HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Big news! LibraryThing is now free to all! Read the blog post and discuss the change on Talk.
dismiss
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

Inverted World (1974)

by Christopher Priest

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,344489,730 (3.85)1 / 61
A uniquely powerful novel of a society in decay. On a planet whose very nature is a mystery a massive decrepit city is pulled along a massive railway track, laying the line down before it as it progresses into the wilderness. The society within toils under an oppressive regime, its structures always on the point of collapse, the lives of its individuals lived in misery. No one knows where they are going, why they are going or what they will find when they get there. The ending of the novel provides one of the most profound twists in SF.… (more)

None.

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

English (43)  French (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
This novel is actually all kinds of amazing when it comes to the exploration of a few core ideas and more than very decent when it comes to exploring humanity, perception, and irreconcilable differences.

The story is ostensibly a coming of age story, an acceptance of one's world, and then, eventually a deep dissent without a true solution, but it comes across so easily, so effortlessly, that I'm truly unsurprised that this was nominated for the Hugo in '75 and won the British SF award in the same. So the characters are good, the story is very solid... then what, exactly, makes this novel stand out?

The concept. An intersection of our Earth with these people's Earth. Not original enough? No problem. How about an infinite space of earth along a fluid time? The city is on rails, a direct concept that is carried over to [b:Railsea|12392681|Railsea|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1321409808s/12392681.jpg|17373771], travelling slowly into the future and away from the past, which doesn't sound so surprising except when you realize that if the inhabitants actually walk in one direction or another, they actually explore the real past or the future. Infinite space along a traversable time, the inverse of the Earth we actually live in.

But this is where the story gets interesting. There's guilds and explorers and the crossing over along very predefined instants where the two Earths meet, and then we start asking questions about perception.

It's truly much more than this, but it gives you a nice taste and it's truly a grand exploration of ideas across many points. :)

Truly a great recommendation for any SF lover. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Thought-provoking as always from Priest. ( )
  Hobbitlass | Jan 14, 2019 |


With Inverted World Christopher Priest has written a work that is beautiful, powerful and profound. These are the words of critic, scholar and science fiction writer Adam Roberts. Equally important, at least for me as someone unacquainted with science fiction, is that Mr. Priest has written an accessible and enjoyable novel. And part of the enjoyment was having my imagination challenged and expanded - I felt like I do after finishing a rigorous workout, only, in this case, my mind had the workout. Honestly, what a book, one I recommend especially for readers who do not usually read science fiction. More specifically, here are several call-outs:

NARRATIVE VARIATION
The novel is divided into five parts, alternating back and forth between first-person and third-person – our first-person narrator is main character Helward Mann, a newly initiated apprentice guildsman of the city. Helward is pitch perfect as narrator since, in a very real sense, his story is the city’s story. Third-person part two and four underscore and clarify the challenges facing Helward and his city. A most effective narrative devise to drive the story and draw us into its unfolding drama.

PACE OF A MEDIEVAL-LIKE CITY
Although science fiction in that the city is of a future time and must continually move by way of a system of tracks, cables and wenches toward an ideal point termed ‘optimum’, pacing of the day-to-day activities of the city are much akin to a city in twelfth century Europe. Matter of fact, compared to the high octane writing of Philip K. Dick, Inverted World reads like science fiction in slow motion, which is exactly the appropriate speed to make this story accessible, especially for those of us who ordinarily do not read science fiction.

MEDIEVAL-LIKE GUILDS
The workings of the guild system was founded by the city’s founder, one Destaine. The guilds involve the specifics of surveying, laying of tracks, bridge building, securing cables and winching – all of the nitty-gritty of enabling the city to continue moving north. The guilds are exclusive and regimented and central to the overall government of the city. And the guildsmen take their guilds seriously, very seriously. All members have the mindset and work ethic comparable to members of those esteemed medieval guilds.

CONFLICT OF SOCIETIES
But, alas, the inhabitants of the moving city are not alone. There are hostile, half-starving tribes in the lands outside the city. And to add further complication, the city engineers need men from these various tribes to contribute to the heavy, backbreaking work involved in clearing land and laying track. And even more complication: the city must barter for the services of the tribeswomen. A nasty business to be sure.

