I am looking for what I remember as a short story probably written in the 1970s or earlier which was set in a future where living space was at a premium.

What I recall (may not be accurate) is that people paid for the living space based on the size of their rooms/apartments, and the statement that it was usually difficult to measure the floor space so measuring the ceiling area had become common practice as a substitute, but that from this was the practice of building rooms where the walls sloped such that the ceiling area was actually larger than the floor to get more money from the occupier.

At some point in the story the protagonist discovers a large forgotten empty (liveable) space possibly hidden behind a wall, possibly from an earlier time such as a period of energy shortage when it had been closed off to save energy.

Does anyone know what this story title is?

1 Answer 1


"Billenium" by J. G. Ballard (ISFDB), published first in New Worlds Science Fiction (#112 November 1961):

The story is set in the future ... where the world is becoming increasingly overpopulated, with a population of around 20 billion .... In the city inhabited by the two protagonists, John Ward and Henry Rossiter, there is a mass shortage of space and the people live in small cellular rooms where they are charged by ceiling space, the legal maximum decreasing to 3.5 square metres (38 sq ft) per person....

Ward lives in a future dystopian with his close friend, Rossiter .... The story revolves around Ward and Rossiter's combined discovery of a secret, larger-than-average room adjacent to their rented cubicle....

Search terms of science fiction short story apartment measured by ceiling area

  • Nice job! I thought it was "Roommates", a shorter version of "Make Room! Make Room!" but you are obviously correct. Oct 11, 2017 at 1:47
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    Thank you. It is perhaps a reflection of the type of things I usually search for or read that I did not find this earlier when I searched.
    – Mick
    Oct 11, 2017 at 2:09
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    "Billennium" is not in Amazing Stories V36N1 Jan. 1962 which has instead a completely different Ballard story "The Insane Ones". The story "Billennium" was actually first published in New Worlds Science Fiction #112 November 1961 which is available at the Internet Archive.
    – user14111
    Oct 11, 2017 at 2:53
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    I was getting ready to post my own answer but you beat me to it. Well done. Maybe I would have found it faster if it had occurred to me to do a Google search. But no, the hell with that. my soul is worth more to me than some fake internet points.
    – user14111
    Oct 11, 2017 at 3:02
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    It's funny, I read this story years before I started working and years later, a coworker came into my office and looked at the ceiling -- I discovered he was counting ceiling tiles to compare our office space. I just now made the connection.
    – Jeff
    Oct 11, 2017 at 18:22

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