Book Review: The World Inside by Robert Silverberg
Hundreds of years in the future, Earth society has dealt with the population crisis by discovering the ability to build Urban Monads (urbmons). Each building is 1,000 stories and houses around 880,000 people. This vertical hive living has allowed for most of the land to be farmland, managed by communes still living in the traditional horizontal style. It’s a beautiful day in Urbmon 116, and we’ll get to meet people from each level of the city from artistic San Francisco to academic Shanghai to ruling Louisville. Their lives of enforced zero privacy, no locked doors, mandatory acceptance of sexual requests from anyone of age, and a reverence for fertility resulting in uncontrolled population growth present a unique social situation. An academic wonders if humanity has forcibly evolved itself to naturally enjoy the Urbmon lifestyle or if it is a cultural influence forced upon them. Maybe these next few days will help him tell.
This book is such a creative imagining of a possible future, one I certainly never had thought of. Silverberg approaches his storytelling by at first making it seem as if we will be exposed to a series of vignettes about the inhabitants of Urbmon 116, but then their interconnection suddenly becomes apparent as the dual climaxes approach. I was certainly not bored with the vignette portion as the society of the Urbmon is so interesting, but the interconnection moved it from being an interesting book to a powerful book.
The World Inside is a look at what would happen if the most fundamentalist pro-lifers were to win the majority and gain great power. There is no birth control, every fetus conceived is brought to childhood (although the gender may be manipulated to maintain a balance). Interestingly, in order for this pro-life construct to gain power, they also had to make concessions to the free love folks. Everyone gets married at a very young age, but there is no such thing as sexual loyalty. People are encouraged to nightwalk–leave their own abode at some point after midnight and enter another apartment and have sex with one of the adults there. Often the husband or wife will stay in the room in spite of the sex going on in the same bed as them with their spouse. This is explained as a necessary way to maintain harmony in the building. It is intriguing to see such a lack of regard for parental loyalty to each other in a society that encourages so much procreation, yet it all makes sense.
That is really what makes this such a strong book. It’s such a plausible future, given the proper circumstances, that it gives chills, and yet Silverberg still shows the basic humanity in these people, stuck in a culture, a society that they have little to no control over. If they fail to fit into the social constructs at all, they are simply put down the chute–killed and used as fuel for the building. There is no room for real discourse or exploration of where they may have gone wrong. It’s a social construct that happened out of necessity due to humanity’s refusal to stop procreating so much. They gave up all their other freedoms for that one. Even the freedom to chose to be monogamous if you want. It is such an emotional, thought-provoking warning gong. It’s definitely a book I will hold onto and re-read.
If you enjoy scifi, dystopias, or philosophical explorations of the human condition, you will definitely enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.
5 out of 5 stars