The World Inside, by Robert Silverberg
Posted October 5, 2010on:
I read about this book on a blog a few weeks ago, and of course I can’t remember where! So if I posted on your post about The World Inside, please let me know who you are. And Thanks for the great recommendation!
One of the strangest books I have ever read, Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside requires an open mind.
Written in the early 70’s, when so many science fiction writers were writing speculative stories about population booms, and limiting births and concern for how we were going to feed and house billions of people, Robert Silverberg asked himself what if humanity decided to go the absolute opposite direction? What if we decided our goal was to have as many people living happily on the planet as possible, and society was formed around housing, feeding, and taking care of billions of people? The vignettes of The World Inside is what he came up with.
This future includes vast, huge, vertical arcologies of 1,000 floors, housing 800,000 people, in “constellations” of 40 or more buildings. Estimated population of the earth is over 75 billion. 80% of the earth’s landmass is given over the farming, and the Urbmon’s tower over all. Imagine the entire population of Dayton OH living in one gigantic apartment tower. Most residents never leave the “Urbmon”, why would you want to, everything you need is there. Your floor is your neighborhood, the 20 floors or so around you are your city, lifts get you anywhere you need to go and there is no reason to leave. Outside means danger, loneliness, and death. The only thing more rampant that forced sharing in the Urbmon is propaganda.
Everything in this future is taken to the nth level – how to house these people, how to feed them, how to promote peace and tranquility, how to deal with people who don’t fit in. In the “urbmons”, marriage, fertility and large families and anything it takes to get there is considered “blessworthy”, and anything that doesn’t promote those values is considered not blessworthy and dangerous. This is a post-privacy community, in every way you can think of.
The vignettes in The World Inside feature seven intertwined families and the different personalities we might meet in an Urbmon. Everyone from the happily married man, to the newlywed couple, to the historian, to the social climber, to the curious dissenter to longs to explore the lands outside the Urbmon.
What’s most amazing about the citizens of the Urbmon is how happy they all seem, how friendly they are to each other, how peaceful everything is. It almost feels like a Star Trek city – you don’t have to worry about money, if you need clothing, food, medical care, education, childcare, it will be provided. What a utopia! But the Urbmon lifestyle is eerie, it’s Stepford, it’s horrifying, especially when seen as one possible future for the human race.
If you’re thinking “hey, my kid loves futuristic stories, I’ll tell them to get this from the library!”, Dont. This is not a book for teens. Teens are much smarter than I usually give them credit for, but I just don’ t think this is something they’d be interested in. Not to mention the buckets of graphic sex scenes. And yes, they take some getting used to, but in the Urbmon, people have sex in the same fashion you and I would go to Starbucks. It’s nothing all that special, and you do it all the time, at whichever Starbucks is most convenient. Crass? Maybe a little. But Starbucks isn’t a special treat for you anymore, is it? Neither is sex for these folks. In a post-privacy, post-selfishness society, sex has completely lost all meaning. (Ok, if you don’t have a Starbucks in your town, maybe it is something special. A few years ago, my small midwestern city went from having zero starbucks to having 6.)
Read The World Inside because it’s a great book, Silverberg’s introduction in the latest printing is hilarious, and it’s always interesting to read about utopias that well, aren’t.