This is an odd little book, less a novel and more a series of interlinked shorts designed to present a strange thought-experiment society. This is a kind of social SF you don’t often see anymore, but the presentation is very “New Wave” which Silverberg drifted in and out of. (My favourite book of his, Across a Billion Years, doesn’t really qualify. I also haven’t read it in at least a couple of decades, so that favoritism may be coloured by nostalgia.)
But it is an odd book, crowded with ideas and sex.
Is it about over population?
Yes, to all of those.
1000-story buildings with 800,000 or a million people in each, built just far enough apart that their shadows don’t fall on each other and ninety-plus percent of the world is given over to farming and resource extraction to make those buildings possible.
People can have sex with whoever they want, however they want, whenever they want. Men are supposed to bang anyone they like and women are supposed to never refuse. You get married at 12 or 13 and have as many kids as your bodies allow.
There is just this side of no privacy and no one seems concerned, because privacy somehow breeds violence. No locked doors and no separate rooms beyond the one that marks where your living quarters start at the corridor. No barriers other than social constructs. But there’s also almost a complete absence of crime, and people guilty of antisocial behaviours are either corrected with some heavy duty drug therapy or tossed down the chute to provide a few extra watts of power to the urbmon (Urban Monad, i.e. giant skyscraper).
All food, resource, and energy problems appear to have been solved, at least for those who live in the urbmons. There are still a few people who actually have to do the work, though, and they have their own culture outside the walls.
Oh, there’s plenty of control, much of it in social constructs (surprise). In a society that’s supposedly progressive, the gender roles are still pretty rigidly defined, there’s a solid class structure with work you do defined by how high up in the building you live, status is critically important, a variety of min-altering drugs are not just easily available, but encouraged, and people aren’t allowed to leave their own urbmon unless they’re told to move to a new one. Oh, and keep having tons of meaningless sex and making babies.
There are a lot of things in this book.
Overall rating: 3 stars. It’s not a single story and the plot doesn’t hold together because there really isn’t one. The author is painting a picture. This is social SF as thought experiment, a presentation of a conceptual society and what it might mean or do to some of the people who live in it.
Remembering that this is historical SF now, published in 1971, I try to look at it through that lens and find that the concepts presented are really intriguing, but it was still written for a time and consumption and set of social attitudes that isn’t now, so some of the characterization is a little… out of date for me.by