In these strange times it’s difficult to know what is dystopian fiction and what was merely prescient. Ballard is a masterful writer of worlds that almost seem true and yet couldn’t really happen, or maybe they could?
‘Kingdom Come’ is a story of a middle aged man, Richard Pearson, at a rudderless point in his life going to follow up the mysterious death of his father, shot in a shopping mall in a satellite town on the outskirts of London. It appears his father was the victim of a mental patient but Pearson begins to question this as he fails to get answers from the shopping mall managers, the police or his solicitor who all seem keen for him to go back to London. Intrigued by his father’s collection of books on the Third Reich and the activities of the sports clubs, dressed in England shirts who victimise the homes and businesses of immigrant families. It starts to go very dark as shopping and fascism seem to be two faces of the consumerist coin and life in the shopping mall becomes a military siege.
Interestingly, reading reviews about this book when it came out it was criticised as being based on ideas rather than characters. Though in the present time, that feels like less of a criticism.
‘Violence is the true poetry of governments’; ‘Think of the future as a cable TV programme going on for ever.’
Ballard shows how fascism takes hold, through identifying with a group, finding a uniform, in this case St. George’s shirts, and finding an enemy, someone to blame for the problems whilst putting hope for the future in an endless viewing of TV adds and buying things for reassurance of one’s own value. Consumerism is the only religion.
Possibly the most chilling fact in the book is that the narrator, Pearson, is an advertising man, a spin doctor, constantly reworking the narrative, at times into a whirling distortion of truth and ‘alternative facts’. When the novel was written in 2006 spin doctors were criticised for distorting the truth, Ballard suggests they actually create their own reality.
This is not a great novel or the finest dystopian read but it is strikingly timely. It is a view of what might happen if spin doctors tell the story, does it matter who writes history?