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.

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The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

I think this one definitely falls under the “rare treat” category: elegantly written in a light, poetic style that isn’t too overbearing, painstakingly researched, and carrying a sense of suspense throughout the piece that’s cleverly sustained even during the quieter moments. It’s one of those rare literary novels you’ll blast through in a couple of days, but even so, the author manages to whisk us around a good number of the social, environmental and race issues affecting the Caribbean.

And on top of this, we have the sudden appearance of an ancient mermaid who brings beauty and her curse to Black Conch.

The characters are well-drawn and believable, even the mermaid, who has to deal with the practical aspects of suddenly finding herself trapped in land (rediscovering her legs for a start). What I liked about the book is that it’s a classic journey piece: everyone starts somewhere, everyone has to grow, and everyone discovers a truth – whether they want to or not.

The only real problem I had was that the story ended rather abruptly, with one or two threads left dangling. I get that the outcomes had been explained along the way through songs, poetry and journal entries, but I still felt that the book sort of just stopped.

But since a good book is more than just the end, I can’t say it ruined my enjoyment – and this is one hell of a good book.

A Song For a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

This one felt familiar: after a pandemic and a series of terrorist attacks, America goes into lockdown … permanently. A strict curfew is imposed, and the population works from home, rarely leaves town and relies on shopping and media conglomerates for supplies and entertainment.

Yeah, that does sound familiar …

The story follows the lives of two women struggling in this world of isolation: Luce, the last musician to hold a concert before the lockdown came into force, and Rosemary, a young woman who’s never left home, but has taken a job as a talent scout for one for aforementioned media conglomerates.

This is very much a character-driven piece, doing a decent job of telling the story from two viewpoints. I preferred hearing from Rosemary to be honest, as she started off as a young girl living at home without much experience of life away from her parents farm. I enjoyed watching her stumble and grow as the story went on. I mean Luce’s story was great too, but since she’d been out and around before the lockdown, she already had experience of the “before time”, so I did find her side of things slightly less compelling.

The writing style is bordering on literary I would say, with a lot of the prose taking place in the characters heads. It’s easy to read with no rough edges to get in the way of a good story. It’s also not big on suspense really. The bad thing has already happened, so all there is to do is cope with it the best you can. That’s fair enough, but if you’re the kind of reader who needs to be drawn to read on, then you might struggle. But if you’re looking for a good character drama wrapped in great writing then you should give A Song For A New Day is definitely worth a punt.