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Inverted World (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – July 22, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Christopher Priest's reissued novel Inverted World presents the reader with a city surrounded by high walls and a populace unaware that the entire polis sits upon tracks, pulled by a giant winch in order to stay ahead of a crushing, slowly moving gravity field...You feel the kind of surprise and exhilaration here that you do when a magician reveals (though they're not supposed to) the simple method behind an illusion." --Los Angeles Times

"... his well-crafted books play fun tricks on the reader. In this devilishly entertaining 1974 novel, Priest tells of a city called Earth that must perpetually move on rails to escape its hyperboloid planet's oppressive gravity." --Time Out New York

"A somber psychedelic journey through a landscape that seems a collaboration between Breugel the Elder and M.C. Escher, Priest's book is an engine of epiphany, and a formal marvel: a narrative in the exact shape of the conundrum it presents." -Jonathan Lethem

"This book shows us a community plunged into ignorance, trying to understand its place. You finish this novel appreciating our culture's efforts to protect its collective memories and also worried that everything we take for granted can easily be lost." --Los Angeles Times

"The most famous book from those days, Inverted World...upended existence, revealed a planet to be infinite, in a finite universe; between its poles, pressure warped every dimension of the body." —Guardian

"The author has created a unique and original world." -Publishers Weekly

"A marvellous thought experiment." —The Independent

"Inverted World will be remembered for many years, I would guess, as one of the few science fiction novels of the 1970s to come up with a new idea." -Foundation

"The Inverted World reads like a classic science fiction book--the physical concepts of the world in which it takes place are filled with a sense of wonder." -San Francisco Signal

"A science fiction mystery story about a world whose 'secret' is as incredible, but as acceptable, to its readers as it is to its characters --which if you think about it is one of the highest compliments a critic can pay to a novel. A well-structured, finely written, mature narrative that is very compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is a 'must'."-Luna Monthly

"A marvelous thought experiment in which our familiar spherical world is replaced by a hyperboloid one. Rudy Rucker is equally known for his arithmetically generated science-fiction novels." -Independent on Sunday

"The story is among those seldom found, incredibly readable narratives that the reader aches to continue reading." -Jersey Journal

"One of the trickiest and most astonishing twist endings in modern SF." —Tribune (London)

About the Author

Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He has published eleven novels, three short-story collections, and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations, and children’s nonfiction. In 1996 Priest won the World Fantasy Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Prestige, which was adapted into a film by Christopher Nolan in 2006. His most recent novel, The Separation, won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Priest and his wife, the writer Leigh Kennedy, live in Hastings, England, with their twin children. 

John Clute was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1940, but has lived most of his life in England. He has won three Hugo Awards for his nonfiction. Recent work includes Appleseed, a novel, The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, and Canary Fever: Reviews.


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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; 1st Printing edition (July 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172698
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172698
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Jones VINE VOICE on March 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
Christopher Priest's science fiction master work, Inverted World could be considered a literary exercise in relativity. It's the story of Helward Mann, a citizen of the city of Earth, who as a consequence of his guild duties begins to question the purpose behind the very existence of his world. The city itself is a sort gigantic train, winched along on rails, which are perpetually being constructed, moving on a course constantly being charted; If the city fails to progress it will succumb to a mysterious crushing gravitational force. So Earth has become a self contained ever moving metropolis, where most of it's citizens are blissfully unaware of its outer environs.

The city of Earth's infrastructure is maintained wholly by its various secretive Guilds, such as the Bridge Guild, the Militia Guild, and other such groups dedicated to the mechanization and preservation of the city. The guildsmen, a class consisting only of adult males, are the elite of society. As Helward comes of age, he is ushered into their ilk, being tasked with escorting a group of young women back to their outlying homeland. The farther they travel away from the city, the more distorted the environment, and the women, become.

Priest fashions a bizzaro world in flux, alien and familiar by turns. Time speeds and slows, oceans become rivers, matter flattens and expands in spastic perspective. Everything escapes relativity. By the end of Priest's tale, all is explained with scientific elegance. Along the way, this book sucks you into its vortex, it has you scratching your head then grinning in awe-filled wonderment at the surprising plausibility of its climactic revelation. The Inverted World is a must read if not for its subtle social commentary, then for its grasp of natural philosophy, its revealing science of power.

