If Christopher Priest has not found his way onto your “must read” list, stop whatever you’re doing right now and put him there. I just discovered this fantastic author a week or so ago when I finally picked up The Prestige , the novel to which one of my favorite films was inspired by. This week I picked up my second Priest novel, The Inverted World which is a science fiction classic in its own right (nominated for the Hugo Award). The Inverted World is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read and is a must read for any fan of science fiction.
In this 1974 novel, we as the readers follow the life of Helward Mann of Earth city. That’s correct, I said “city”. This city is not like one that you have ever heard of. This city is constantly moving, climbing mountains and crossing rivers. Most of the men, like Helward, are responsible for moving the city on its tracks. Time is judged by miles rather than years. Yet, why must they keep the city moving towards the mysterious “optimum”? What is the purpose of all the secrecy? These questions and more are raised by both the reader and Helward himself.
This novel is a breath of fresh air simply because of its ingenious premise. The strongest character in the story is the setting itself, the city of Earth and the strange world surrounding it. Helward himself is not the strongest character in all of storytelling; yet, he doesn’t have to be. In the beginning of the book he starts an apprenticeship and is asking the same questions as the reader. His function as a character seems to be more about letting the reader put himself or herself in his shoes and experiencing this strange world for themselves. Character depth is given more to the characters of Elizabeth and Victoria, the female leads.
The narrative is engaging, unique, and easy to follow. For some reason, Priest switches from 1st person (from the viewpoint of Helward) and 3rd person (still following Helward or Elizabeth). This is somewhat distracting but the narrative is always handled in a rather artistic way. Little is done in this book without a purpose.
The Inverted World is not mere entertainment but rather involves major themes that are very relevant to our world. One of the stronger themes found throughout the book deals with tradition. Most of the people of Earth simply believe that the city must move because that’s what’s always happened. Other major themes include feminism and the dangers of our reliance on fossil fuels. Regardless of one’s feelings on these topics, the book remains exciting and does handle these topics without being preachy.
There isn’t much to complain about with when it comes to The Inverted World. My strongest complaint was the explanation for some of the physics but that is largely because I struggle with math. The only other real complaint would be that the story takes a while to build up and can be somewhat slow paced but this was really necessary for the sake of the story. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any science fiction fan. Christopher Priest is easily one of the most under-appreciated writers of our day and I really look forward to more of his adventures.
Content: PG-13 for mild violence, thematic elements, and sexuality