Inverted World


None The Wiser
Jul 24, 2003
By Christopher Priest
Published 1974

Helward Mann lives in Earth City and, at the age of six hundred and fifty miles, has just been accepted as an apprentice within the Futures Guild. Emerging from the safety of the city that has always been his home, Mann discovers a world that is not as it should be. It is a world that seems prone to visual distortion….a world in which Earth City must constantly move northwards. To stop is to invite destruction.

As Helward begins his apprenticeship, he slowly begins to comprehend the nature of the world in which he lives….a world of infinite size within a finite universe.

A well written and imaginative book that begins slowly but soon gains momentum, drawing the reader into this very original and thought provoking novel. I found it always intriguing and never boring. There are moments of confusion – the descriptions of the effects of distortion and centrifugal force I found a bit difficult to get to grips with – but I think that is more a failing of my own comprehension rather than the writing itself.

The simple fact is that this book is a bit different. It has an edge, and Priest writes with enough intelligence and clarity to give it a level of credibility. All I can say is that it won’t be too long before I give this book another read. Good stuff!

I don’t know if this novel is still in print but it can be picked up pretty cheaply second-hand….and that lack of expense makes this book a must have for anybody looking for some decent, inexpensive Science Fiction.


Mad Mountain Man
Jun 29, 2010
Scottish Highlands
My thoughts:
“I had reached the age of one hundred and fifty miles.”

The famous opening line of Inverted World immediately informs the reader that they are in for something a bit different. Everything is inverted: in the opening sentence it is space and time, the spheres of the planet and its sun are ‘inverted’ spheres, the city is in motion instead of static, and even the ending turns all that has gone before on its head. Priest’s world is brilliantly imagined (if not always entirely consistent) and totally unique; I think I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like it, the closest probably being some of Philip K Dick’s explorations on the nature of reality.

The story is essentially a coming of age story – though it never quite feels like one – following the main character, Helward Mann, as he is initiated into the strange, secret adult world of the Guilds in a city perpetually chasing the ‘optimum’ on rails, picked up from behind and re-laid in front, always moving to escape being dragged back to a terrible destruction. Do not expect to understand this eccentric world straight away; Helward never has it explained to him, it is far too bizarre for explanations and instead, zen-like, the Guilds insist he must discover its realities for himself and the reader must follow along at Helward’s own pace.

The pace is never that of a breakneck action adventure, instead being more that of a measured and careful student (Helward) striving to understand the inexplicable. And yet that steady pace is unrelenting; it would be easy to burn the midnight oil and read Inverted World in a single sitting (I took two!). The development of both plot and setting is compelling and absorbing right up to the final twisting end. An end which, though I found it fairly predictable in its essence if not its detail, was still satisfying and completely in harmony with the book’s title.

Even in such a genre as science fiction, where the universe (multiverse?) is literally the limit, it is rare to find a book that manages to be quite as unique in its setting as this. An excellent book that I recommend wholeheartedly.

5/5 stars

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