Inverted World by Christopher Priest -- Spoiler Thread

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Inverted World by Christopher Priest -- Spoiler Thread

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1BobStandard
Edited: Sep 8, 2008, 1:42pm

NYRB (publishing arm of the New York Review of Books) has recently reprinted this 1974 Christopher Priest novel. Finished reading it the other day and would like to discuss it. While I LOVED the book and now want to search out other works by the author, I've got some questions and concerns about the nature of the novel's world. While the concluding "big reveal" was not at all unexpected, it left quite a bit unexplained, and the more I think about it, the more it seems not quite to add up.

I know that this isn't exactly a popular novel, but, uh ... has anyone read it? Any thoughts?

2iansales
Sep 8, 2008, 2:41pm

The world itself is the same as ours. It's just the perceptions of the characters which have been altered.

You should certainly seek out more by Priest - although Inverted World is the most overtly sf novel he's written. Definitely worth reading are The Separation, The Prestige, and The Glamour.

3GwenH
Sep 8, 2008, 3:14pm

I recently read this book and I tend to agree with you BobStandard.

First let me say, I absolutely loved the writing style. It was as if there was always just the right word and never too many or too few words. It flowed with the same elegant precision of the city itself.

I too think the ending was a bit of a let-down, but I still give the book very high marks as it was such a pleasure to read and I found the city and it's workings fascinating.

The workings of the city, down to the tiniest details, were well thought and explained. Therein is what leads to the letdown at the end. It is not explained to anywhere the same level of detail as the city in all the chapters before.

I was quite willing to suspend disbelief, but there seemed to be little attempt to give me something to believe at the end. I'd been expecting a convincing explanation of the mystery of the city and instead it felt a little rushed and glossed over.

Reading it was still a wonderful trip and I came away wanting to read more by Priest.

4BobStandard
Sep 8, 2008, 3:32pm

"The world itself is the same as ours. It's just the perceptions of the characters which have been altered."

-- iansales

I understand this, but accept it as an explanation only to a limited extent. The fact that Helward's independent, scrupulously unprepared perceptions precisely correspond with those of others and explain the city's history cannot be satisfactorily attributed either to group psychosis or to quasi-relativistic distortion. Why do "bent" tracks remain bent when brought forward? As Helward asks, why do the girls' clothes seem unaffected by the changes in the shapes of their bodes when they travel back? It almost makes sense... But then not quite.

5BobStandard
Sep 8, 2008, 3:36pm

#3 -- Agree entirely. Loved the clean, elegant, almost archaic prose, and the careful, original world-building. I wasn't terribly disappointed or unsatisfied with the concluding explanation, just wish that it had been worked out in a bit more detail.

6GwenH
Sep 8, 2008, 5:35pm

It almost makes sense... But then not quite.

Exactly. I would have been totally wowed by the perception explanation if he'd taken the same care to explain it in detail as he had with track laying.

I have to admit though, I'd been hoping for some flashy "the earth is being sucked into a black hole initiated by the LHC" or some such. :-D

7bobmcconnaughey
Sep 8, 2008, 9:09pm

i'll have to start it again; picked it up at a library book sale a several years ago and started and then let it go (well, it's still on our shelves - and now in my hands; pretty good quality paper for a fairly cheap looking hardback dating from 1974 - think i can read it w/out bringing on an asthma attack!). Thanks for reminding me of this one. Was it originally printed in England or based on a short story in an English anthology? I like having the line drawings!

8iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 2:23am

Priest is a British author, so yes it was originally published in the UK.

9RobertDay
Sep 9, 2008, 10:21am

Chris Priest was one of the Brave Young British SF authors back when I first began taking the genre seriously in the 1970s. (I once met him off a train and identified him from a fanzine cartoon illustration...)

His early work subverted the 'cosy British catastrophe' school, in that his first novel, Fugue for a darkening island, concerned civil breakdown following a wave of immigration following nuclear war in Africa. He then did a range of stuff, ranging from proto-steampunk The space machine to political near-future thriller The quiet woman (amazing wrong touchstone just came up!) and, of course, The prestige, which was the basis for the film of the same name.