JOLT OF THE WEIRD
So, we as readers join Helward moving along at the slow, methodical speed of medieval-like time for the entire first half of the novel. Then it happens: the jolt of the weird. I wouldn’t want to say anything more specific here but let me assure you, as a reader you will be every bit as shocked and jolted as Helward. Such is the high quality of Christopher Priest’s writing. At this point and beyond, the plot thickens, warps and bends.

PHILOSOPHY OF PERCEPTION
We are familiar with George Barkley’s “To be is to be perceived.” Well, on one level Inverse World is a meditation on perception within the science of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Would we be upset and disoriented if we realized the way we have been perceiving the world and the physical objects contained within – the sun, the directions of north, south, east, west, the size and shape of those around us -- is completely false? You bet we would. Welcome to the bending space of an inverse world that plays with our mind.

MATHEMATICS AND MODERN SCIENCE
Even a non-scientist like myself can see the author includes enough math and science to keep nearly everyone with a background in science both challenged and engaged. As a for instance, here’s a reflection from an outsider to the city: “In time a kind of logical pattern appeared . . . but there was one ineradicable flaw in everything. The hypothesis by which the city and its people existed was that the world on which they lived was somehow inverted. Not only the world, but all the physical objects in the universe in which that world was supposed to exist. The shape that Destaine drew – a solid world, curved north and south in the shape of hyperbolas – was the approximation they used, and it correlated indeed with the strange shape that Helward had drawn to depict the sun.”

BREAKTHROUGH OF THE ETERNAL
At one point well into the tale, Helward reflects, “I did my guild work as quickly as possible, then rode off alone through the future countryside, sketching what I saw, trying to find in line drawing some expression of a terrain where time could almost stand still.” In a way, this is remarkable since the mindset of the inhabitants of the city, including the guildsmen, is totally practical – every drop of ingenuity and effort is geared to sheer, brute material survival. Within the city walls there is no reference to religion, philosophy, literature or the arts – to put it bluntly, these people lack a spiritual and aesthetic dimension. Yet, remarkably, through a stroke of artistic creativity, Helward touches the realm of the eternal, which is perhaps a consequence of being set free from the pull of the city. One theme worth keeping in mind.

SOBER CITY
The people of the city deal with life without powerful drugs, hallucinogenic or otherwise. They are a sober lot, not even beer or wine. No Dionysian frenzy; no dancing; not even the singing of songs within the city walls. In this sense, very different from our own world. However there are a number of challenges and problems the people and the city face that will have a most familiar ring. But this book is much, much more than simply social and cultural commentary. Christopher Priest has written a work of extraordinary vision, one to expand your mind and hone your imagination, and even if you become slightly warped in the process, exercising your grey matter will be well worth the effort.

This New York Review Book (NYRB) Classic contains an informative Afterward written by John Clute, providing historical and social context for Priest’s writing. This edition also has a nifty, eye-catching cover sculpture by artist/futuristic designer, Lebbeus Woods.

(Special thanks to Goodreads friend Manny Rayner for clarifying for me the scientific ideas contained within this novel before I wrote my review).


Christopher Priest, Born 1943, British Novelist and Science Fiction Writer

( )
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
This is a beguiling read. We're presented with so much in the way of supportive material, detailed 'facts' about what is happening, about what we're supposed to be witnessing, and yet we are left doubting everything. Like the notional protagonist of the tale we are left -- literally and figuratively -- all at sea; and though it's indicated at the end that the protagonist intends to return to shore, the reader is still left floundering.

The opening seems to suggest we're on solid ground. Helward Mann lives in a city called Earth. It's towed forward on rails towards and beyond what is declared an optimum point but cannot ever keep still; only apprentices in the various guilds that keep the city mobile are ever put in a position to understand why it's imperative that the city moves and then they dare not ever contemplate any alternative. Much of the novel is told from Helward's point of view, meaning that we are bound to accept his perception of what the truth of the matter is; but little by little, when our attention is shifted from Mann's autobiography to a third-person narrative and to a outsider's perspective, we realise that all is not as it seems.

