Inverted World (1974) by Christopher Priest

‘I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.’

I have read about the importance of opening lines in drawing a reader into a novel. Well, this book has one of the most original and intriguing opening lines that I have ever read. It made me so curious to know more about the “I” and his unusual age.

Christopher Priest won the BSFA 1974 Best Novel Award for this work. I first heard about him when the film adaptation of his book ‘The Prestige’ was released in 2006. When I decided to begin my BSFA Best Novel Reading Challenge, I discovered that Priest had won the award 3 times. Considering how good this novel is, I am really looking forward to reading his other two award winners, ‘The Extremes’ (1998) and ‘The Separation’ (2002).

‘Inverted World’ is the story of Helward Mann, a young apprentice on a voyage of discovery about his home and the mysteries surrounding it. This home is a city known as “Earth” which is being slowly winched along tracks northward toward some mysterious point referred to as “optimum”. We follow Helward’s journey as the veil is slowly lifted and he begins to perceive the reality of this inverted world.

In his afterword to the New York Review Books edition, John Clute describes this novel as “Hard SF” as well as “pure Christopher Priest.” I’m new to terms such as “Hard SF”, so I can’t really comment on whether I think it is or isn’t. All I will say is that this is a fascinating story of speculative fiction, a story that has terms like “mind bending” and “psychedelic” attached to reviews of it. It is a story that I’m still thinking about, despite finishing it a couple of weeks ago. Highly recommended.

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10 thoughts on “Inverted World (1974) by Christopher Priest

  1. I don’t feel it is Hard SF at all, the science part of this book is ludicrous. That’s sad, because ultimately, because of that, I didn’t really enjoy the book as much as I would have if Priest would’ve fixed that.

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  2. It is a quick read, isn’t it. I found it a bizarre tale but there was something about it that really got to me. Maybe it was the strange atmosphere of the world depicted, but it took me somewhere else during my read. I liked the way Priest asked questions about perception and reality.

    What would you recommend as a great Hard SF tale?

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  3. I loved this book, and I think the Hard SF disappointment was deliberate to take some knocks at the didacticism of typical Hard SF. That was the impression I got with the big, hulking “construct” and the tedius task of rolling it along a distorted Earth. I think Clute said as much in his foreward or afterward, but it was apparent to me before I read his take. (I’ve learned to read Clute AFTER things because his word is gospel before I’ve even made up my own mind!) Funny how the Hard SF fans don’t see through that.

    I am reading Priest’s The Prestige this month, too. And his partner Nina Allan is another fabulous author I’ve discovered this year. The Race is mind-swimmy anhedonia.

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  4. I remember your review of ‘The Race’. I’ve just re-read it now and this quote is why Allan’s book has joined my worryingly growing Tbr pile: “Why it’s really special: A prime example of SF doing something different.” Because that’s what we’re all here for, right? It’s the “something different” ones that stay with you.

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  5. Pingback: The Separation (2002) by Christopher Priest | Who's Dreaming Who

  6. Pingback: The British Science Fiction Association’s Best Novel Reading Challenge | Who's Dreaming Who

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