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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 that ended At least, I knew how the movie version ended Someday I ll check its verisimilitude The Inverted World is reminiscent of Iain M Banks, the recent British SF horror phenomenon, and of Robert Charles Wilson s Spin Like Spin and many of Banks s works, The Inverted World presents the reader with an enigmatic world seen through questionably reliable eyes It is told with a prose also reminiscent of Banks s generally spare, but lucid and carefully drawn Like a Sumi e painting, Priest evokes a vivid mood and location with a chosen paucity of pen strokes.I found the central mystery compelling so much so that I read most of this relatively short novel on a plane flight Granted, a transatlantic flight Unfortunately, I can t tell you much about it without spoilers, so you ll just have to trust that I found it compelling He succeeded in misdirecting me a couple of times, and it wasn t until very late in the story that I made a close guess as to what was going on.Yet I found the ending ultimately dissatisfying The revelation, when it comes, is incomplete at least, to my reading There were certain elements that I felt were unexplained and that left highly nagging holes in the narrative Some of this seems deliberate like John Fowles s The Magus, we readers are left a bit adrift at the end, on our own hooks to make what we can of the conundrums of the text I guess the satisfaction of such a resolution is individual specific, but I found both of them a bit lacking This dissatisfaction is primarily what inclines me to give this book 4 stars rather than 5.Secondarily, I wonder a bit about the characterization My initial impression was that the protagonist is underdeveloped, serving primarily as a foil for the mystery of the story But on reading John Clute s effusive afterward, and reflecting on the story a bit, I have to admit that the protagonist s flattened affect may be deliberate, rather than clumsy a symbol of the mystery and a reflection of the environment in which he finds himself But that still doesn t make him sympatheticOverall, a very engaging read I will definitely look for of Priest s books.If you ve read this as well, and would be interested in discussing it in spoiler mode, please drop me a line. So, we know from Einstein that space and time are both part of a larger concept that unifies them, and over 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 past It occurs to me suddenly to wonder if there s a link to a passage in Simone de Beauvoir s Les Mandarins One of the characters has done something truly despicable, and finally confesses it to a friend He expects the friend to be appalled, but he just looks thoughtful After a while, he says, In a curved moral space, there are no straight lines.I have always liked this gnomic sentence It s not out of the question that it inspired Priest s book. 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 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 Creches, Nurtured On Synthetic Food, Prevented Above All From Venturing Outside The Closed Circuit Of The City, They Re Carefully Sheltered From The Dire Necessities That Have Come To Define Human Existence Yet The City Is In Crisis People Are Growing Restive The Population Is Dwindling 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 S About To Discover Is Infinitely Stranger Than The Strange World He Believes He Knows So Well 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 World The is added to the title in some editions is often found in best science fiction books lists, it is a Hugo nominee and the winner of the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel in 1975 All well deserved accolades and perhaps the book is even a little underrated Certainly it is one of the oddest sci fi conceits I have ever come across Basically Inverted World is about a city on wheels called Earth that is being moved in the northerly direction on a railway track that has to be laid ahead of the city s route and removed after the city has passed to be laid down again ahead An idea reused in China Mi ville s 2004 novel Iron Council, but Inverted World is much bizarre though as it is an entire city being moved, for unknown destination and even purpose The Earth city s citizens only know that if their city stops moving they will all die The weirdness does not stop there, the law of physics appears to work differently away from the city People and objects become wider and flatter to the south of the city and thinner and taller to the north.In spite of the bizarre premise Inverted World is really quite readable and accessible Priest writes in clear, uncluttered prose with a linear timeline and a single plot strand Characters are not developed in much depth but their behavior and motivation is always understandable I can not help but sympathize with their strange plight.The world building of Inverted World is exemplary, once you accept the weirdness of the book s universe it becomes a fascinating place to spend some time in The author often throws me for a loop with the strange developments in his storyline Once I settled into the groove of the book reading it becomes quite an exhilarating and jaw dropping experience In some ways this book reminds me of Hal Clements s classic hard sci fi Mission of Gravity as it is also set in a world where the law of physics appears to change from location to location However, Inverted World is not hard sci fi as such, there are just too many bizarre concepts for that particular subgenre label In fact the reality warping aspect of the book where the relationship between time and space become unreliable puts me in mind of the legendary Philip K Dick So if you imagine a collaboration between Arthur C Clarke and PKD you may have a fair idea of what to expect.Most of the mysteries are explained by the end of the book and almost everything make sense If I have one complaint it is the rather abrupt ending which makes me feel as if a few pages have gone missing In any case Inverted World is like a gymnasium for the imagination and I can not imagine a dedicated sci fi fans not liking it It is already on my Favorites shelf here on Goodreads. 