Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Inverted World” as Want to Read:
The Inverted World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Inverted World

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  6,849 ratings  ·  622 reviews
The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city & carefully removed in its wake. Rivers & mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city's engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther & farther behind the optimum & into the crushing gravitation ...more
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published May 28th 1974 by Harper & Row (NYC) (first published May 1974)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Inverted World, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Kevin I think 12/13 and up is good, both for reasons of thematics/subject matter and (especially) being able to understand what the hell is going on. I mean…moreI think 12/13 and up is good, both for reasons of thematics/subject matter and (especially) being able to understand what the hell is going on. I mean, I'm 33 and took calculus back in high school, and this book still damn near broke my brain at a couple of points. But I think a bright young person, more so one who's math/science-oriented, could potentially get a lot out of reading it, despite the full implications of the story being hard to process even for an adult.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,849 ratings  ·  622 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Inverted World
Glenn Russell
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books

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 workou
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, 2016-shelf
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
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
”We are a long way from Earth. Our home planet is one I doubt we shall ever see again, but if we are to survive here we must maintain ourselves as a microcosm of Earth. We are in desolation and isolation. All around us is a hostile world that daily threatens our survival. As long as our buildings remain, so long shall man survive in this place. Protection and preservation of our home is paramount.”

---Destain’s Directive

 photo Inverted20World20Altered_zpsfah79ixs.jpg

There is certainly the ring of Winston Churchill in this directive, but
Sep 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, favorites
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.

Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Manuel Antão
Jun 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013

The Inverted World is a cold book.

Most of Priest's books are told in a stiff and remote mode, which frequently suits the alienated subject matter. It's not the case here.


1 - The sterile environment depicted is reflected in the unemotional natures of the characters and of their relationships with one another: Helwood vs his wife Victoria and Helwood vs his father;

2 - The dialog is very stilted and stiff; it barely pretends to achieve more than information exchange. And as a result, it is
L.S. Popovich
Jul 17, 2020 rated it liked it
This was like China Mieville, but without the Baroque prose indulgence. Christopher Priest wrote it in an unadorned style, and the characters and world are not as unbounded by mundane constraints as the forward led me to believe. Too straightforward and not surprising enough to engage me all the way through. A slow-crawling novel, which slithers like the Leviathan city-snail at its heart. The imperceptible character development was stunted and bland. As a metaphorical concept, there was a lot to ...more
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
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

The mystery shrouding the bizarre world of the mobile city on a relentless march of survival is devilishly captivating. What? Where? When? A city on wheels (OK, tracks)? Huh?? Many questions you have. Time this will take ...

This mystery is peeled back in stages as we follow the coming of age of Helward Mann, city resident, on his journey as junior apprentice and later senior guildsman. Helward gradually uncov
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
Nov 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Nate D
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bart Everson
Feb 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Andy Wixon
Jan 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-re-read
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
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi, sfmasterworks
SF Masterworks (2010- series) #14:
Helward Mann, like all children had spent his entire life in the Creche, but now he has come his age he will be free to live in The City and take up a Guild. In a city where people only know anything, of ona need-to-know basis, Helward step-by-step begins to find out the very surprising reality of The City and it's eternal race against time!

Another SF Masterwok that kicks the ball out of the park! A story awash with innovative ideas and concepts. with continual
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Joseph Delaney
This book is set on a world with different physical laws than we experience on earth. The explanation for why things are so is only revealed close to the end of the novel and is a real surprise!
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-
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
Leo Robertson
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this one!

I do enjoy reading the SF Masterworks series, but as a science fiction writer, I mostly consider it homework, and a lot of the stories have dated. I don't think that this one has, and it's one of the few novels where I really had to read to the end to find out what happened (mostly I'm just like, "I can take it or leave it but I'll at least feel like I've achieved something if I get to the end of this", haha.)

I won't spoil anything but I really enjoyed how the plot unfolded. I t
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Paul Bryant
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-novels-aaargh
She was now a little more than twelve inches high, and her body – as the other girls’ – was nearly five feet broad. It was impossible to recognize them as once having been human, even though he knew this to be so.

Well here is one of the strangest of all worlds. I shouldn’t really say too much about it, as that would spoil all the fun, but that’s okay because I couldn’t explain it if I tried. The first 100 pages are rather dull, it has to be admitted, but after that not even the sky is the limit.
ashley c
Unassuming, coming-of-age, you will say, "wait, what?" a couple of times.

I really shouldn't be surprised by Priest by now. Having already read The Prestige (biggest mindblower of all) and The Adjacent, I can safely say Priest doesn't disappoint. Every book starts off with a quiet, unassuming story rooted in a reasonable, relatable reality. What throws you off is the discrepancy seeping into the plot, the little distortions in real life. Priest loves to play with perceptions, either that of the c
Feb 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Alfred Haplo
Does perception change reality, or reality changes perception?

Helward Mann, the protagonist, had only known one reality. Born and raised in an efficient organization of utilitarian functionality within the enclosure of earth’s only surviving city, Mann’s system of beliefs centered around Destaine’s Directives, the dictum of the city’s founder. As with many men before him, Mann was a guildsman in servitude to the perpetual mobility of the city. For the city is not static, and must never be in or
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
Aug 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-collection, sci-fi
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Mockingbird
  • Non-Stop
  • Wasp
  • Dangerous Visions
  • The Space Merchants (The Space Merchants, #1)
  • Half Past Human (The Hive, #1)
  • The Chain of Chance
  • The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words: Volume 1
  • Caesar and Cleopatra
  • The Genocides
  • The Status Civilization
  • Greybeard
  • Jestem legendą. Piekielny dom. Człowiek, który nieprawdopodobnie się zmniejszał
  • Blood Music
  • A Maze of Death
  • A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge, #4)
  • The Penultimate Truth
  • Rogue Moon
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
8 likes · 1 comments
“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
“I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” 2 likes
More quotes…