In the interest of full disclosure, it was all but a predetermined fact I was going going to like this book. Robert Silverberg is one of my favorite authors. I love the premise. It reminded me of one of my favorite novels as kid, "Logan's Run". I have a thing for the science fiction written in the era of 1967-1978. Oh, yeah, and I like sex too.
Like most dystopian works, "The World Inside" is very much a product of its time and in this case it is a good thing. Many of the thematic concerns that lead to the "vertical society" portrayed in the novel are as relevant as ever today, especially over population. While building towering skyscrapers that are several kilometers high and house over 800,000 people sounds like a possible solution to the problem of diminishing resources, the society in this novel creates a brand new set of ironic dilemmas.
One of the more bizarre policies in this future world is mandatory breeding from the age of puberty, literally. Which makes no sense when you think about it. But these types of contradictions in this society, as well as the internal conflicts of the characters who begin to question the system, are what make this book such a riveting read.
This a fascinating vision of where the sexual revolution of 60s and 70s might have lead. People participate in a cultural ritual called "night walking". A person literally walks throughout the building in the middle night, going door to door to do some "topping". Yes, it is exactly what you think it is. Nobody in science fiction handles sexuality and eroticism with the expert touch possessed by Robert Silverberg. The author spent his early days working tirelessly in the sexy pulps of the late 50s and early 60s, cranking out a new 50,000 novel every two weeks. Having read many of them, I can tell you they are really good. Silverberg brings that same sense of pacing to this book.
But this is the post-pulp Sliverberg so we do get some of those soaring, lyrical, arty, Ellison-esque passages that will leave you breathless.
Bottom line, "The World Inside" is a fascinating, beautifully written, entertaining novel that showcases of the grand masters of modern science fiction and fantasy in top form.