Inverted World is a trippy classic science fiction novel with a mystery at its core. Written by Christopher Priest, Inverted World takes place in a city that is forced to constantly move along enormous tracks that are taken up behind it and placed down in front of it again.
Inverted World is certainly a novel that needs to be read to the end before its full meaning becomes clear. So I’ll do my best to keep my analysis of this book spoiler free.
Inverted World – A synopsis
The novel starts with the iconic line “I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” and only gets weirder from there.
The moving city is forced to constantly try and reach something called the ‘Optimum’ while they hope for a rescue mission from the planet Earth.
The story is told through the eyes of Helward Mann. Helward is a young apprentice who enters the guild system. Slowly he learns why the city must move and why the guild system is so secretive.
From questioning to acceptance
We see Helward grow from a young apprentice to a middle-aged man. All the while receiving training from his Guild. Reading that sentence you would probably expect the guildsmen to be secretive and cold. In actuality the guildsman we encounter seem quite reasonable, which makes the fact that they are clearly keeping things from Helward all the more intriguing.
A perversion of the will
It would be odd to write about the themes of Inverted World without talking about the fact there is a city being moved on rails. The detail with which the author describes the movement of the city is breathtaking. The vast effort it takes to move the city strips its inhabitants of anything that doesn’t serve this overall purpose. Regardless of the reasons for moving the city, there is a tragic element to seeing all of this human endeavour going to such a strange purpose.
This waste of human effort reflects the individual’s tendency to devote time from their short lives to utterly frivolous and even harmful aims. This will resonate with anyone who has been part of an overly corporate structure, in which people twist the best parts of themselves in service of goals that are ultimately pointless and possibly harmful.
The power of structure
It’s these structures that are used to create the chains that bind people in Inverted World. In doing so the author shows how easily we can let ourselves be seduced by groups of people who simply come with sets of rules we feel we must obey. It may happen slowly but it’s clear that we are all susceptible to the insidious wish to be part of a larger group with a ‘greater purpose’. It’s to the author’s credit that this process is undertaken so subtly that the reader barely notices it is happening.
What’s more interesting is that, in Inverted World, it’s not the people who work in the system that are evil. Nor are they deliberately conning anybody. It is the system they have grown up in that has perverted their will and their humanity.
Whether you find the ending of Inverted World hopeful or depressing, it will have made you consider these themes.
If you haven’t read Inverted World yet, but you’re a fan of thought-provoking science fiction, then I recommend getting hold of a copy now. If you have read Inverted World, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel, either below or on social media.
If you’d like to read more of our articles on works of classic science fiction, then I suggest you take a look at what we have to offer. You could also take a look at our list of the best novels in science fiction.
- Inverted World Rating
Inverted World Review Summary
A mysterious, almost psychedelic book, that drags you in and forces you to rethink your preconceptions. Like the moving city itself, the novel will drag you over rough terrain towards the truth.