I shall follow convention and not reveal the 'twist' that occurs towards the end, though to be honest it didn't take much to fathom what the 'reality' of this future world was well before the final sections.

The central concept of a city moving forward on four sets of tracks is so arresting that it carried this reader through most of the book till it was stopped, quite literally in its tracks, by a barrier no land-based transport can cross: the sea. Other writers have taken this, or a similar concept of a community on rails, and run with it, notably Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2001) and China Miéville's Railsea (2012) and Iron Council (2004), but here the solid ground I mentioned earlier is not as reliable as we at first thought: it's moving, and the city has to move inexorably forward or be doomed to extinction.

This novel at first appears to be in the so-called hard SF genre. There's discussion of hyperbolas, of infinite worlds bound within a finite universe and a mysterious energy that distorts time and space. To the distress of true scientific geeks none of it stacks up, however much it appears acceptably convincing to the innocent reader in terms of pushing the narrative on.

What Inverted World really boils down to, however, is perception: not just physical perception -- through our eyes, our sense of touch and so on -- but what our minds have been conditioned to believe is reality. This is Helward Mann's problem: the mental paradigm he has inherited and accepted through personal experience is challenged by outsiders who function according to different paradigms. Interestingly, Helward's challenges come from two strong independently-minded women who upset the status quo of this male-dominated urban society in ways that fundamentally question the parameters under which it has existed for two centuries.

I see this as a philosophical novel, one which looks askance at our beliefs in progress (towards what? an illusion?), our devastation of the earth (this was a novel written in the shadow of the Cold War) and blind acceptance of self-perpetuating political systems. Its successful attempts to disorientate us are underpinned by shifts in points of view and authorial voice and by its matter-of-fact prose stripped of any poetry or passion.

Whatever its failings -- and there are a few, such as a cast of characters with rather cold personalities whom it's hard to empathise with -- it's still a haunting read; and maybe those 'failings' are deliberate, attempts at opacity and distancing to serve as a warning of the kind of bleak future mankind is heading towards. Towards Hell, perhaps.

https://wp.me/s2oNj1-inverted ( )
  ed.pendragon | May 18, 2018 |

With “Inverted World” British science fiction writer Christopher Priest has written a work that is beautiful, powerful and profound. These are the words of critic, scholar and science fiction writer Adam Roberts. Equally important, at least for me as someone unacquainted with science fiction, is that Mr. Priest has written an accessible and enjoyable novel. And part of the enjoyment was having my imagination challenged and expanded -- I felt like I do after finishing a rigorous workout, only, in this case, my mind had the workout. Honestly, what a book, one I recommend especially for readers who do not usually read science fiction. More specifically, here are several call-outs:

NARRATIVE VARIATION
The novel is divided into five parts, alternating back and forth between first-person and third-person – our first-person narrator is main character Helward Mann, a newly initiated apprentice guildsman of the city. Helward is pitch perfect as narrator since, in a very real sense, his story is the city’s story. Third-person part two and four underscore and clarify the challenges facing Helward and his city. A most effective narrative devise to drive the story and draw us into its unfolding drama.

PACE OF A MEDIEVAL-LIKE CITY
Although science fiction in that the city is of a future time and must continually move by way of a system of tracks, cables and wenches toward an ideal point termed ‘optimum’, pacing of the day-to-day activities of the city are much akin to a city in 12th century Europe. Matter of fact, compared to the high octane writing of Philip K. Dick, ‘Inverted World’ reads like science fiction in slow motion, which is exactly the appropriate speed to make this story accessible, especially for those of us who ordinarily do not read science fiction.

MEDIEVAL-LIKE GUILDS
The workings of the guild system was founded by the city’s founder, one Destaine. The guilds involve the specifics of surveying, laying of tracks, bridge building, securing cables and winching – all of the nitty-gritty of enabling the city to continue moving north. The guilds are exclusive and regimented and central to the overall government of the city. And the guildsmen take their guilds seriously, very seriously. All members have the mindset and work ethic comparable to members of those esteemed medieval guilds.

