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Inverted World (SF Masterworks)

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  3,226 ratings  ·  326 reviews
One of two or three of the most impressive pure-SFnovels produced in the UK since World War Two' ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION. 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
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Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published (first published January 1st 1974)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Szplug
Feeling really burned after Nixonland, I meandered about my home horde, reading some Gass and Kronenberger essays, some of Prestowitz's Three Billion New Capitalists, dipping here and there into Borges, Scruton, and Posner, but nothing was really sticking other than my skin to the back of my chair. Then I espied my good ol' shelf of NYRB Classics, so beautifully formal, so stiffly aesthetic, redolent of that pulpy pureness that engenders almost a postcoital bliss—so why in the hell not? Summer a ...more
Apatt
Some science fiction books are written just to entertain, some are depiction of the author’s vision of the future, and some are for conveying the author’s philosophical or political ideas. Occasionally I come a across sci-fi books that are pure thought experiments, where the authors sets out to explore some outlandish idea to its logical conclusion. For all I know Christopher Priest had some other intent for the book but clearly thought experimentation appears to be the primary purpose.

Inverted
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Manny
So, we know from Einstein that space and time are both part of a larger concept that unifies them, and moreover that spacetime is curved.

Much to his credit, Christopher Priest manages to turn this observation into a metaphor which forms the basis of an imaginative, well-written science-fiction novel. There are some startling images, and he gets you curious right from the start. Why is the city on rails? Why does it have to keep moving? Why do they refer to the direction it's come from as "the p
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AC
Though my knowledge of SF is obviously nearly less than zero – surpassed only on the downside by my understanding of science in general, I’m going to hazard a few thoughts about what seems (from my point of view, at least) to be wrong with this genre.

Browsing today through the Sci-fi lists of some of the GR people I follow, I’m stunned to see that even those who are big, BIG readers of this genre think most of the books that they’ve read are, basically..., crap (or mediocre, anyway – two and thr
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Krok Zero
You know how dumb-asses will describe something as being "like ___ on acid." This book is like if Philip K. Dick wasn't on acid. Like, if Dick had been a studious young man into engineering and physics instead of a drugged-out freakazoid. The content of Priest's novel is wacked-out and mind-bending in a sort of Dickian way, but the tone is dry and the prose is stilted (well, in that one respect it's not so far from Dick) and the details are scientific. Somehow it manages to be highly engaging an ...more
Andy Wixon
This is a warning as much as a review - I'm sorry to say that I haven't looked at this properly in about a decade - but basically I just want to say: this book will mess with your head.

Really. The first time I heard of it, it was preceded with the words 'hyperbolically strange' and that's a better capsule description than any I can give. Basically, it's the story of a young fellow named Helward Mann (possibly a crashingly unsubtle piece of metaphor, possibly not) who's just coming of age as a ci
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Terran
Nov 18, 2008 Terran rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: SF readers who enjoy abstractions and mysteries
Shelves: reviewed
I found this book both fascinating and frustrating. Overall, I would highly recommend it, but with caveats.

I had never read Priest before, but I picked this up randomly when I was on travel and running out of reading material. It was shelved next to The Prestige, his 1996 (IIRC?) novel that was recently filmed. Susan and I really enjoyed the movie, so I thought that this Priest guy might be worth a gamble. I avoided The Prestige as a first cut because I wanted something new. (And I knew how tha
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Nate D
Reads like a simple adventure story, but with an unexpected level of cleverness and complexity, both of underlying concept and usefulness as cautionary fable. I can't entirely speak for some of the underlying physics (some "hard" sci-fi what-ifs mix well with social concerns here), but its terribly interesting and seems well-thought-through enough that I have no complaints.

Starting simply but intriguingly with a city that must constantly move through an uncertain and perhaps threatening world on
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Jacob
March 2009

I'll just say what everyone else is saying: this is not an easy one to review. On one hand, Inverted World appears pretty straightforward: Helward Mann comes of age in the city of Earth and ventures outside for the first time, where he learns that the city rests on wheels, forever rolling north along tracks. But as we learn what the city is moving towards--and what it is moving away from--the central mystery of the story becomes weird, strange, eerily convoluted, and--for me, at least-
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Stephen
4.0 stars. Outstanding science fiction novel. This is the first novel by Christopher Priest that I have read and I plan to read the rest of his wroks based on the strength of this novel. Great premise, good characters and and tightly woven plot that is never boring. Unlike some other reviewers, I thought the ending was great. Highly recommended!!

