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Inverted World by Christopher Priest
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Inverted World (1974)

by Christopher Priest

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (32)  French (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Inverted World has writing that can charitably be described as poor, and characters that are almost impressively flat and uninteresting, but what partially makes up for these flaws is the world which the novel creates- an entire city has been put on rails and must be made to move continuously toward a mysterious changing location known as the optimum, or else disaster will befall it. What sunk the book for me was that the reveal of the forces at work in this world not only felt like an unsatisfying dump of information at the eleventh hour, it failed to make sense within the context established by the story.

At the end of Inverted World it is explained that the translateration generator that powers the city has been warping the perspective of the city's inhabitants, and said generator is shut down. There does not seem to be ambiguity as to whether this was the actual cause of what Helward Mann and the other inhabitants were experiencing, as when Mann leaves the city for the ocean he passes "a large crowd of men... heading south towards the city. Most of them were carrying the possessions they had taken with them to the bridge site... the bridge site was deserted." This seems to pretty clearly be a group of people who have had their perspective returned to normal when the generator was switched off, or else why would they all spontaneously decide to halt working when the city was facing its greatest challenge (the ocean)? Mann alone has persisted in holding onto his view of the world.

If what Mann saw down south was all a creation of his warped perspective, as it clearly appears to be, the reveal of the generator still fails to explain how physical objects like the rails warp when too far away from optimum, or why individuals north of optimum age faster, or a huge number of other things that appeared as clues to the nature of the optimum earlier in the novel.

Inverted World either leaves us with no explanation, or with the thoroughly unsatisfying explanation of "the generator did it." Either way, the writing and characterization are not nearly good enough to make up for this unsatisfactory conclusion.

Some examples of the bad writing: the text switches between the first person and third person perspective between the different sections of the book, but the narrative voice of Mann and the narrator are identical. The writing is terrible at conveying emotion, it just tells you what emotion the character feels. An example: "It was during this leave too that Victoria told me she was pregnant; an announcement that caused her mother much joy. I was delighted, and for one of the few times in my life I drank too much wine and made a fool of myself. No one seemed to mind." This short paragraph, dropped in between discussions of the construction of a bridge, is the only information we get about how Mann feels about becoming a father. Later, however, Mann almost refuses to go down south because he wants to be present at his child's birth. The text assumes we will recognize the birth as important to Mann without it having been properly established. Instead it comes out of left field because up until this point guild training has been much more of a focus of Mann's life and the text had not conveyed that Mann would have a strong desire to see his child born.

This book provides no evidence that Priest can write relationships. Mann finds it hard to relate to his father, but their relationship is relegated to a few odd paragraphs and the father's death is barely remarked upon. I was surprised to read the following line about three-quarters through the book: "But none of these could settle the personal crisis of becoming alienated from a girl I had loved in the space of what seemed to me to be a few days." The fact that Mann loved Victoria was never communicated, they seemed little more than fond of each other. The sentence also means that Mann had since fallen out of love with Victoria, an emotional transformation Priest does not even attempt to describe. Because the relationships are stated but not described I did not care about any of the characters or the lives they led, nor did I care about Mann. Uninteresting characters wedded to bad writing leaves the ideas and world to carry a science fiction novel, and as already discussed the ideas fell flat during the home stretch. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Don't get too far ahead of your gravity field. ( )
  HenryKrinkle | Jul 23, 2014 |
What a wonderfully executed book! The structure of the book, its pace, how it negotiates between first-person, third-person, and a more distanced narrator in one section, are all handled superbly and lend a cadence to the episodes in the novel as well.

I did almost give up halfway through Part 1, and I assume many readers might find the detailed pages—and pages and pages—of track-laying laborious. But, just as it is laborious for Helward, so, too, must it be for the reader; this is the crux of the "inverted world" and having this background allows what happens to make sense... as well as nonsense.

What I really found interesting here was how Priest handles gender and class in this seemingly organized world of the city. The social commentary here, aimed right back at late-1960s and early-1970s Britain, is unabrasive but it is also unrelenting, proving that speculative fiction can speak to social and cultural issues "on the ground," as it were.

Having not really read around much in the genre of speculative and/or science fiction apart from Atwood and some of the more canonical titles, I will say that Priest's ease at handling this material—and his talent at making it resonate and be of such immense interest—has me very eager to explore this genre in some more depth. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
Book Description
Publication Date: December 12, 2012
The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city’s engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the “optimum” into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on Earth. The only alternative to progress is death.

The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in crèches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum.

Helward Mann is a member of the city’s elite. Better than anyone, he knows how tenuous is the city’s continued existence. But the world—he is about to discover—is infinitely stranger than the strange world he believes he knows so well. ( )
  camtb | May 23, 2014 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2281091.html

I had of course read this many many years ago; I liked it back then, and I liked it again on re-reading. The core concept is that our protagnist and his people are involved in transporting their city, on rails, across a landscape of varied terrain; and we discover that the landscape itself changes drastically, as does their experience of it, depending on how far ahead or behind they venture on the city's path.

The at the end there is a Big Reveal, which completely inverts our take on the city and what exactly is going on. I see some critics complaining that this spoils the story, but for me it doesn't - it makes the point that everyone's perspective is wrong, in the end, and the inversion may not be where you think. Having said that, the logic of the conclusion is not a hopeful one for the people of the city. ( )
  nwhyte | May 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
"... it is certainly one of the strangest SF novels of all time. Unfortunately the ending lets you down almost as badly as the traditional dream in Nineteenth Century stories."
added by RBeffa | editAnalog Science Fiction/Sciencd Fact, P. Shuyler Miller (Nov 7, 1975)
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christopher Priestprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lye, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nenonen, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stephenson, Andrew M.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stephenson,Andrew M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Whereso'er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new;
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong
— Samuel Johnson
Dedication
To my mother and father
First words
Elizabeth Khan closed the door of the surgery, and locked it. (From Prologue)
I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles. (From Chapter 1 of Part 1)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060134216, Hardcover)

Good condition

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:00 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city's engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the "optimum" into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on Earth. The only alternative to progress is death. The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in creches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum. Helward Mann is a member of the city's elite. Better than anyone, he knows how tenuous is the city's continued existence. But the world--he is about to discover--is infinitely stranger than the strange world he believes he knows so well.… (more)

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