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on 21 September 2009
Partly on the back of the justly-celebrated film of his 1995 masterpiece 'The Prestige', Chris Priest has recently been receiving something a little bit closer to the amount of attention and praise his work deserves. If you've enjoyed other Priest books, you owe yourself a copy of the majestic invention that is 'Inverted World'. High-concept SF can be a joy if undertaken by experts and 'Inverted World' is built around the 'highest' concept SF has seen for a very long time. While coming up with the notion of a world shaped like a hyperboloid with infinite limits at its poles and equator seems difficult enough, putting that notion to work in a compelling fiction seems a harder thing still. And yet Priest pulls it off: the world of his slightly dissociated exploratory Guildsman, Helward Mann, proves to be inverted in more ways than one and to reflect an odd light back on what we take to be our world. Without giving too much away, fans of later Priest books like 'The Affirmation' and 'The Prestige' will find in 'Inverted World' an early but powerful use of many of Priest's most interesting and enduring concerns. Incidentally, the NYRB Classics edition of 'Inverted World' contains a short but significant 'Prologue' which (I think) has never been printed in any of the many British editions that the novel has clocked-up since its initial publication in 1974. (Certainly the 'Prologue' doesn't appear in my old, beloved, 1986 Gollancz edition or the edition in Vol. 2 of the 1999 Christopher Priest omnibus.) The NYRB edition also has an engaging and informative afterword from John Clute, who relates 'Inverted World' usefully to Priest's other works and British SF as a whole. So this edition is well worth acquiring even if you're already a fan.
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on 24 February 2009
The city of Earth is a strange place. Few of its inhabitants are ever allowed out of the city. The few that are allowed are confronted by a bizarre situation. The city, all its buildings and inhabitants have been hoisted onto tracks and it is being slowly winched across the land. The reason for this and the ultimate destination of the city are unknown. Even stranger is the fact that no one is interested in straying far from the city. Those who do stray are often gone for years and then come back changed, distant and withdrawn, unwilling to talk about what they have seen.

Clearly the central protagonist of the novel is amongst the few who will get to leave the city and slowly learn the secrets of this bizarre world.

Of all weird world novels this novel is set in the weirdest world of them all. The revelations as to what the situation is and why it exists is gradually presented at just the right speed to keep you hooked.

Although in reality the book follows the age-old fantasy travelogue style of merely allowing the central character to wander from one edge of the world to the other, in this case it is worth going along for the ride. The situation is so bizarre that exploration is just what you want to read. The only real fault is that the ultimate revelation as to just what it has all been about is a trifle contrived, but that is ok, otherwise this book would have been perfect and perhaps not be such a forgotten gem.
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on 17 May 2008
On his website, Christopher Priest includes a damning review of this book by Martin Amis, presumably on the grounds that if Martin Amis says it's bad, it must be good. In fact it is good, very good indeed. Certainly in my top ten SF. The idea behind it is utterly original. It is set in a universe where all the "spheres" (incl. the earth and sun) are (or appear to be: that is the question) hyperboloids. Some of the passages were responsible for more powerful dreams than any other book has ever caused me.
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on 10 July 2010
I'll start off by admitting that I don't actually own, or have ever read, THIS book!

HOWEVER......I say 'THIS book' as this is the first time I've seen the actual FULL and UNABRIDGED version of this fantastic (in both senses of the word) story.
I have the original 1974 edition of ' New writings in S.F.22' (edited by Kennneth Bulmer; Corgi Books No.0 552 09492 7)and in it is this story,(albeit only 39.5 pages long of it)!
The story has been one of my all-time favourites and I have returned to read it again and again over the years, as the imagination of the author, and the situation of the characters (not to mention the world they live on) has enthralled me time and again.
Despite knowing the beginning, the middle and the end of the story, I'm definitely going to be getting this to 'fill-in the missing bits', so to speak.
After all, I've waited 36 long years to see anywhere it in it's entirety!
If it's anything near as good as the abridged version, then I'm sure I won't be disappointed!
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on 19 May 2010
I keep meaning to read more Christopher Priest - all I have read until now is the excellent The Separation (also unreservedly recommended).

This is an absolutely superb novel - and I'm not entirely sure why it's been so neglected until now.

The main character, one Helward Mann, comes of age at the start of a novel and, following in his father's footsteps, joins the "Futures Guild." It's quickly clear that the world his people inhabit is an extremely unusual one. The details of this are drip-fed to the reader as Mann learns more about his world: essentially the (high) concept is their world is an infinite world within a finite one.