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.Faults 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 than information exchange And as a result, it is difficult to become involved in the characters lives or to care about their feelings 3 The leitmotiv of the book is abandoned three quarters of the way through 4 It lacks an explanation on how the characters moved from this world to the Inverted World 5 The books wrap up at the end, i.e., The Explanation , leaves a lot to be desired There re lots of questions unanswered Intentional Redeeming factor 1 It has a mind boggling idea that is at the very heart of the novel Compared to his later books I think it lacks the subtlety and ambiguity expected from him.It s well worth the read simply for its basic concept 3 stars for that. 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 and ciencia ficci n go together like weed and inhalation psychosis, so it s Inverted World for the win.Which proved not to be much of a victory This is one of those Eh books, so common, in my experience, to the milieu of science fiction entertaining, certainly intriguing at the outset, but marred by paper thin characters, clustered action, expository text that dissipates the sense of otherness so necessary to such fantastic fiction, and an ending that proved tricky but, ultimately, unsatisfying What s , I ve got a few questions about the point of view of the City dwellers that haven t been answered in the course of the story s completion, and I believe that these questions undermine an integral aspect of the resolution provided to wit, the aging effect, which I shan t get into further for fear of spoiling the plot for those yet to partake of Priest s imaginative offering, but it seems a gaping flaw that the developments at the end fail to deal with.I still mostly enjoyed this stories that feature dystopian futures set amidst apocalyptic wastelands inhabited by the crude and regressive remnants of a once highly civilized humanity and centered upon an isolated collective vessel of said vanished civilization s descendants struggling to preserve the faith, s, and technologies of the old ways in the face of the mutations and temptations for a newer set to override and or supersede them always rock my boat in this particular case, the conceit consists of a block sized, multi tiered City winching itself northwards along a tetrad of railway tracks that are immediately disassembled in the rear and positioned anew in the front as the city structure edges along, forever chasing the elusive optimum whose invisible geometric parameters are of a vital necessity to keep within a few miles of the city s physical structure There s cool physics, archaic and hierarchical governing guilds, apprenticeship rituals, female population imbalance, and nifty perception perturbations that drive the story onwards, with a few narrative shifts that cast a new light upon what is taking place Further, Priest has crafted some sly allusions to our own hypertrophied hydrocarbonic era overlaid with a spicy sprinkling of Cold War bifurcations So, there you have it a book to which I bestow a somewhat tepid three star rating I m sure that I ve inflated its flaws in my mind, and downplayed its cleverness, but the bottom line is that my initial enthusiasm, which was appreciable, began to deflate roughly around the third part of the story, never to regain its momentum I cannot shake the sense that I should be partaking of serious fare, that such frivolous and flimsy material, whilst fine for a dude in his twenties, has been outgrown and should be consigned to my days of bong hits, beers, and Bits n Bites How in the hell can I possibly continue to leave Proust and Powell and Kundera and Serge and Mar as idling upon the shelf to follow a track bound city turtling across the open plains Perhaps this explains why my Culture collection Phlebas, Games, Weapons, Excession gather dust in a corner If I actually got into them, that recently promoted literary section of my reading consciousness would berate my escapist self to no end and if Banks fare proved no better than Inverted World, it just might have a point. 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 and basically boring at the same time Frankly I have no idea why NYRB reissued it, as it s really of a curio than anything else and probably could have stayed out of print without the general reading public suffering too much But kinda cool that it s out there, and if the description or Lethem s blurb intrigues you, you could do worse and you ll finish it within a couple days probably. 