I first read this story while I was studying architecture at university and it made the whole thing feel redundant. It showed me that rather than design buildings you can just see the ones that already exist in a different way—Perec came next, intensifying the realisation. It’s still building and the best way to do it is by writing.
My copy of this story, in War Fever, is littered with so many notes that it runs the risk of sprouting a novel. It came later in Ballard’s writing career when the stories got better by dispensing with narrative in a more traditional sense, and the premise is simple: one morning a man decides not to leave his suburban home. The fallout is anything but, domestic space is a desert island traversed by a lone explorer, the house dilating with psychological proximity and distance, between agoraphobia and claustrophobia. The result is mesmerising, a mix between Caspar David Friedrich and potholing.
Nobody else has demonstrated so powerfully how the imagination can remake the world, while also showing that utopias can only really exist in our own heads, and it’s in there where they can quickly turn on us. Dali invented The Paranoid Critical Method but Ballard did it better.
First published in Interzone, 1989, and collected in War Fever, Collins 1990, and the Complete Short Stories Vol 2, Fourth Estate, 2014