Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The World Inside

by Robert Silverberg


Imagine spending your entire life in the same building, and never leaving. And imagine being happy about it. The world we live in seems crowded, The World Inside depicts a future with a population of 75 billion people, expanding rapidly. Most of these people live in urban monads (urbmons), vast tower blocks reaching 3km into the air and housing thousands.

Robert Silverberg's vision sees the sexual revolution continue unchecked. People may still marry, but free love is enshrined in law, to the extent that to refuse a sexual liaison is considered "unblessworthy". So one of the reasons for the high population levels is this promiscuity, but that's not the whole story. There is also an extraordinary reverence for fertility that sees contraceptives banned and women encouraged to bear as many children as possible. Indeed, having more children is considered a virtue.

The citizens of Urbmon 116 view their world as a utopia, a society where strict adherence to rules allows everyone to live in peace. Aurea Holston is so attached to it that she's terrified of being sent to another urbmon, and is on the verge of going "flippo".

Anyone who is violent, unco-operative, regularly refuses sex or breaks any of the norms of this society, is considered flippo. Flippos are summarily executed by being tossed down a chute, their bodies burnt for fuel. Problem solved.

We see this world from various points of view, through the interconnecting lives of the inhabitants. Dillon Chrimes is a musician in a cosmos group, the sort of bohemian type to regularly indulge in mind-altering drugs that seem to be available to everyone on tap. There's little consideration for the consequences of drug-taking, and it's as if many of the usual rules we live our lives by have been turned on their head. Doors are left open since everything belongs to everyone else. Although people marry, often as early as 12 or 13, it's more of a formality and there is meant to be no possessiveness over wives and husbands.

Jason Quevedo is a historian who theorises that the different kind of living has led to a new breed of man. But not everyone fits into the new mould. There are those, such as Michael Statler, who can't wait to get out and see what has become of the outside world.

This is a claustrophobic novel that appears to be leading up to a great escape. But the main focus is on life within the building, and exactly what is wrong with it. There are a lot of sexual scenes and characters are copulating like bonobos, but there's very little romance. This is no love story. It's very clear that it was written before AIDS came along and reminded us why we have sexual taboos in the first place. This is conceptual science fiction rather than a personal story, and it deals in big ideas. Unfortunately there are a few holes in these ideas. Thanks to the communist ideal of sharing all possessions, status is instead conferred by one's position in the building: the higher the better. But people can just walk wherever they like anyway. Food is abundant and children are very low-maintenance thanks to technology, but cost and time are not the only things that keep women from reproducing. The unquestioning acceptance of the way things are and lack of all curiousity just doesn't ring true in many ways. The people of Robert Silverberg's 24th century have alienated their human nature to the extent that their personalities are barely recognisable to us.

Nevertheless this is a thought-provoking read that highlights the difficult position for those who fall between the gaps of a society, and paints a dystopian picture of some of the most dreamy ideals of the 20th century.

Book Details

Decade: 1970s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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