Psychotropic Environment

The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista

/part of the short-story collection by JG Ballard – Vermilion Sands published 1971/

Set in an imaginary vacation resort called Vermilion Sands – the fully automated desert-resort ready to fulfil your most exotic whims now the place languishes in uneasy decay, populated only by forgotten movie queens, solitary impresarios and the remittance men of the artistic and literary world.

In his short story ‘Thousand Dreams of Stellavista’, JG Ballard’s depicts uncanny visions of ‘smart houses’  /custom-built molecule by molecule of memory cells/ , designed to resonate perfectly with its owners’ lifestyle. This peculiar type of house is entitled Psychotropic (ethymologically: that is stimulated by the mind). However as a typical example of JG Ballard’s near future scenario – its plot is saturated with technological degeneration and psychological disintegration of it’s characters.

The narrative is based on a couple’s choice for a new house which walls were still ‘soaked’ with the memories of its previous owners. The feeling of anguish and misfortunate faith of a murdered husband were still encrypted in the house’s memory cells which resonate with the psyche of its new owners and leads to series of glitches in their behaviour.

Quoted here are some possible outcomes in relation to that:

‘It’s always interesting to watch a psychotropic house try to adjust itself to strangers, particularly those at all guarded or suspicious. The responses vary, a blend of past reactions to negative emotions, the hostility of the previous tenants, a traumatic encounter with a bailiff or burglar (though both these usually stay well away from PT houses; the dangers of an inverting balcony or the sudden deflatus of a corridor are too great).’

‘…many people believe that PT buildings are still given unnecessarily subtle memories and are far too sensitive – there’s the apocryphal story of the millionaire of plebian origins who was literally frozen out of a million-dollar mansion he had bought from an aristocratic family. The place had been trained to respond to their habitual rudeness and bad temper, and reacted discordantly when readjusting itself to the millionaire, unintentionally parodying his soft- spoken politeness.’

‘But although the echoes of previous tenants can be intrusive, this naturally has its advantages. Many medium-priced PT homes resonate with the bygone laughter of happy families, the relaxed harmony of a successful marriage. It was something like this that I wanted for Fay and myself. In the previous year our relationship had begun to fade a little, and a really well-integrated house with a healthy set of reflexes – say, those of a prosperous bank president and his devoted spouse – would go a long way towards healing the rifts between us’


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