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Literature / The World Inside

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God Bless Daddo, God Bless Mommo, God Bless you and me! God bless us all, the short and tall, give us Fer-til-i-tee!!!

"Today's population figure at Urbmon 116 is 881,115, which is +102 since yesterday and +14,187 since the first of the year. God bless, but we're slowing down! Across the way at Urbmon 117 they've added 131 since yesterday, including quads for Mrs. Hula Jabotinsky. She's eight­een and has had seven previous. A servant of god, isn't she?"
The World Inside, News Screen

The World Inside is a book by Robert Silverberg, written in 1971. A science fiction, it's set more than 300 years in the future, in 2381. The setting is a world where we encourage birth, have abolished any kind of birth control, and as a result the population is proudly boasting a figure of 75 billion. The belief in human birth is almost religious in their fervor for it, and any talk of suppressing birth is considered a serious social taboo, worthy in some cases in death by being thrown down a chute where your body will be converted into energy for the buildings they live in. The buildings they live in are the secret to their massive population, 1000 story high "Urbmons" which can house 885,000 people arranged by clusters of 25 self contained cities arranged through the floors, with 40 floors constituting a city. These Urbmons are arranged in constellations, which allow each building to not be in the shadow of another. The theoretical limit of the population supported by this arrangement is estimated to be 200 billion. The compacting of people in Urbmons this way has left seven-eighths of the land mass in the world to be used for farming. The farmers live in small communes and are completely separated from the Urbmon society, even having their own language and customs.

The population growth has skyrocketed at such a rate that 3 billion excess population occurs every year, causing the need for new Urbmon buildings to be built every year. The dwellers of the Urbmons share scant resources and believe that sharing of everything is required in order for people to peacefully co-exist in close quarters. The sharing extends to wives and husbands, believing that being able to have sex with whoever without fear of rejection eases tensions and frustrations. This ideology lead to the practice of "Night-walking", where the men (and women, but less often) of the Urbmon community can roam the floors of their building and find other partners. It is considered a capital crime to refuse an invitation for sex.

In this society it is a blessing to have children: most people are married at 12 and parents at 14. Your security in your area is also related to having kids, and those who lack children would be the first chosen to go to new Urbmons, and the last to get suitable apartments in the Urbmons. All life is inside, and no one wishes to leave anymore, the desire to roam outside considered grounds to declare you insane, "a flippo", and they may eliminate you as a result. "Social engineers" reprogram those who are approaching an unacceptable level of behavior, however if this behavior is too "extreme", equal measures are taken. Given the extremes of life in the Urban Monads, law enforcement and the concept of justice employ a zero tolerance policy. There are usually no trials, and punishment is swift; anyone who threatens the stability of the Urbmon society is "erased" by being thrown into a shaft that terminates in the building's power generator. This is seen as being for the good of all the Urbmons and so everyone in society accepts it.

Because of the need to live in such close quarters with everyone else, the ideas of privacy, jealousy, ambition and greed have all but been dispensed with.The class system has now been generally dispensed with, but it can be seen through the levels, with the lowest levels (1-400) being the generator levels and the engineers and the top (960-1000) levels being administrative levels widely known to be those in power.