CONFLICT OF SOCIETIES
But, alas, the inhabitants of the moving city are not alone. There are hostile, half-starving tribes in the lands outside the city. And to add further complication, the city engineers need men from these various tribes to contribute to the heavy, backbreaking work involved in clearing land and laying track. And even more complication: the city must barter for the services of the tribeswomen. A nasty business to be sure.

JOLT OF THE WEIRD
So, we as readers join Helward moving along at the slow, methodical speed of medieval-like time for the entire first half of the novel. Then it happens: the jolt of the weird. I wouldn’t want to say anything more specific here but let me assure you, as a reader you will be every bit as shocked and jolted as Helward. Such is the high quality of Christopher Priest’s writing. At this point and beyond, the plot thickens, warps and bends.

PHILOSOPHY OF PERCEPTION
We are familiar with George Barkley’s “To be is to be perceived.” Well, on one level “Inverse World” is a meditation on perception within the science of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Would we be upset and disoriented if we realized the way we have been perceiving the world and the physical objects contained within – the sun, the directions of north, south, east, west, the size and shape of those around us -- is completely false? You bet we would. Welcome to the bending space of an inverse world that plays with our mind.

MATHEMATICS AND MODERN SCIENCE
Even a non-scientist like myself can see the author includes enough math and science to keep nearly everyone with a background in science both challenged and engaged. As a for instance, here’s a reflection from an outsider to the city: “In time a kind of logical pattern appeared . . . but there was one ineradicable flaw in everything. The hypothesis by which the city and its people existed was that the world on which they lived was somehow inverted. Not only the world, but all the physical objects in the universe in which that world was supposed to exist. The shape that Destaine drew – a solid world, curved north and south in the shape of hyperbolas – was the approximation they used, and it correlated indeed with the strange shape that Helward had drawn to depict the sun.”

BREAKTHROUGH OF THE ETERNAL
At one point well into the tale, Helward reflects, “I did my guild work as quickly as possible, then rode off alone through the future countryside, sketching what I saw, trying to find in line drawing some expression of a terrain where time could almost stand still.” In a way, this is remarkable since the mindset of the inhabitants of the city, including the guildsmen, is totally practical – every drop of ingenuity and effort is geared to sheer, brute material survival. Within the city walls there is no reference to religion, philosophy, literature or the arts – to put it bluntly, these people lack a spiritual and aesthetic dimension. Yet, remarkably, through a stroke of artistic creativity, Helward touches the realm of the eternal, which is perhaps a consequence of being set free from the pull of the city. One theme worth keeping in mind.

SOBER CITY
The people of the city deal with life without powerful drugs, hallucinogenic or otherwise. They are a sober lot, not even beer or wine. No Dionysian frenzy; no dancing; not even the singing of songs within the city walls. In this sense, very different from our own world. However there are a number of challenges and problems the people and the city face that will have a most familiar ring. But this book is much, much more than simply social and cultural commentary. Christopher Priest has written a work of extraordinary vision, one to expand your mind and hone your imagination, and even if you become slightly warped in the process, exercising your grey matter will be well worth the effort.

This New York Review Book (NYRB) classic contains an informative Afterward written by John Clute, providing historical and social context for Priest’s writing. This edition also has a nifty, eye-catching cover sculpture by artist/futuristic designer, Lebbeus Woods.

(Special thanks to Goodreads friend Manny Rayner for clarifying for me the scientific ideas contained within this novel before I wrote my review). ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (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 (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christopher Priestprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cap, YomaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kurz, KristofTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lye, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nenonen, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stephenson,Andrew M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Alternative titles
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
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)
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alum

Christopher Priest's book The Inverted World was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Sign up to get a pre-publication copy in exchange for a review.

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.85)
0.5 1
1 2
1.5 2
2 14
2.5 7
3 53
3.5 29
4 136
4.5 18
5 64

NYRB Classics

An edition of this book was published by NYRB Classics.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 147,956,128 books! | Top bar: Always visible