Winner: British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who don't mind weird-ass mentalised science fiction
Shelves: sf-novels-aaargh
This is some kind of weird-ass mentalised science fiction stylee, let me tell you. People go through changes in this book, but not in a good way.
Kathrina
NYRB, you have never failed me. This was a book group pick, and, though it was an NYRB, I didn't think I was in the mood for this. Turns out, this was exactly the book I needed. Hard sci-fi, yet surprisingly accessible, with a blow-you-away premise. There are a couple of issues I'm still troubling over, but I think that's a sign of a good read -- I want to figure it out, I'm engaged enough to keep puzzling with it, long after the last page. Priest's writing reminds me a lot of George R. Stewart, ...more
Richard
Wow - I enjoyed this. As literature, it's not that special - the characters don't really stand out and the writing wasn't particularly evocative. But the story makes for an excellent puzzle. Translated into stars, it's maybe a 3 1/2. I came across the author from his introduction of another book - The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. Inverted World is a bit of a sci-fi mystery with a premise that's incredibly odd but also fascinating. In a run down landscape, where society seems to have fallen apart, ...more
Bart Everson
Jul 12, 2012 Bart Everson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: both science fiction fans and people who think they don't like science fiction
Shelves: octavia-sf
I've enjoyed an ongoing debate for a few years with a friend about the role of characters in literature. My friend argues that great characterization is more than just a hallmark of great writing. According to him, it's kind of the whole point.

I disagree. In the main he's right, but there are exceptions. Borges comes to mind immediately. And also this novel by Christopher Priest

When I first read Inverted World some thirty years ago, it made a huge impression on me. It might make an impression o
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William1
I'm no great fan of Science Fiction, but this novel transcends the genre. It has a corker of a plot, which I won't spoil here. The only thing I was not crazy about was the way Priest uses dialog throughout to relay a lot of exposition. That's okay early in the novel because the narrator is a young apprentice of a guild; it's natural for him to ask questions about his new duties and surroundings. Toward the end of the book, however, the device shows its creakiness. But don't let me put you off th ...more
Andrea
I read this in 1981 - and thinking back so many years, I realise that it was the book that kindled my love for physics based science-fiction, and how we might have to adapt if we lived under different laws of physics. It is a gem, and has hardly aged after so many years. The protagonists are well rounded, their society well portrayed, and the extrapolation of the implications of a different physics have been carefully thought through. It is obvious that this is a work that was several years in g ...more
Krbo
Nevjerojatno dobar SF, super ideja i odlično napisano.

Jedno 4-5 puta pročitano.
(od 1988.)
Veeral
The Inverted World is choke-full of big ideas for a relatively short book. But the real problem with this book is, towards the end, Priest turns unconvincingly realistic with his approach and hence it seems a bit rushed and a lot of things are left unexplained.

I think Priest wrote himself into a corner and then seeing no way out, rushed towards a more realistic and thus an anti-climatic end. But in retrospect, I think that might have been the only way as he himself was not sure how to end the bo
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Liviu
The Inverted World is an example of why sf even when written well literary like here is a very time-dependent genre with books aging fast whether because reality overtakes them, others write many similar stuff in case of success or simply that genre conventions were so narrow (lack of diversity) to start with.

