Review of ‘Inverted World’ by Christopher Priest

A dystopian science fiction novel with big ideas but an unengaging writing style. It was first published in 1974 and is, I think, the first novel about cities moving across the earth. As Adam Roberts says in the introduction to the book, the idea has influenced writers since, although he neglects to mention Mortal Engines.

The book mainly follows the aptly named Helward Mann as he serves his apprenticeship as a Future Surveyor. He has grown up on a moving city which is winched along rails, but doesn’t find out why this is until he takes his oath and becomes part of the elite. There is a lot of mundane detail about the process of moving the city, making this an unenjoyable reading experience. Things get quite weird around halfway through the book, although I predicted the crazy twist at the end that I’d been promised, so it wasn’t that satisfying a conclusion. As a metaphor it’s a good story and I suppose if you like geometry there’s an added appeal, yet I was a little bored with it. I also didn’t understand why the writer switched Helward’s narrative from first person perspective to third, then back to first.

As a read picked up from a charity shop, it was OK, but I’m not sure I recommend it.

This edition published by Gollancz in the SF Masterworks series, 2010.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘Inverted World’ by Christopher Priest”

  1. I have read a number of Christopher Priest books, but not this one. I definitely agree with you about his writing style. His ideas are great indeed, and I always keep thinking when reading his books that if only his writing, including the way he arranges his ideas on paper, could match this incredible fantasy world of his, he would have probably ranked among the greatest sci-fi writers of the twentieth century.

    1. That’s interesting. Would you recommend any of his others? I think you are correct about the writing style. If someone with more literary flair such as Arthur C Clarke or Ray Bradbury had written it, this would have been a brilliant read not only for the ideas but the execution.

      1. Priest’s books The Prestige and The Affirmation are good (but not brilliant). The former was made into a film by Christopher Nolan, but with some big changes. I actually discovered this author first by way of my interest in doppelgangers and twins in fiction, since his book The Separation is about identical twins, for example (and Priest himself has a pair of twins). But again, in all these books I mentioned I loved the ideas much more than the execution.

        1. Thanks… I’ll keep those books in mind but I’m not convinced he’s the author for me. I had heard of The Prestige but not seen the film.

Leave a Reply