The Inverted World
By: Christopher Priest
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city’s engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the “optimum” into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on Earth. The only alternative to progress is death.
The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in crèches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum.
Helward Mann is a member of the city’s elite. Better than anyone, he knows how tenuous is the city’s continued existence. But the world—he is about to discover—is infinitely stranger than the strange world he believes he knows so well.
I’d been eyeing this novel for some time; the premise sounded really interesting and different, and it’s considered a science fiction classic. I picked it up in a semi-whim early this year (trying to hit the minimum for free shipping, you know how it is) and got around to reading it last summer at long last as a break from what I had been reading to date.
Firstly, this book reminded me so much of the comic Snowpiercer (review) and had me wondering if the comic was influenced by the premise of this novel.
Anyway. I wanted to like this novel, I realy did. And the ideas component of the novel interested me greatly, of how the city was surviving given what the guilds were charged to do for the city, why they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing for as long as they can. It was also interesting to read and try to piece together what had happened in the outside world or before that this city ended up the way that it was, the people inside included. The oaths and structures established in this society are clearly a constraint on the characters, as we see early on in the interaction between Helward and Victoria.
However story-wise the novel felt rather disjointed with the five parts. I also did not connect with the characters, or cared too much for their plight. The timey-whimey aspect of the story made sense, I suppose, especially as Helward is faced with further upheavals upon his return from a trip/mission outside of the city for an extended period of time, but it was just too disjointed for me to really enjoy teh story.
Overall I’m glad to have gotten around to reading The Inverted World. I agree with whoever said that this book was more of an ideas book than it was character- or plot-driven. I suppose if you’re more into that than other story elements, then it’s a book you should definitely check out. Some of the ideas were really interesting in its application to the story but on the whole it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression with me.