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Authors: Robert Silverberg

The World Inside

THE
WORLD INSIDE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books by
ROBERT SILVERBERG

from
TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES

Dying Inside
·
A Time of Changes
·
The World Inside

 

Edited by
ROBERT SILVERBERG

Legends-Vol. 1 Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Legends-Vol. 2 Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Legends-Vol. 3 Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One

THE
WORLD INSIDE

Robert Silverberg

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
NEW YORK                                                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

THE WORLD INSIDE

Copyright © 1971 by Agberg, Ltd.

Preface copyright © 2010 by Agberg, Ltd.

Originally published in 1971 by Doubleday

All rights reserved.

An Orb Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

www.tor-forge.com

ISBN 978-0-7653-2432-0

First Orb Edition: March 2010

Printed in the United States of America

0  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

FOR EJLER JAKOBSSON

PREFACE

It wasn't only science-fiction writers, forty years ago, who were pondering the problem of the world's imminent overpopulation crisis. A 1968 work by the biologist Paul Ehrlich provided an updated version of Malthus's nineteenth-century horror story about the inevitability of famine, in which he had claimed to have demonstrated mathematically that population growth must always far outstrip food production. Ehrlich's equally somber book
The Population Bomb
had offered this grim and terrifying view of the years just ahead:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate. . . .

Harsh words. And a few years later a study group calling itself The Club of Rome had issued a book called
The Limits to Growth
, a report “on the predicament of mankind,” which showed our predicament to be dire indeed as the supply of food fell further and further behind the world's relentless population growth.

But of course science-fiction had been dealing with Malthusian issues for a long time. C. M. Kornbluth's mordant 1951 story “The Marching Morons” depicted a world in which high-I.Q. people were practicing stringent birth control while the rest of mankind was doing just the opposite, with bleak consequences. Isaac Asimov, in the 1953 novel
The Caves of Steel
, portrayed a vastly overpopulated New York City. My own early novel
Master of Life and Death
(1957) showed an overpopulated world into which an immortality serum, of all unneeded complications, had been thrust. And Harry Harrison, in 1966, gave us
Make Room! Make Room!
, perhaps the best of all the overpopulation novels, in which the solution to the problem of food shortages was the infamous one made famous in the title of the book's movie version,
Soylent Green.

The list goes on and on. Anyone who was anybody in science fiction in the 1960s took a crack at the theme—John Brunner (
Stand on Zanzibar
), James Blish (
A Torrent of Faces
), Kurt Vonnegut (“Welcome to the Monkey House”), and many others. The concept seemed inexhaustible at the time, though in fact we all went at it with such vigor and passion that we pretty well had used it up before the 1970s, that decade of predicted world famine, had arrived.

Meanwhile, in the early months of 1969, I found myself
looking for a short-story idea. Harry Harrison of
Make Room! Make Room!
fame was an old friend of mine who had been a key figure in science fiction for many years both as editor and writer, and he had begun editing
Nova
, a hardcover anthology series destined to see four volumes over the next five years. Harry asked me to write a story for his first issue, and, remembering good advice that the sagacious editor H. L. Gold of
Galaxy Science Fiction
had given me long before, I tried turning some familiar SF concept upside down to see whether doing that would yield an interesting new twist on an old theme.

The idea I hit upon was Harry's own overpopulation theme, which, of course, I had dealt with myself plenty of times since 1957's
Master of Life and Death.
I asked myself: Was unlimited population growth really such a terrible thing? Perhaps some way around the Malthusian equations could be found; or perhaps it was the case that Malthus was simply
wrong.
It was never my intention to campaign for irresponsible population expansion, you understand: I have had no children myself and don't look happily on the prospect of the world's turning into an overcrowded hive of madly swarming humanity. But science fiction is built on the free play of extrapolation. One can make thought experiments, proposing some outrageous idea and asking,
What if things were to happen that way?
So I asked myself,
What kind of world would we have if instead of fretting about overpopulation we actually ENCOURAGED it?

The only way that could work, I reasoned, was to put an end to suburban sprawl, confine all humanity to high-rise apartment houses, and reserve most of the world's fertile land surface
for agriculture. As a native New Yorker, I was quite familiar with apartment-house life (though I was currently living in a big suburban house myself). Suppose, I said, we cram everybody into clumps of gigantic residential centers and turn all the rest of the world over to the farmers. What kind of civilization, I wondered, would result? I wasn't advocating doing it, you understand: I was just trying to examine the notion in a speculative way.

