching the movie, I felt ok with it.  I was interested, intrigued, waiting for what was next, almost complicit in the act of chaos and abandon that the characters/actors demonstrate.

The movie rendition is mostly true to the book.  I did think that children figured more prominently in the movie than they had in the book.  It’s a movie that’s interesting to watch after reading the book and understanding the author, his background and the year in which it was written.  Given the graphic content contained within the movie, it is not a movie for everyone.  If you can stomach, I highly recommend watching it if you’ve read the book!

Review of the Film as published in The Telegraph

“The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood

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Pages: 308

Published:  September 29, 2015

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2015)

 

 

 

“Then he’s unconscious.  Then he stops breathing.  The heart goes last.”

A wacked, absurd novel that becomes obvious satire as the novel continues.  As I read this book, I initially took it very seriously, trying to connect with the characters, understand motives, etc.  However, by the end with the organ harvesting, blue bears knitting by inmates for the pedophiles, sexbots, green man group, Elvises and Marilyns it became obvious that the book is entirely satirical and meant to be comical.  It also serves as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for.”  Having someone who loves you only because she has had the laser treatment may not be so fulfilling and rewarding in the end.  Perhaps loving someone so completely is easier if you think you’ve had a brain surgery to make you do so.  This novel is very dark and makes you realize that the author believes we are heading as a society in a very unsavory direction.

I was so excited to embark on this novel after reading the premise:  a couple destitute in this futuristic world decides to sign up for “Consilience,”  a social experiment, where you spend alternate months in a prison and in a home with stable jobs within the confines of Positron.  Their relationship becomes strange and a whole lot of sex ensues, none of which is really sexy.  Their freedoms have been lost by joining this program and they have seemingly signed their own personalities away as well.  They become different, much more superficial in their needs and wants.  It’s almost as if having decisions made for them is appreciated, especially on Charmaine’s part.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood.  This is the 7th novel of hers that I’ve read and maybe my 6th or 7th favorite of them all.  She’s an excellent writer and this is humorous/chilling social commentary, but I just didn’t connect with it as well as I have some of her other novels.  I must give it images-2 even though it wasn’t one of my personal favorites of hers.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Charmaine continually alludes to her life preceding Grandma Win.  What do you think happened then?
  2. Why do you think Charmaine keeps quoting Grandma Win’s sayings?
  3. Why is Stan leery of getting involved with his brother, Conor, prior to entering Positron?
  4. What is the significance of the blue teddy bears?
  5. Why is it significant that Charmaine has an affair with one of their alternates?
  6. Why do you think Charmaine is willing to kill Stan?
  7. Why do you think Jocelyn coerces Stan to watch the tapes and have repeated sex with her?
  8. What do you think Jocelyn’s full agenda is?
  9. What kind of business do you think Jocelyn and Conor are in?
  10. Do you think Aurora and Phil are happy in the end?
  11. What do you make of Jocelyn’s information at the end to Charmaine for her one year wedding anniversary?  How do you think this will affect Stan and Charmaine’s marriage?
  12. How do you interpret the title?

New York Times Book Review

NPR’s Review of The Heart Goes Last