Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The World Inside

Oh I bet this one has been a firecracker at many a book club meeting.The World Inside began life as a short story (chapter one) in 1970. But it proved to be such a fertile idea that a year later five more stories were added to expand and more fully explore the world inside Urban Monad 116. Each story is from the point of view of a different character though they all interlink with each other to give a wider view of life in Silverberg's vertical monoliths; a narrative microcosm I suppose. The Urbmons are huge sky-scraping towers housing over 800,000 people. Society is rigorously regulated and procreation is celebrated and venerated. People are controlled by limitless sex, fear of being fed down the garbage chute, sex, religion, indoctrination, drugs and sex. Over population is another issue that has been visited often by Science Fiction writers; Harry Harrison's "Make Room! Make Room!" (the basis for the movie "Soylent Green") springs readily to mind as does tv episodes like Star Trek's "Mark of Gideon". Silverberg chooses to delve deep into the psychological effects of living with high population density and the social mores and laws; the inside of people's heads being another "World inside". Although it's not always an easy or pleasant reading experience there is much here to think about. Most of the main characters highlight the flaws and cracks of the society by getting as close to their psychological make up as it is possible to get. Though in terms of insight into the state of humanity with its propensity with enslaving itself with desire and triviality, comparisons to Orwell's 1984 or especially with Huxley's Brave New World is apposite and probably where the concept of "slavery of absolute freedom" comes from. Comparisons with today's society with its Twitter, unlimited porn, on demand tv....etc are frighteningly easy. The range of ideas is pretty rich. I was particularly fascinated by how comparative ethics was taken to extremes of separation via first a human visitor from Venus and later a 24th century historian examining the 20th century through its films and literature. And here I sit passing judgement on literature from a previous century that speculates on a century yet to come.

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