The Inverted World is also a novel that would be just awesome for a beginning sf reader from say 1970-1990 as it does the "sense of wonder, strange reality but with an explanation" pretty w
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Elmistico
Jul 27, 2008 Elmistico rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elmistico by: Mon intuition.
Shelves: sf
Il faut dire que Priest sait comment accrocher son lecteur dés le début. Quand on apprend que le personnage avec lequel on va voyager à un âge de 1000 kilomètres, une question se pose alors directement, comment un âge peut être mesurer en kilomètres.
Ainsi avec ce héros de milles kilomètres habitant une cité mobile appelé Terre, on est lâche dans un monde inconnu a nos yeux mais aussi aux yeux du héros principal. On se sent totalement perdu ce qui renforce alors la proximité avec Maan, en effet c
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Hadrian
A rather ordinary scifi adventure story elevated to something more with a great plot twist. I obviously won't go into it for the sake of spoilers, but I can say that this asks a few stark questions about isolation and belief as well as bringing up neat scientific concepts.
F.R.
The middle section of ‘The Inverted World’ is extraordinary. It’s going to be difficult to write about it without giving too much away, but if you want me to reach for easy and cliched shorthand to describe it then, well, it’s like an acid trip. I’ve always liked the big desert landscapes in Sergio Leone movies and I’ve also always liked the way that his best films have a certain dream-like quality to them; well, the huge and daunting vistas are present, but there’s also a trip of the imaginatio ...more
Kate Sherrod
This book has the feel more of an extended thought-experiment than a novel at times, but the mystery of why the world through which Helward Mann's city-on-rails travels kept me turning pages, wanting to find out why the hell time moves differently north and south of the city, why the ground is pulling the city towards its destruction, why the sun appears as a hyperbolic solid rather than a sphere...

Other reviewers have complained that there is not a conventional story here, that the protagonist
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Kiri
Fascinating story with an old-school SF feel to it. I guess it's the fact that the whole thing is really idea-driven; we are told who Helward Mann (the protagonist) is, rather than shown - he's really a vehicle for telling the story. But what a story it is; the sense of weirdness is palpable as things unfold. Helward lives in the city Earth, a habitat that rides on rails which are continually dismantled behind it and assembled before. Earth has to move forward to attempt to achieve the "optimum" ...more
Elana
I am rereading "The Inverted World" for a chapter in my own book (yes, this is the ecosystem of literary criticism, in which writing feeds on writing). It is perfectly composed, beautifully balanced and one of the most interesting examples of impossible space in literature. If you like it, take a look at Adam Roberts' "On".
Erik Graff
Dec 24, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sf fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sf
I love books which take an incredible, mind-bending premise and make it plausible. Priest's Inverted World represents an impossible, yet imaginable because well-imagined, city in an impossibly tortured topology and tells a tale wherein the explication of the setting is more important than the plot.
Trevor
I picked this book up completely by chance after reading the jacket synopsis of Priest's (heretofore unknown to me) The Affirmation. That novel looked interesting, but, having recently been left cold by Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, another celebrated SF author's foray into metafiction, I decided to start with the book adjacent to that one on the shelf, this SF novel of ideas. The premise is very weird, but explored with such clarity and precision that the reader is inextricably drawn in (we're talk ...more
Proustitute
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 th
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Peter
I've been out of work for more than two years now. When I was working I was a classic "workaholic", it was pretty much all I did. Now that I'm currently out of the work force, I've started to view this book as a metaphor for "work", or really anything that causes you to have blinders on for a large portion of your life. Just like the people in this book, I had blinders on, not really seeing that there was a great big world outside of my tiny little job. My family is so much more important to me ...more
Erica
Like many other readers, I find this book difficult to review. On the surface it is a classic science fiction story of a man trying to understand the world in which he lives (in this case, the city of "earth" which must be moved along a track at a rate of 1 mile every 10 days to stay close to "optimum") and the rules of the guild which he has joined. But more than that it is a story of perceptions and choice.

My main complaint about a lot of science fiction is that often whatever quirk makes the
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  • On Wings of Song
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  • R.U.R. & War with the Newts
  • Drowning Towers
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Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He began writing soon after leaving school and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1968.

He has published eleven novels, four short story collections and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations and children’s non-fiction.

He has written drama for radio (BBC Radio 4) and television (Thames TV and HTV). In
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More about Christopher Priest...
The Prestige The Affirmation The Islanders The Glamour The Separation

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“Civilization on Earth planet was equated with selfishness and greed; those people who lived in a civilized state exploited those who did not. There were shortages of vital commodities on Earth planet, and the people in the civilized nations were able to monopolize those commodities by reason of their greater economic strength. This imbalance appeared to be at the root of the
disputes.”
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