Thursday, October 20, 2011

The World Inside by Robert Silverberg (1971) - vertical living in 2381

1971 Doubleday, artwork by James Starrett
1972 paperback edition, artwork uncredited

Robert Silverberg's The World Inside, set in 2381. I thought I had read this one before, but it was completely unfamiliar, so it was a new one for me (unless my memory has gotten really bad). The world's population stands at 75 billion and counting. Almost everyone is living in giant skyscrapers called urbmons (short for urban monads). The problem of overpopulation has been solved by vertical living, leaving a lot more room on the planet for the agriculture which is needed to feed the ever growing populace. In fact procreation is vigorously encouraged and deemed "blessworthy" by society as a whole. It's all very efficient and everybody gets along quite well in these crowded towers, except for the occasional "flippo" who is unceremoniously sent down the chute to feed the generators. Everything is recycled of course.

The author does an excellent job of describing the culture and environment, including class hierarchy and sexual mores (he spends a lot of time on sexual mores), told through several scenes which are more or less a series of linked short stories. Towards the end the focus turns to characters who are unhappy and don't fit well into the urbmon scheme, characters for whom we would naturally feel more sympathy. The book is always interesting and moves along at a quick pace. An altogether excellent work of speculative fiction from the early 1970s.

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