Ahhh, J.G.Ballard…one of my favourites authors. With the big screen adaptation of ‘High-Rise coming to our cinemas shortly and World Book Day trending, I thought I’d go back to Ballard’s ‘The Complete Short Stories, Volume 1.’ I’m currently halfway though ‘Volume 2,’ but there was one particular story in ‘Volume 1’ that has always stuck with me. That particular short story is ‘Chronopolis’, one of Ballard’s early short stories. It is a scintillating exploration of the meaning, use, and adaptation of ‘time.’ The plot unfolds in Ballard’s usual, cryptic manner, alike to the many ‘science fiction’ short stories he wrote earlier on in his career (and, in my opinion, some of his best work. Both volumes of short stories are full of treasures that are either prototypes for his later novels or one-off masterpieces.) In his own words, these short stories represent a ‘visionary present’, a term that can be applied to all of his novels. Yes, his earlier science fiction stories may involve tapes and spools, so are easy to ridicule with our knowledge of USB sticks, clouds, etc. But Ballard has always explored the ‘psychology’ of the future.
‘Chronopolis’ in particular embraces the definition of ‘visionary present.’ It’s set in a time with no time. Time has been virtually outlawed. The protagonist is a man obsessed with time, trying to elucidate its past significance. He’s on death row, but the main narrative is a flashback of his childhood. This path leads him to a familiar place, a rather obvious revelation but a necessary one. I don’t want to spoil things though! The story goes backwards and forwards in time, becoming almost as ‘timeless’ as the world it is describing. The metaphors, similes, sentence structure, etc are classic Ballard. They are unparalleled in modern fiction, abundant in uniqueness and peculiarity. His descriptions are intricately real yet absurdly surreal.
The story itself tapers off towards the end (perhaps the story could have been shorter), but the underlying theme is thought-provoking. And reading between the lines only enhances this feeling. One reason the story sticks out in my head is that my watch broke on the day I came to read it, therefore cementing the two events together in my mind. As a whole, ‘The Complete Stories, Volume 1’ only falters rarely. It’s the output of a man full of vigour and nearing the peak of his creativity. Other memorable shorts are ‘Zone of Terror’, ‘Mr F. is Mr; F’, and ‘Thirteen to Centaurus’, but trust me, these are only the zenith of a truly magnificent compendium.
VERDICT: 9/10. A great introduction to J.G. Ballard, and a great story of the ‘visionary present.’