Publisher: Harper & Row
Release Date: 28 May 1974
Website: Christopher Priest
Character: Helward Mann is part of the elite, aware of the desolation that surrounds the mobile city, waiting to consume it if they slow down. He is part of the dominant sex, as female births continue to dwindle. Where is the city physically located? What happened to the rest of the world? These questions, and others, cloak the mysterious city and through Helward’s character and his interactions with citizens and foreigners, we learn how the city came to be. We also get the perspective of Elizabeth Khan, but I’ve said too much.
Plot: The city must move forward, winching itself along mobile tracks. Despite the efforts of the city, they continue to fall farther behind the optimum, which if continued, will result in the city being crushed by gravitational forces. For Helward and his people the drudgery and strain, and attention put into their winching pace is a necessity; stillness means death. Death creeps behind them in the distance, with every sunset gaining on them. But why must they move forward, laying and removing tracks, what was life like before the winching? For this you’ll have to pick it up.
Review: The book started off slowly, setting up the context and layering the plot. While reading it, I have to admit, I was a little annoyed by this. But after distancing myself from the novel, I can appreciate Priest’s ability to mould a text, drawing the reader in with his distorted, backward, inverted world. Many mainstream novels depend on fast paced action, quick exchanges and cliff hangers at the end of every chapter to keep the reader interested. It’s a little insulting to us as readers that some writers think we need a shiny toy dangled before our eyes constantly or else we will lose interest. Not every single word in in a novel needs to excite us. And this isn’t a reflection of the base quality of novels, but of life in general. If a page doesn’t upload in five seconds we get mad. If an email takes longer than ten seconds to send we get panicky. God forbid a YouTube video not load instantaneously.
We need to slow down. We’ve become a culture of expectation and this has lessened our ability to appreciate the details, to read slowly with attention. Inverted World slows down the pace of the reader as well as the characters. Just as we read slowly, fingers tracing smudge lines underneath every word, so do the men of the city stumble slowly on, trying to escape the “past.” The need to pace seems greater for Helward than it does for the modern reader, for Helward risks death if he doesn’t. But what do we stand to lose by our quickened, skimmed patterns of reading? What worlds are left unknown to us because of our inability to slow things down?
People may be frustrated by this work because of the undynamic main character. However, this text doesn’t rely on the drama, intrigue and conflict surrounding its main character to tell the story. The events and situations strung together bind this text, making it science-fictional as much as it is philosophical. We don’t need to feel “sympathy” for the low-trodden, beaten character in order to have a thrilling story. And even so, I still enjoyed Inverted World. It’s refreshing to read something that doesn’t rely solely on the drama between characters, tensions are produced elsewhere.
Backwords Verdict: Certified Hooker
Following this grading scale of course:
Not a Hooker (I wouldn’t recommend this, even to people I hate)
Hooker in Training (Needs a lot of work)
Graduate Hooker (Really Good, but needs to fix some things)
Certified Hooker (Very satisfying, little to no complaints)
Distinguished Hooker (Flawless, I’d comeback for other services)
Other Works: This novel drew me in, I’d consider giving it another read. I’m planning on reading The Adjacent, so look out for a possible review of that in the future.