I find that futurist stories from Black Mirror to Parable of the Sower are most compelling when they amplify the flaws we already see in society. That’s why Samit Basu’s The City Inside was a must read as soon as I came across the premise. In this world, influencers and the machine behind their success have gone from an industry that employs millions of people in the name of global reach and sponsorship to a full scale cover up of the oligarchs’ worst deeds.
In The City Inside, we follow Joey, one of the world’s most respected Reality Controllers—a producer for an influencer’s feed. Attuned to audience sentiment seemingly before they can even weigh in, Joey is used to people trying to use her fine eye for curating the most popular industry in the world for their own gain. And she is able to maneuver handily around the machinations of her grasping family and acquaintances time after time because of her reticence and confidence—skills she’s refined as the Reality Controller for her ex-boyfriend from university. It’s quite hard to stick to a moral creed in a world whose morality centers on getting views and approval from corporate overlords. Joey finds herself confronting this reality when she unwittingly becomes involved in a corporate and political power play that involves a family friend, Rudra. Making matters worse, Rudra seems to be wholly unmotivated by any particular purpose outside of not wanting to belong to the cult that has made his family rich. It is only when the pair are confronted by the many forces in play for the industry that they learn just how effective even Joey can be in a world ruled by false appearances and subterfuge.
Filled with poignant takes like: “She’s learned, over time, that actually executing any of her plans usually involves three people above her in the food chain claiming to have come up with her carefully documented and publicly delivered idea.” and “Climate change will break walls. The robots will break walls. New diseases, tech disasters, all these things. They’re all coming, all at the same time, until one day there’s only one wall, and the people inside it are gods, and the people outside it are monsters, or dead.” The City Inside is a story that shows how ill-prepared the world is for the inequality we live under to reach its conclusion. I found this novel just as unsettling as a good Black Mirror episode for how deeply the author seems to understand where we are as a society. Pick this up if you’d like to bring that old—soon to return—feeling back.