Priest is also active in fandom, and made a stunning critique of Harlan Ellison over some anthology or other that failed to appear.

Not read inverted world for a long time. I'll put it on The List...

10iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 10:29am

He was one of the Granta British Young British Novelists in 1983, along with Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and a few others.

Ah yes, The Last Deadloss Visions... How Ellison has managed to continually dodge that bullet is beyond me.

11CliffBurns
Edited: Sep 9, 2008, 11:06am

It's apparently addressed in the Ellison docu "Dreams With Sharp Teeth". I'd like to see what he has to say on the subject. Have to admit, I was never much of a DANGEROUS VISIONS fan and that missing last volume hasn't troubled me much. More interested in someone finding the original (lost) version of Orson Welles' "Magnificent Ambersons", if ya know what I mean.

But Harlan should have just shit-canned the thing instead of just promising (increasingly limply) that it would be published...some day...

He's pretty vituperative on the subject of Priest so obviously the criticism cut deep.

12iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 11:09am

Truth often hurts...

I don't see there's anything that Ellison could do that would excuse his behaviour over it. And it's far too late to apologise.

13CliffBurns
Sep 9, 2008, 11:18am

I agree.

14iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 11:22am

I suspect he doesn't apologise though, just rants about Priest and all the people who have allegedly knifed him in the back... Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to watch the film, and I'm loath to do that,

15CliffBurns
Sep 9, 2008, 11:33am

Well, you know it's going to be entertaining, Ian. But I'm not interested in a hagiography, I'd rather it be produced by someone as tough as Ellison, really forcing him to step outside of his "act" and show some real vulnerability.

At his heart, I think Harlan is still the same little kid who was bullied back in Ohio, wounded by anti-Semitism, isolated by his bookishness and intelligence, the same poor lad who had his little dog "Puddles" gas-ed at the instigation of a spiteful neighbor. He's had to grow his armor thick, created this persona to intimidate and charm. He admits candidly he would find it impossible to live with himself. I just wish he'd take a long, hard look in the mirror and understand WHY...

16iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 11:40am

I suppose that's a fair point. After all, "Some Kind of Monster" was entertaining, even if Metallica came out looking like the biggest pricks on the planet (well, second only to various state leaders).

17CliffBurns
Sep 9, 2008, 11:48am

No, Metallica became the biggest pricks on the planet when they started blow-drying their hair and looking (and sounding) like fucking Whitesnake.

Those first 3 or 4 albums of theirs are about as good as it gets, metal-wise...

18iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 1:01pm

Pfft. There's much better metal about.

And we seem to have drifted somewhat from the topic.

Again.

19CliffBurns
Sep 9, 2008, 1:32pm

YOUR fault.

(That death metal's gonna rot your brain, boy. You wanna end up one of those sad, chubby little men you see at cons, with an armful of STAR WARS hardcovers, stuffed into XXXL t-shirts and fluent in "elvish"?)

20BobStandard
Sep 9, 2008, 2:06pm

No true metalhead would deny the 1st 3 Metallica albums. Bang the head that does not bang.

Loved Ellison in my early teens, but it's been a looooong time since he's written anything interesting.

Inverted World still makes no sense.

21iansales
Sep 9, 2008, 2:21pm

Not sure I get the link between death metal and Star Wars, Cliff. I can't think of anything less populist than death metal. And it's black metal fans who learn Elvish.

22BobStandard
Sep 9, 2008, 2:28pm

and Mortiis

23CliffBurns
Sep 9, 2008, 5:02pm

Don't encourage him, Bob...

24bobmcconnaughey
Sep 9, 2008, 10:39pm

well...unable to finish my copy of the inverted world as it seemed to trigger an asthma attack..got about half way done and WAS enjoying it quite a bit. But that's probably why i didn't finish the first time. sigh. The book looks to be in decent condition, a bit foxed(?) ie foxing on the page edges, but not as funky as many of our books..

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