The World Inside – Robert Silverberg (Doubleday, 1971/Signet, 1972)
I’m taking a look at Silverberg’s A World Inside on this blog as a post-Don Elliott work, and a work with sexuality as a strong theme.
Some critics call this a short collection, and the seven chapters appeared as stand-alone stories in Galaxy Magazine and Harry Harrison’s Nova 1. The same characters pop up in various chapters, and each main character per chapter/story has his/her own crises of social docorum.
A work from SF’s “New Wave,” The World Inside is also sociological science-fiction — it deals with possibilities of how human beings will live together in the future, create new laws and mores, symbolic interaction, new forms of religions (based on old forms), and theories of urban living. In fact, the first chapter, a “sciocomputator” from Venus comes to earth to study human interaction and social customs in the “urbmons” — or urban monads, 1000 story-high buildings, vertical cities that can house up to 800,000 people each. The “vertical theory” is that population expansion is not an issue if people live in dwellings going up, rather than taking space on land, land which can then be used for agricultural purposes to feed the 60 billion people on earth. The urbmons make the World Trade Center look like an ant hill…
Each urbmon has an old city name like Chicago or Shanghai or Calcutta. In the San Francisco urbmon, many artists live.
The sociological fascination the researcher from Venus finds is the urbmon dweller’s mores on sex and procreation; they are all a religious people,always praising a single God whom they believe wishes them to reproduce like rabbits. There’s room, so why not? Children are taught sexuality early, at age 8-10, and by 12-13 they get married and start having kids right away. The more children you have, the higher your social position. A character in chapter one, Charles Mattern, feels shame because he and his wife are in their 20s and only have two children, whereas their friends all have five or six by now.
Swinging free love abounds in the urbomns, a social remedy to envy, greed, and possessiveness…the men go on what’s called “Nightwalking,” looking for sexual encounters. No homes are locked and any man may enter the dwellings of another family and request sex with the lady of the household or a girl who is ready for sex. To reject such a request is considered a social deviance and punishable. The practice is sexist since the women don’t nightwalk — and those who do are frowned upon — and siply wait in their homes, each night never knowing if they will sleep with their husband, a neighbor, or a stranger. Nightwalking is usually confined to one’s urbmon, rather than going from building (or city) to building, although some do, like the musicians who tour the urbmons.
One character who shows up in many chapters is Siegmund (for Freud?), a 15-year-old administrator who starts to have a crises of faith about living in confinement. He begins to question the open sexuality and the procreation habits, and wonders about “the world outside.” He goes to see a “blessman,” or priest, abot his spiritual conflicts; the blessman recommends social reconditioning.
Drugs are also openly used, hallucinogens that help the dwellers “become one” with their buildings.
Another character, Michael, a musician, becomes curious about the outside world and goes exploring, only to be taken captive by a farming commune whyo think he’s a spy. The dwellers of the outside world have their own social customs, worshipping multiple gods and performing sacrifices. They do not believe in over-population and have ceremonies where a pregnant woman is beaten and has a miscarriage to ensure low pregnancy and a good fertile year for the crops.
The urbons and farming communes have a symbiotic relationship, although neither trusts the other and they do not share religious and social beliefs.
I read the ebook edition available on iTunes for the iPad, my first purchase for my iPad. The new edition has a 2009 preface from Silverberg, explaining he wrote this at a time when many SF writers were addressing future population issues — such as Harry Harrison’s classic Make Room! Make Room!, later made into the Charleston Heston film, Soylent Green.
Word has it that X-Files alum Frank Spotnitz is developing The World Inside as a possible TV series. Will it happen? Hopefully so. I don’t think any of Silverberg’s books have made it to the big or small screens yet.
Are the urbmons phallic images, thus the character Siegmund. A friend who once worked for architects told me that they all competed in ways that their rising towers were symbolic cocks. Are they Towers of Babel? Silverberg already addressed that in The Glass Tower.
It is interesting to read this 1971 work, compared to, say, a 1961 work as Don Elliott or Loren Beauchamp, and note the evolution (and similarities) in Silverberg’s prose style and content.