Just as I began sketching out a story for Harry Harrison designed to answer that question—a sketch that in March 1969 would become a story that I called “A Happy Day in 2381”—I learned of the work of the visionary architect Paolo Soleri, who was quite literally trying to design a world built along the lines I had hit upon. Soleri had just published a book setting forth his concept of “arcologies”: supersized apartment buildings, each packing many thousands of inhabitants into a single gigantic tower so that open space could be conserved to meet agricultural needs in our overpopulated future. I was fascinated by the elaborate architectural blueprints he had drawn for these fantastic buildings, and saw both an upside and a downside to the scheme, an ambivalence which is reflected in the portrayal of the Urban Monad culture that I invented for my story.

The inhabitants of that giant apartment house of 2381 are absolutely delighted—most of them—with the philoprogenitive new culture that they have developed. “They've got a floor in Prague—I think it's 187—that averages 9.9 [children] per family!” one of them exclaims. “Isn't that glorious?” And the same cheerful applauder of the Urbmon cultural matrix adds, “We could limit births, I suppose, but that would be sick, a
cheap, anti-human way out. Instead we've met the challenge of overpopulation triumphantly, wouldn't you say?” Privacy is unknown; the new sexual morality makes the libertines of the 1960s look positively puritanical by comparison; world population is heading toward 75 billion; and everybody—or practically everybody—thinks that Utopia has been attained.

Does that mean that I myself, Robert Silverberg, suburban resident of California in the early twenty-first century, think that the urban-monad civilization is a jolly good thing? I won't answer that question, except to remind you that
The World Inside
is a work of speculative fiction, and to add that Fyodor Dostoevsky did not personally advocate the murder of pawnbrokers, Vladimir Nabokov was not a pedophile, and William Shakespeare did not covet the throne of Scotland.

“A Happy Day in 2381” was published in Harry Harrison's
Nova
in 1970. By then it had occurred to me that the Urban Monad idea was too good to drop after a single short story, and soon I was at work at a whole series of them—“In the Beginning,” which I did for another original-story anthology called
Science Against Man
, and four others—“The Throw-backs,” “The World Inside,” “We Are Well Organized,” and “All the Way Up, All the Way Down,” that I wrote for
Galaxy Science Fiction
, where Ejler Jakobsson had recently become editor and was enthusiastically buying my fiction as fast as I could produce it. (Within the space of just a few years he would publish not only my Urban Monad stories but my novels
Tower of Glass, Downward to the Earth
, and
Dying Inside.
) Once Jakobsson had run the last four stories of the group in four issues of his magazine in 1970 and 1971, I pulled the whole set together into the novel
The World Inside.

In the decades since then, the Malthusian threat of overpopulation has come to seem less of an immediate menace than it appeared to the gloomy prophets of
The Population Bomb
era to be. The world's population has continued to grow steadily, though not cataclysmically (in some European countries the birth rate is not even keeping up with the death rate), but so have agricultural techniques, and so far we are managing to avoid famine quite nicely in all but such hapless places as Somalia and Zimbabwe, where governmental instability interferes with the growth and distribution of food. Does that invalidate
The World Inside
as prophecy? No, I don't think so, because
The World Inside
was never intended as prophecy in the first place, but simply as a thought experiment, asking that classic science-fiction question,
“What if—?”
And here it is again in a new edition for a new century.

—Robert Silverberg

July 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were born to unite with our fellow-men and to join in community with the human race.

CICERO:
De finibus,
IV

 

Of all animals, men are the least fitted to live in herds. If they were crowded together as sheep are they would all perish in a short time. The breath of man is fatal to his fellows.

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU:
Emile,
I

ONE
· 1

Here begins a happy day in 2381. The morning sun is high enough to touch the uppermost fifty stories of Urban Monad 116. Soon the building's entire eastern face will glitter like the bosom of the sea at daybreak. Charles Mattern's window, activated by the dawn's early photons, deopaques. He stirs. God bless, he thinks. His wife yawns and stretches. His four children, who have been awake for hours, now can officially start their day. They rise and parade around the bedroom, singing:

God bless, god bless, god bless!

God bless us every one!

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!

They rush toward their parents' sleeping platform. Mattern rises and embraces them. Indra is
eight, Sandor is seven, Marx is five, Cleo is three. It is Charles Mattern's secret shame that his family is so small. Can a man with only four children truly be said to have reverence for life? But Principessa's womb no longer flowers. The medics have declared that she will not bear again. At twenty-seven she is sterile. Mattern is thinking of taking in a second woman. He longs to hear the yowls of an infant again; in any case, a man must do his duty to god.

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