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Inverted World

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  3,797 ratings  ·  377 reviews
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.
Paperback, 303 pages
Published May 13th 2010 by Gollancz (first published January 1st 1974)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Glenn Russell

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
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
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
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.

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
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
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
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-
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Nevjerojatno dobar SF, super ideja i odlično napisano.

Jedno 4-5 puta pročitano.
(od 1988.)
Stephen Curran
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
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
Jurica Ranj
Knjiga koju sam pročitao u 2 dana. Genijalna ideja, sažeta naracija i postepeno upoznavanje sa svim detaljima funkcioniranja grada i njegovog društva su jednostavno gušt za čitati. Svijet u kojem se odvija radnja je fascinantan, ali nažalost rasplet i njegovo objašnjenje je ispalo ubrzano, "očekivano" i time razočaravajuće, jer sam se ipak nadao odmaku od poznatih nam stvari, a također i zato jer postoje stvari u priči koje se ne uklapaju u to objašnjenje. Unatoč toj boljci, knjiga je odlično št ...more
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.
Ever had that feeling of the world moving beneath your feet? Perhaps it's more than just a feeling. Or perhaps not....

My brain has been boggled all the way through this. Just when I thought I had it figured out, he throws in another shocker. It is just so, so good. It's a wonderful dystopia mixed with a kind of pyscadelic Victorian thought experiment piece of fiction, mixed with bizarre sci fi... and it makes for such engaging and page-turning reading.

The main focus of this book is a "city" on
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
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
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
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Alternate Realiti...: inverted world 1 13 May 06, 2015 12:25PM  
The Evolution of ...: September 2014 Group read - The Inverted World 14 45 Apr 16, 2015 07:47PM  
SciFi and Fantasy...: Christopher Priest - The Inverted World - Sept 2014 14 36 Sep 11, 2014 11:23AM  
Dystopian Society: MAY BOOK 8 30 May 08, 2014 09:50AM  
Dystopian Society: Suggestion for May's book 9 35 May 05, 2014 12:34AM  
What's The Name o...: SOLVED. endlessly railroad building SF [s] 10 36 Jan 25, 2014 04:11PM  
NYRB Classics: Inverted World, by Christopher Priest 1 8 Oct 23, 2013 02:10PM  
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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
More about Christopher Priest...

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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
“Do you think it could be that those in charge of the guilds keep the system in operation after it has outlived its original purpose? It seems to me that the system works by suppression of knowledge. I don't see what that achieves. It has made me very discontented, and I'm sure I'm not alone.” 0 likes
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