5/5 (Near Perfect, a Masterpiece)
1972 Hugo Nomination for Best Novel, withdrawn (I suspect because Silverberg had another novel in the running that year, A Time of Changes)
Science fiction from the late 60s and early 70s dealing with overpopulation has always fascinated me (for example, John Brunner’s masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, 1969). Robert Silverberg’s brilliant The World Inside is no exception. His horrifically dark vision is emotionally uncompromising, beautiful, visceral, sensual, and although the end is ultimately predictable (the last fifth or so) the work remains one of my all-time favorites.
Silverberg’s earlier novel, Thorns (1967) started with a bang (a profusion of bizarre images, creepy individuals with unusual agendas, two tortured protagonists with horrific pasts…) and fizzled out completely at the half-way point. The World Inside starts with a similar whirlwind of fantastic images but does not let up, our characters frenetically lurching through claustrophobic hallways, copulating bodies, hordes of littles, littles gurgling in care slots, littles tugging on clothes, pregnant women, pipes and tanks, grimy lower-levels, drug induced visions, bodies…
Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)
God bless, god bless, god bless!
God bless us every one!
God bless Daddo, god bless Mommo, god bless you and me!
God bless us all, the short the tall,
Give us fer-til-i-tee!
The year is 2381 and Earth’s population is 75 billion people. Living in horizontal cities and towns is now completely untenable. Instead, mankind crowds into massive vertical structures, Urban Monads, containing close to 800,000 people in 800 or so floors. Each Urban Monad is divided into 25 autonomous “cities” (named after Earth’s old cities which no longer exist). The higher the level of the building the farther removed are the inhabitants from labor related fields (a vague class structure).
Most of society’s ills have been eliminated (famine, war, crime) — most of Earth’s habitable land has been reduced to farming in order to support the Urban Monads arrayed in vast “constellations” across the landscape…
Mankind is governed by the belief that human reproduction is the highest possible good. In this post-privacy society social mores have changed drastically. Although people still get married, everyone indulges in nightwalking (finding partners at night). It is socially faux pas to refuse the advances of anyone (male, female, old, young, etc). People mature at a younger age, have sexual experiences at a younger age, and get married in their early teens all in order to facilitate the production of children.
Those that refuse to abide by the social norms and go “flippo” are tossed down the chute — along with human wastes, etc– and are recycled for the good of the community…
The “plot” follows the lives of a interconnected group of people and their daily lives. Jason Quevedo, a historian, studies the twentieth century and realizes that he’s a throwback to a previous age… Michael Statler desires above all else to wander the fields outside the claustrophobic confines of the Urban Monad 116… Siegmund Kluver, at the tender age of 15, is plagued by a relentless ambition (supposedly removed from society) an then, doubt and fear… Aurea Holston, unable to conceive children, refuses to leave her friends when she’s assigned to another newly constructed Urban Monad…
There isn’t so much a plot as a delightfully entwined/interrelated series of tableaus that progress to the inevitable conclusion. This technique, employed by less adept authors, often feels like a way of filling up one’s page quota — not here. In this claustrophobic society this is the perfect way to convey the world. And what a fantastically depicted world it is — we’re immersed completely.
Be warned, sex (and various sexual taboos) proliferate the scenes.
Social science fiction at its best.
A dark gem. I’m still reveling in its beauty.