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 NovelNominee Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel This novel is actually all kinds of amazing when it comes to the exploration of a few core ideas and 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 So the characters are good, the story is very solid then what, exactly, makes this novel stand out The concept An intersection of our Earth with these people s Earth Not original enough No problem How about an infinite space of earth along a fluid time The city is on rails, a direct concept that is carried over to Railsea, travelling slowly into the future and away from the past, which doesn t sound so surprising except when you realize that if the inhabitants actually walk in one direction or another, they actually explore the real past or the future Infinite space along a traversable time, the inverse of the Earth we actually live in.But this is where the story gets interesting There s guilds and explorers and the crossing over along very predefined instants where the two Earths meet, and then we start asking questions about perception.It s truly much than this, but it gives you a nice taste and it s truly a grand exploration of ideas across many points Truly a great recommendation for any SF lover. 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 There is certainly the ring of Winston Churchill in this directive, but what Churchill understood better than anyone was finding a cadence which allows each sentence to build nicely on the one before it Churchill wanted to rattle the cage of nationalism, prick their eyes with tears, and bring them to their feet We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.We shall fight on the beaches,we shall fight on the landing grounds,we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender Still Destain, not bad You make a good case that the inhabitants of this city you have created are truly alone Reliant only on one another They are bonded together by a common goal to reach a mathematically created goal of optimum Are you confused yet If you are confused, then the author of this book, Christopher Priest, has you right where he wants you to be I would like to tell you, fair reader, that you are going to be parachuted into this world with plenty of time to gaze upon the terrain, chat with a pretty bartender about the local scene, and wander the streets with a mystifying smile upon your lips The problem is this is no holiday It is going to be like being dropped into a swampy pond with your legs tucked up against your chest in true cannonball fashion The world is a swirling blur just before you feel your puckered ass break the surface of the water We have a guide, a Helward Mann, a young lad just 650 miles old, who is making his way through guild training He is made of soft clay It will be many miles before he is fired in the kiln and ready to assume his duties as a full guild member He has been raised in The City, in a creche, on a steady diet of synthetic food, sheltered from the world, completely oblivious of what exists out there beyond the walls of The City That is about to change.Part of Helward s guild training is achieving a deeper understanding of the function of The City He works on the crew which lays the tracks that The City moves on They lay track, move The City forward, tear up the track, and lay it back down so The City can move again They are, after all, chasing the optimum, and if they fall too far behind optimum, the world they are escaping will crush them, destroy them They use Took labor, tribal starving cultures along their route, who need food and will do whatever The City needs to help alleviate, even temporarily, their subsistence existence They even lend their fertile women to The City To put it mildly, things are out of balance, and a certain level of desperation is starting to guide the decisions of The City Morality is set aside in the interest of protecting The City, but the real question that haunts Helward and a growing number of people in The City is, are those decisions protecting The City or protecting the directives With growing unease, Helward is starting to question everything, including the whole concept of chasing optimum.He meets a young Englishwoman on one of his excursions away from tTe City, and the way she sees things casts even doubt in his mind We get to see through her eyes exactly what The City is She had heard the men refer to it as a city, and Helward too, but to her eyes it was not much than a large misshapen office block It did not look too safe, constructed mainly of timber It had the ugliness of functionalism, and yet there was a simplicity to its design which was not altogether unattractive She was reminded of pictures she had seen of pre Crash buildings, and although most of those had been steel and reinforced concrete they shared the squareness, the plainness, and lack of exterior decoration We accumulate understanding right with Helward as he uncovers the warped truths, sometimes in the midst of psychedelic apparitions We start to question along with him what is really going on with The City and with the world that surrounds it Is this a post apocalyptic society or something else Why is the sun squished instead of round What happens to the world behind them What happens when they catch optimum Why Why Why Does anyone even remember the truth Christopher Priest has a vibrant imagination, and he certainly had me muttering to myself as I was trying to understand the concepts of this inverted world that I willingly allowed myself to be cannonballed into the middle of I can now safely say that I can navigate The City with some level of acquired street sense Ahh, yes, and for those travelers that find themselves in similar circumstances, do bring a supply of your own protein bars and a bottle or two of good bourbon You will thank me later If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at