This article is the first one of a short series I will do about the worlds dramatized by science fiction which gives me the opportunity to create a new category ‘science fiction‘ on the blog which already counts 42 articles.
To describe those worlds, we can use the notion of dystopia, thus following Liam Young’s example, but what is important to consider with these future situations that appear to us as horrible is that they only consist in the exacerbation of the present ones. In other words, the present as we experience it could probably be described in a narrative read in a ‘better world’ (following Philip K. Dick’s belief for the existence of other worlds) and appear as particularly horrible.
The first chapter of this series will explore four worlds dramatizing over-populated cities which offers a new look at the way we inhabit our urban environment. Those four worlds are depicted in the two short stories, The Concentration City and Billennium by James Graham Ballard, in the graphic novel L’Origine by Marc-Antoine Mathieu and in the film Soylent Green directed by Richard Felischer.
The Concentration City (1957) and Billennium (1962) are two short stories written by James Graham Ballard who describes in them two situations that could actually belong to the same world. While the first one depicts an infinite dense city in which ‘free space’ and ‘non-functional space’ are considered as oxymoron and impossible to fathom, the second one dramatized a urban code which forbids anybody to live in more than 3.5 square meters (38 sq ft). In The Concentration City, the main character travels East in a train looking for the free space that would allow him to test his flying invention and realized after several days spent in this train that he came back to his departure point both in space (coming from the West) and in time (the day he came back is the same day that he left). In Billenium the two protagonists finds few extra square meters hidden behind a wall that they use as a clandestine shelter before realizing that they re-created the same density that they were originally running away from.
Those two short stories probably inspired graphic novel author Marc-Antoine Mathieu (see previous articles about Dead Memory and La Qu…) in his invention of incredible Kafkaian worlds which take their philosophical thickness in the systematic questioning of the media they exist in (the graphic novel itself). In L’Origine (unfortunately never translated in English), MA.Mathieu depicts a city in which the streets are so densely populated that the skills to extract yourself from the crowd to reach the building you would like to enter are recognized as a daily need of survival.
This scene was my first encounter with MA.Mathieu’s genius (thank you Martin Le Bourgois) few years ago. The Dalenvert brothers seems to own a very spacious apartment in this extremely dense city. Suddenly they stop their discussion and run to push every furniture on the side and open the wood floor before standing themselves on the edge of the void, as next page reveals that their apartment is actually in the middle of the elevator shaft. The caption reads that they have to accomplish this extreme ‘ceremonial’ up to sixty times a day ! Back in the days of boiteaoutils, Martin linked this scene to an actual one on a market in Bangkok that the train periodically cross.
The last example for this article is found in Richard Fleisher‘s Soylent Green (1973) in which the millions of people living in the proletarian district (separated by a wall to the bourgeois district) sleep in churches, cars and building staircases.
The agora is over-crowded as well and when a demonstration is about to start, the police uses bulldozers to arrest people considering the dense mass of bodies as a unique material to evacuate.
(spoiler below, you might want to stop here if you want to watch the film for the first time)
The government offers euthanasia to people who desires to die with a last pleasant moment as the volunteers can watch a short film about the world from before before receiving a lethal injection. What the main character discovers, however, is that the cadavers are then brought to a gigantic factory in which they are transformed in the food that is given to the proletariat, the ‘soylent green’ which gives the title to the movie.