Answer the (bold) follow up question(s) about the attached essay. Answer does not need to be more than a couple of paragraphs.
I think â€œBillenniumâ€ is a classic example of extrapolation in SF. Extrapolation, if you recall, is about asking what will happen if this or that trend goes on unchecked into the future. In conceiving his story, Ballard has basically just taken the history of population growth and urbanization and asked, â€œIf this goes on, what will the world be like?â€ If the population continues to increase, he reasons, then there will be less and less land for people to live on, a process that will be accelerated because more and more land will need to be set aside to grow food for the increasing population. Then Ballard does the math, which leads directly to the world of ever-shrinking living spaces in â€œBillennium.â€
The thing about trends, however, is that they donâ€™t always continue unchecked. Often, a trend will continue only to the point where it starts to generate forces that begin to â€œcheckâ€ or oppose it. If population growth starts putting too much of a squeeze on living space, people will be more willing to devote more of their money to buying/renting bigger places; investors will see this as an opportunity and start building taller and taller apartment buildings; and thus the trend toward smaller living spaces will stall out. Or maybe, as land values rise, farmers will be incentivized to use more intensive farming methods that produce more food using less acreage, so that they can then make some extra money by selling off some of their land to real-estate developers. These things have a way of balancing out, especially when new technologies enable the development of things like super-high-rise buildings and ever-more-intensive agriculture. Whether there are any absolute limits on population growth seems to be an open question.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by contrast, does not strike me as based on the extrapolation or â€œif this goes onâ€ model. Rather it seems to me to be based on the idea that â€œhistory repeats itself.â€ If colonists settle on the moon, then maybe theyâ€™ll start to be treated by Earth the way the American colonists were treated by the British, and then thereâ€™ll be an independence movement and revolution. This is not about an ever-worsening trend, which basically presupposes an understanding of history as *linear* (continuing along the same line or trend), but about a *cyclical* understanding of history, a repeating pattern.
For your followup question, let me ask you to think about this distinction between linear and cyclical views of history. Itâ€™s often said that the modern, western view of history is linear. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are essentially linear; they hold that the world was created, and then history moves from one stage to another toward a predetermined end (apocalypse and redemption). Thereâ€™s also the secular western view of technological and political progress, in which, overall, things steadily get better: more freedom, better medicine, etc.
By contrast, many nonwestern cultures see history as cyclical. Instead of steadily getting better or worse, a cycle of basic stages repeats itself over and over through time.
FWIW, I think that basic human experience provides a basis for both views. Each of us is born, grows older, and eventually dies: this is linear. But this linear pattern of birth-growth-death is repeated over and over by each successive generation, which is cyclical. Even within our own lifetimes, we see the repeating cycle of winter-spring-summer-fall, which is the basis for other cyclical rhythms in our life:
â€” back to school, fall semester, winter break, spring semester, summer vacation
â€” football season, basketball season, baseball season
â€” Christmas, New Yearâ€™s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving
The key here is that (1) an individualâ€™s experience of life is both linear and cyclical, (2) a cultureâ€™s underlying sense of history can be either linear or cyclical (or some combination of both), and (3) these facts seem to be reflected in the plots of SF.
So, do you see cyclical and/or linear worldviews at work in any other Science Fiction works?
P.S. Thereâ€™s a political dimension to all this stuff. The cyclical view is in many ways compatible with political conservatism (in the broad sense of â€œconservatismâ€ as the view that we should â€œconserveâ€ the way things are rather than trying to radically change society). And the linear view is in many ways consistent with liberalism. Iâ€™ll leave it to you to think about why this is the case.