Inverted World by Christopher Priest

This was first published in 1974, so I’m getting to it a tad late. I wasn’t sure what to read next, so for me, that’s a good time to dip into the SF Masterworks collection.

Now if you’ve read anything about Inverted World then you’ll be expecting something exceptionally mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as that, but it certainly qualifies as mind-bending.

The story is set on a planet that might be Earth … or might not and follows the life of Helward Mann, a denizen of a city that, for the past few hundred years, has been dragged around across the continent on rails in order to stay ahead of some unknown catastrophe. Helman works his way through a youth opportunity programme that will eventually see him graduate as a member of the Guild of Surveyors which is tasked with mapping the land ahead so that the Guild of Navigators, Bridge-builders, and the Traction Guild can work together to keep the city (inconveniently called Earth) moving.

It’s quite a terse book, though the characterisations are good and the pace is fast and even enough to keep you moving (at a much faster rate than the City of Earth). It’s a book of slow reveals, dropping concepts, ideas and mathematics along the way that gave me a headache on day 3, and a nervous twitch in my right eye on day 5. The book’s not that long, but it does feel longer as your brain watches the weird way the planet’s environment affects the city’s inhabitants and tries to figure out what the hell is going on.

The pace picks up as it builds towards a climax, which is marginally satisfying, but leaves a whole lot of unanswered questions.

Still, it’s very well written, with an intricately detailed plot that’ll leave you wondering if such a thing is actually possible somewhere in the universe. I had the same feeling when I read the Wandering Earth: “That’s ridiculous … the scale of something like that! … It’s not possible … Is it?”

Okay, despite my reservations about the ending, I think Inverted World is a worthy addition to the SF Masterworks collection, and now I think about it, I’m wondering if it didn’t provide inspiration for the likes of Mortal Engines.

Well worth reading.

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