Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cocaine Nights

J. G. Ballard

I came to this one by unusual patterns, the title was mentioned in a grad seminar discussion about a month ago, in the context of immigration and organizing capitalist communities. I had checked out a collection of Ballard's short stories at that time, the title and desription of the main premise stuck in my mind and I eventually followed up on it. I'm glad I did, it impressed me a lot more than any of his short fiction did. The story concerns the protagonist investigating a small leisure community after his brother is accused of arson. It soon becomes an examination of a community consciously united by its crime, and the way it seeks to spread a form of meaning and activism through that.

The main plot is a bit obvious in some ways, but it's very well interesting and has great measure of its characters and its main premise. The first hundred pages are a bit of an overview, poking around at the edges of the town with a sinister element looming in. Then in the last two thirds different levels of the facade are pulled back, and the slow growth of psychological tension is quite strong. The main premise is an interesting one, as sociological SF goes, and the picture of crime as the ultimate promotive factor for a fragmented community is worth reflecting on. The sociological portrayal makes a power explicit statement on the issues of community and its lack in modern consumer capitalism. In some ways it parallels the approach of Greed, although with less intensity and from a whole diferent basis of imagination. Here, by critiquing the critique of our modern condition the story delivers a powerful argument for the fluidity and dysfunction in our collective lives. It’s politics as text, but in a fashio that manages to be thoroughly unpolemic and overall a well-stylized and very entertaining novel.

Better than: Polystom by Adam Roberts
Worse than: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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