Book #76: High Rise

If you’ve ever wanted to know what clan/class wars would look like in a futuristic society, you should read J.G. Ballard’s High Rise.

Ballard’s book has a really cool premise. In a futuristic but not-so-futuristic society, a luxurious high-rise building descends into chaos. The high rise has everything its tenants could possibly want: grocery stores, schools, a pool, a gym, and more. Its tenants range from the rich and powerful, living in penthouses at the top, to the middle class workers inhabiting the middle block of floors, to the lower classes who live in the first block of floors.

Everything in the high rise arranges itself around this social hierarchy. The higher up in the building you live, the closer to the building you get to park and the more rights you have. Society functions normally in this building…until it doesn’t anymore.

A series of mechanical failures, power outages, and maintenance issues begins to wear on everybody’s nerves. Eventually, life descends into anarchy. Skirmishes break out between classes, people try and ascend the social ladder by forcibly inhabiting apartments on higher floors, and the high rise becomes increasingly isolated from the outside world.

The most interesting thing about High Rise is how nobody ever thinks to alert the authorities. As conditions in the high rise get worse and worse, few of the characters consider leaving. Instead they develop into clans, based loosely on the class and floor system that used to hold the building together. Multiple times, different characters consider leaving the building or alerting the authorities. They prefer instead to accept the warfare and hardship and struggle to survive. In fact, as the violence and anarchy progress, they even come to embrace and enjoy the primitive struggles.

At its core, High Rise is a book about human nature: what happens when societal norms break down, when people are freed from social conventions and social construct? It’s a sort of ultra-modern Lord of the Flies. And it’s really cool.

If you’re looking at a different take on human nature and society’s role in keeping us all civilized and together, I definitely recommend Ballard’s High Rise.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Elective Affinities

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