The World Inside contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Huge Population: In the year 2381, when the population of Earth has reached 75 billion people. Population growth has skyrocketed due to a quasi-religious belief in human reproduction as the highest possible good. Most of the action occurs in a massive three-kilometer-high city-tower called Urban Monad (Urbmon) 116. Most of humanity lives in these mammoth thousand-floor skyscrapers arranged in "constellations", where the shadow of one building does not fall upon another. The population is supported by the conversion of all of the Earth's habitable land area not taken up by Urbmons to agriculture.
  • Arcology: The 3 km-tall "Urban Monads" that house 800,000 people each were inspired by Paolo Soleri's earliest elucidations of the concept.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: One chapter is about a man who become jealous that his wife is possibly having sex with her brother, although she's actually having sex with one of the administrators in order to inspire him to have more ambition.
  • Break the Cutie: Remember how Siegmund Kluver is only 14? And yet he has multiple children, and is obsessed with helping the Urbmon community until he realizes all the people up top don't care that much and spend much of their time partying and having sex instead of trying to help their building. This slowly breaks him to the point where he can't take it anymore and kills himself by jumping off a building trying to "find God", as a priest suggested.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Almost everyone lives in gargantuan apartment blocks ("Urban Monads" with names like ChiPitts) and never goes out. The entire human race is obsessed with having as many children as possible — one protagonist is ashamed of having only four. It is seen as selfish (and therefore, criminal) to refuse sex to random strangers. And everyone is really, really happy all the time... because the ones who aren't happy are either lobotomized or dropped down the recycling chutes.
  • Creature of Habit: One character, after secretly fleeing the Urbmons to try to find the sea, gets caught by a farmer village. The lack of technological cleanliness ( he feels "primitive" to be using water to bathe) makes him feel as if bacteria are burrowing under his skin and he comments on this and other homesickness symptoms as a result of this.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Prominently, there is one scene where a person looks at laws from the old system. He is naturally furious about a law that gives a man years in prison for going down on his wife... and even more furious about only years in prison given for selling contraceptives.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Micheal and Michaela are seen as this. They are exact twins and Jason Quervo even thinks that if he were looking at one from behind, he would be hard-pressed to figure out which one was which until he tried to have sex with them. He comments on Micheal's long hair, similar to Michaela's, the similar bone structure and stature, and how Michaela (his wife) has very small breasts, allowing for confusion between them and pecs.
  • Everybody Is Single: Inverted in that everyone is normally married and should be trying to have children by 13-14, as soon as puberty starts.
  • Free-Love Future: Most of the novel is set in a huge skyscraper (Urban Monad or Urbmon), in which men are expected to go "night walking", wandering into other peoples' homes for sex, and it's unthinkably rude for a woman to refuse an advance. Silverberg goes into a bit of detail as to how such a society would produce unique sexual hangups of its own. One character is trying to make her husband jealous, which he points out is ridiculous. Meanwhile, she mocks him for sleeping with a woman because he's attracted to her brother — instead of sleeping with the brother.
  • Gender Is No Object: Jason Quervo is forced to talk about a fantasy he was thinking of where he embraced Michaela for intercourse, but found Micheal instead (in the company of Micheal and his wife at dinner one night). He tells part of it, saying he was imagining if a man was to go out nightwalking and instead of finding Michaela, he finds Michael. Michael's wife then comments, "so what? he might be mildly surprised at first but then he would take Micheal regardless, wouldn't he?"
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted as a plot point, but it's in the subtext, since on several occasions characters talk about how their culture "values life"note , and particularly fertility, with the strong implication that contraception (see Deliberate Values Dissonance, above), much less abortion, would be unthinkable. "Good girls" in this novel get married at the age of 12 and within a decade have usually had several children, possibly by men other than those they are married to since all men are required to "nightwalk".
  • Hive City: The Urban Monads, or "Urbmons", are 1000-story-high ultradense habitation towers where the majority of Earth's population now lives, each divided into twenty-five vertically-stacked cities. Urbmon residents spend their entire lives in an environment where privacy is a foreign concept, although they depend heavily on constant food imports from the farms that make up most of the planet's surface.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Often you feel like this reading the book, as the thoughts and customs of the Urbmons are completely alien to the "modern" person, trying to abandon ambition, space, freedom, the outside, and self-determination. This is lampshaded in the book through the interactions the characters have with the visiting socio-computator from the colonies on Venus, where it is implied that humans still live more as the modern reader does.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Aurea tries this on Siegmund to get him to keep her and her husband from being forced to move to the newest urbmon. Subverted in that she knows it is unlikely to succeed in a society where anyone is anyone else's for the asking, sexually.
    She approaches him, pulls her shoulders back, unsubtly lets her nipples come thrusting through her garment of mesh. Hopeless. How can she magic him with two pink nubs of stiff flesh?
  • Incest Subtext: Micheal and Michaela show this throughout their chapters. Michaela admits that she experimented and may have had intercourse with her brother when she was younger, but has stopped at least a decade ago. Micheal still fantasizes about his sister and has multiple fantasies as he escapes from the Urbmons, imagining them having sex in the sea. It's also stated that it's seen as perfectly normal for brothers and sisters to have their first sexual experience with each other. "Everybody tops their sister", one male character says to another.
  • Likes Older Women: May be true of Siegmund Kluver, as he is claimed to be in a quote by Charles Mattern when he finds him in bed with his wife, Principessa (who is thirteen years his senior, Siegmund Kluver being 14)
  • Mr. Exposition: Charles Mattern, in the book's first chapter, explaining everything the reader needs to know. Justified by him greeting a visitor from Venus.
  • Patchwork Story: The novel was expanded from about five short stories set in the same universe.
  • Population Control: Inverted. In the year 2381, most of Earth's 75 billion people live in three-kilometer-high (9,000 feet) "urban monads", where they start their large families around puberty. One man has four children. It is considered shamefully low, but his wife is infertile due to an accident during surgery. He is considering taking another.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: How both Micheal and Michaela are described, and are considered very attractive for it.
  • Situational Sexuality: In the Urbmons, one cannot refuse the attentions of another and literally cannot refuse sex. As a result, you are expected to accompany and satisfy any whim of an Urbmon which comes to visit in order to limit frustrations, despite the sex of the person.
  • Skyscraper City: Much of the world is covered in vertical cities called Urban Monads, where people are born, live, and die without ever having to leave.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: The society in the book is one in which people have decided that the best world is the one with the most people in it; the vast majority of the world's current population of 80 billion all live in giant, city-sized apartment buildings with no privacy, while all the rest of Earth's habitable land is devoted to agriculture. It is theorized that the maximum population that can be supported this way is 200 billion.
  • Work Hard, Play Hard: Everyone in Louisville is apparently like this, as Sigmund Kluver learns once he goes to a party at the top floors, which are essentially a giant orgy and drugs party. He becomes disenfranchised because of this and eventually kills himself
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The human population is 75 billion, increasing by 4% per year. At that rate, they will hit the 200 billion limit in just 26 years. Alternatively, the writer may have been fully aware of that and it's just a case of the characters being Too Dumb to Live because they are unwilling to face the Malthusian disaster they've engineered for themselves (though with limitless energy available, they'd just need to forget the farmland and start building several agricultural urbmons for every residential one). Conversely, the status quo cannot be very old, as working backwards would result in a population less than today's just 50 years prior to the events in the novel. Though again, there could have been wars or other disasters that did indeed reduce the human population, and the current obsession with making babies really is a relatively recent fad that took on a life of its own.