Inverted World

Inverted World

4.3 6
by Christopher Priest

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The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city’s engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the “optimum”


The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city’s engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the “optimum” into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on Earth. The only alternative to progress is death.
The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in crèches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum.
Helward Mann is a member of the city’s elite. Better than anyone, he knows how tenuous is the city’s continued existence. But the world—he is about to discover—is infinitely stranger than the strange world he believes he knows so well.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Christopher Priest's reissued novel Inverted World presents the reader with a city surrounded by high walls and a populace unaware that the entire polis sits upon tracks, pulled by a giant winch in order to stay ahead of a crushing, slowly moving gravity field...You feel the kind of surprise and exhilaration here that you do when a magician reveals (though they're not supposed to) the simple method behind an illusion." --Los Angeles Times

"... his well-crafted books play fun tricks on the reader. In this devilishly entertaining 1974 novel, Priest tells of a city called Earth that must perpetually move on rails to escape its hyperboloid planet's oppressive gravity." --Time Out New York

"A somber psychedelic journey through a landscape that seems a collaboration between Breugel the Elder and M.C. Escher, Priest's book is an engine of epiphany, and a formal marvel: a narrative in the exact shape of the conundrum it presents." -Jonathan Lethem

"This book shows us a community plunged into ignorance, trying to understand its place. You finish this novel appreciating our culture's efforts to protect its collective memories and also worried that everything we take for granted can easily be lost." --Los Angeles Times

"The most famous book from those days, Inverted World...upended existence, revealed a planet to be infinite, in a finite universe; between its poles, pressure warped every dimension of the body." —Guardian

"The author has created a unique and original world." -Publishers Weekly

"A marvellous thought experiment." —The Independent

"Inverted World will be remembered for many years, I would guess, as one of the few science fiction novels of the 1970s to come up with a new idea." -Foundation

"The Inverted World reads like a classic science fiction book--the physical concepts of the world in which it takes place are filled with a sense of wonder." -San Francisco Signal

"A science fiction mystery story about a world whose 'secret' is as incredible, but as acceptable, to its readers as it is to its characters --which if you think about it is one of the highest compliments a critic can pay to a novel. A well-structured, finely written, mature narrative that is very compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is a 'must'."-Luna Monthly

"A marvelous thought experiment in which our familiar spherical world is replaced by a hyperboloid one. Rudy Rucker is equally known for his arithmetically generated science-fiction novels." -Independent on Sunday

"The story is among those seldom found, incredibly readable narratives that the reader aches to continue reading." -Jersey Journal

"One of the trickiest and most astonishing twist endings in modern SF." —Tribune (London)

Product Details

New York Review Books
Publication date:
New York Review Books Classics Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He has published eleven novels, three short-story collections, and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations, and children’s nonfiction. In 1996 Priest won the World Fantasy Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Prestige, which was adapted into a film by Christopher Nolan in 2006. His most recent novel, The Separation, won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Priest and his wife, the writer Leigh Kennedy, live in Hastings, England, with their twin children. 

John Clute was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1940, but has lived most of his life in England. He has won three Hugo Awards for his nonfiction. Recent work includes Appleseed, a novel, The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, and Canary Fever: Reviews.

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The Inverted World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
The_Alternative More than 1 year ago
Once upon a time there was a great City known as Earth that constantly, slowly, and persistently moved ever-forward on rails towards its grinding goal to reach, or , at least, pace "Optimum." Slowly, at a tenth of a mile a day, the City slouched northward toward the horizon. To fall behind was unthinkable and deadly or so the denizens had been taught. Behind this lumbering behemoth, the Traction Guild strained to remove the ties and rails and quickly transport them to the front of the City. The Navigator Guild would send scouts great distances to determine the best routes forward. Rivers, canyons, lakes, and other natural impediments were spanned by the Bridge Guild. Protecting them all from dissident villagers along the way was the Militia Guild. So begins the quirky story of "Inverted World" by Christopher Priest. Normally, I would label my evaluation of "Inverted World" as a classic book review since this story was first published in 1974. However, and shame on me, I did not read this marvelous work of fiction until recently and therefore I cannot in good conscience label it a classic. However, had I read it twenty or thirty years ago I think I'd have deemed it an instant classic then. The characters are believable and well-written but trapped within the confines of their Guilds. Some search for answers while others, like the City, plod ever-onward without question or purpose. Strange "distortions" follow the City and those who travel too far behind it suffer physical and temporal changes to themselves and their surroundings. The mystery of how this "world" came to be unravels slowly but expertly in Priest's hands. The main premise of the book consists of pure hard science and while the laws of physics appear to be strained at first, all is explained in the end. And, in my opinion, the wait is definitely worth it. The mysteries of the planet and the city are skillfully, although slowly, unraveled throughout the narrative and kept me interested until the very last page. If there is a flaw with this story it is that it is much too short and the open ending might have been expanded to full closure (which I won't spoil here with explanation.) Written with compact and concise detail this too short novel drew me in from the very first paragraph and the themes of respect, responsibility, parity, warped realism, and discovery were woven together in such a way that kept me totally engrossed and my imagination working in hyper-drive. Overall I became lost in the story and its enormous sense of wonder, buildup of mystery, and ever-present suspense as Priest's portrayal of this interesting society grew. Ah, to become lost in wonder while reading. isn't that all we ever ask from any intelligent book? 4 out of 5 stars The Alternative Southeast Wisconsin
nadrad More than 1 year ago
Excellent story! Hated algebra? You'll love this world!! Loved algebra? You're really going to love this world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read Priest's novel in the mid-70's, and have returned to it several times since. It is one of a handful of sf novels that I have found haunting my thoughts over the years, because it presents something genuinely new and challenging, demanding that you enter into a very different world-view.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was surprisingly good. it was a little slow going at first but it soon picks up and keeps you wanting to know what is going to happen. not at all what i was expecting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Priest crafts a finely-tuned universe built around a civilization that must, at all costs, keep moving along railroad tracks. Each chapter imparts new rules, new revelations regarding the operation of Earth City and its inhabitants, and how the physical world relentlessly attempts to devour them. All compelling stuff until its last few chapters, where the story self-destructs and drops with a giant explody THUD. Or there's a train wreck metaphor in there somewhere. It's a tragedy is what I'm saying. Just write an ending whydontcha, sheesh.