~Book Jones~ 5 Stars
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Format: Paperback
Inverted World
Christopher Priest
NYRB Classics
Trade Paperback
336 pages
ISBN: 1590172698
Literary Awards - British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel (1975)

Once upon a time there was a great City known as Earth that constantly, slowly, and persistently moved ever-forward on rails towards its grinding goal to reach, or , at least, pace "Optimum." Slowly, at a tenth of a mile a day, the City slouched northward toward the horizon. To fall behind was unthinkable and deadly or so the denizens had been taught. Behind this lumbering behemoth, the Traction Guild strained to remove the ties and rails and quickly transport them to the front of the City. The Navigator Guild would send scouts great distances to determine the best routes forward. Rivers, canyons, lakes, and other natural impediments were spanned by the Bridge Guild. Protecting them all from dissident villagers along the way was the Militia Guild. So begins the quirky story of "Inverted World" by Christopher Priest.

Normally, I would label my evaluation of "Inverted World" as a classic book review since this story was first published in 1974. However, and shame on me, I did not read this marvelous work of fiction until recently and therefore I cannot in good conscience label it a classic. However, had I read it twenty or thirty years ago I think I'd have deemed it an instant classic then. The characters are believable and well-written but trapped within the confines of their Guilds. Some search for answers while others, like the City, plod ever-onward without question or purpose. Strange "distortions" follow the City and those who travel too far behind it suffer physical and temporal changes to themselves and their surroundings.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is listed among David Pringle's top 100 sci-fi novels, and deservedly so. The story immediately captivates, as Priest introduces us to the large moving vehicle-structure called "city Earth". The vehicle is continuosly moved upon rails, through a series of winches and cables, and the tracks are laid as the vehicle progresses. The permanent residents who live inside are organized into many guilds, each responsible for various functions vital to the community's survival. The reader is only gradually given hints about the seemingly strange world that is the setting, and only gradually learns the reasons why the vehicle must continually move. A fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable book, this story keeps you guessing about the nature of reality until the very end.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Imagine an encapsulated city trying to survive in a strange world where mysterious "optimum" is moving and the city has to keep moving on it's tracks trying to reach it. Every natural obstacle in this unfriendly environment has to be solved and the city has to keep moving or else... People in the city refer to the landscapes ahead as "the future" and to the landscapes behind as "the past." Everybody is working hard, for the optimum must be followed at any price... Is the ending of the book (which is one of the best endings in SF) going to reveal the real truth? What is the real truth anyway? The one you perceive? Or the other one, the one you can't see...
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This book has been around for a long time. I've been intending to read this book for nearly 40 years, but, for some reason, I've been putting it off. I can't say why I've been procrastinating; perhaps because I felt it would be a bit of a chore.

This book is quite readable and nicely evokes the "gosh-wow!" experience of good science fiction. Thus, we have a city - actually, a large building or office complex - being dragged on railways laboriously through a wasteland. The City of Earth moves on rails that are picked up from behind and put down in front of the city as it passes through a mostly empty landscape. The focal character is Helward Mann, to whom we are introduced in one of the great opening lines of science fiction: "I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles." With that sentence, we are disoriented by a culture that apparently thinks of time in terms of distance.

In a way this is an early kind of "Young Adult Dystopian" novel, written before there was such a sub-genre. At "650 miles," Helward is about 18 years of age and is of an age where he has to choose the guild that he will enter. The elite guilds are sworn to secrecy and exist to move the city across the landscape. Apprentices are brought into their Guilds by first working as grunt laborers in all of the elite Guilds, i.e., the city educates through "on the job training" rather than through book learning or scholarship. Thus, we have a society that is a metaphor for the universal experience by which a young person leaves childhood and enters the alien world of adulthood. In this universal moves, everyone shares the experience that there are rules that everyone follows but we don't know and don't understand until we have habituated those rules ourselves.
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