The plot itself is well-handled; Mann travels as far as he can in order to discover (and reveal to us) why things are the way that they are. This is done in beautifully spare prose. It never feels at any stage as though any words are wasted. Which is pleasant in of itself; it has the pleasing effect of making this an almost poetic novel (indeed Adam Roberts, in the introduction, reflects on the inherently poetic nature of the infinite within the finite). One does suspect that in a lesser author's hands we could have ended up with a horribly bloated doorstop of a fantasy novel.

There *is* a twist. Helpfully, they tell you this on the front cover...argh!

Finally, although this was written in 1975, I don't feel that it has dated particularly badly. What technology there is isn't central to the working of the novel and the concept itself (though fairly dubious) though central to the novel doesn't feel particularly bound by any time.

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on 15 November 2010
An entire city, its inhabitants closed off from the outside world by high walls and a code of secrecy, is steadily made to traverse a treacherous landscape. It has to keep moving. The truth about its perilous condition is known only to an elite group of guild members who, down the generations, have been responsible for keeping the city on the move, allowing the citizens to live in benign ignorance. With that enticing picture, we follow the life of a young man, newly initiated into the guild system, as he gradually learns the reality of the city's situation. Then things start to change. The idea of the city being dragged along was enough to lure me into buying this book. The images conjured up by it stayed with me long after finishing it. A unique, imaginative tale.
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on 8 January 2011
I bought this book to read on the beach on holiday but was so captivated I finished it in the first two days of my holiday! I won't describe the plot because others have already done that but will say this is one of the most innovative and original sci-fi books I've read in a while (and I've read a lot). Not the usual space opera/end of world stuff you get now-a-days but a story with a great twists at the end. When I ledt the resort I donated the book to the book share scheme - I hope others get to enjoy it as much as I did.
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VINE VOICEon 10 August 2010
Although none of Priest's novels can be described as conventional, I thought this was perhaps one of the very oddest. The setting is mind-bendingly bizarre. At first the characters seem to inhabit a comparatively normal city, and much of the novel is spent discovering (alongside the hero) its true nature - and exploring the even stranger world which lies beyond its walls.

Inverted World is an extremely compelling novel, which combines a hard sf core with plenty of human interest - in fact at times `Inverted World' reads (superficially at least) like a heroic fantasy novel as we follow the progress of the hero, Helward, through his initiation into an elite guild, his arduous training, and his call to adventure. Priest's is a highly individual voice, and he resists pigeonholing. Reading `Inverted World; is a very strange, but very rewarding, experience.
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on 20 April 2011
Inverted world has as its central conceit a small "city" which is built on wheels and propelled on tracks ever forwards towards an elusive "optimum". The city is run by several guilds who's central purpose is to ensure the city never stops moving whilst keeping the reasons, and even the fact it is, a secret from the other inhabitants. Helward Mann is a youngster joining one of these guilds who then goes through an apprenticeship giving him an insight into the workings of both the city, and the world it is moving along.
It slowly becomes apparant to Helward that the world is very odd and this, along with conflicts with the "natives" brings his city to crisis point and (for want of a better term) civil war.
The nature of the city, the world and what happens will be a considerable surprise to any reader and forms an astonishingly original idea in sci-fi. Which considering how imaginative a genre it is, says quite a lot.
Personally, though, I found the novel more admirable than engaging, more intriguing than enthralling and ultimately more cerebral than emotional.
Undeniably well written, still oddly unsatisfying in the final analysis. A bit like haute cuisine, lovely, clever but not filling!
Buy this book: If you want to challenge yourself and keep your mind limber
Don't buy: If you like to really care about your characters and outcome.
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on 24 September 2011
I read this years ago, and was enthralled. But I first read it in episodes in If (or was it Galaxy?), then I bought the book, and the ending had been changed from an excellent hard-science explanation to the softer somewhat disappointing and more mundane ending relying on the characters shift of perception that is a feature of this authors works, especially his later ones. As I recall, the story centres on a self-contained city that is slowly winched up an incline. Its occupants view of the world that surrounds them is astounding, yet consistent, and seems to vary from those of the sparse local populations they encounter. The main protagonist's work takes him away from the city, with fascinating distortions of space and time. The portrayal of this bizarre world, or universe, its gradually revealed explanation and the working out of the ramifications are well executed. As the city encounters rivers in its need to be moved forward, which we gradually begin to understand,they are crossed by temporary bridges, until it reaches a river so wide the city dwellers cannot even see its farthest bank. And the city is being observed . . .
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