Christopher Priest

Reviews of INVERTED WORLD (1974)

Inverted World

[The city of Earth is dragged slowly across a hideously deformed landscape. The land spreads out impossibly in all directions, and time itself heads for surcease. One man is destined to find out the truth about this inverted world.]


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. [It] belongs to one of the most popular sub-genres of science fiction: the tale of a man who slowly discovers the true nature of the world in which he lives. Brian Aldiss's Non-Stop is not directly invoked, but one feels its benign presence hovering somewhere in the atmosphere of Priest's book, even though it is likely enough that the fans who assume Christopher Priest to be very much on the classical sf wavelength, as they did with Brian Aldiss, will turn out to be mistaken. In the meantime we are left with a substantial achievement, worked out with a loving and economical craftsmanship.


Not since Larry Niven's Ringworld has there been an sf concept as original as Priest's hyperboloid planet. The strange and puzzling city on tracks, which exists only to move and to move again through endless miles of inhospitable country, while weird distortions of space and time precede and follow it, makes for one of the most interesting ideas and developments I have seen anywhere. I like, too, the author's skilful switching from subjective to objective points of view -- first to third person -- which in less careful hands could have been a disaster.

Luna Monthly:

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. The characters are individual and credible; Helward Mann is an understandable non-hero, and his two women are admirably realized. The minor characters range from good to excellent. The backgrounds are expertly detailed, cinematically vivid. There is really nothing more I dare say about the novel. It is a 'must'.

Publishers Weekly:

The author has created a unique and original world.

Jersey Journal:

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

The Listener:

A spinning originality grips every page.

Tribune -- London:

There's well-paced action and some strong characterization, and as we might also expect, one of the trickiest and most astonishing twist endings in modern SF.

Le Monde -- Paris:

One of the most surprising science fiction novels ever written.

Martin Amis in The Observer:

Inverted World might just as well have been called 'Christopher Robin Visits the Fifth Dimension.' Its first 100 pages – which any courteous sub-editor could have painlessly reduced to 20 – tell of little Helward Mann and his early life in one of those post-cataclysmic, ritualised, guild-system societies that all SF readers know so well. The society inhabits a beleaguered city which runs on tracks in order to keep up with the stable 'optimum' of an unstable world. When this state of affairs has, in kindergarten-jigsaw fashion, been disclosed, Helward requires a further 150 pages of insultingly naïve prose to reveal the city's origins. Since Mr Priest's previous two novels were merely fleetingly literate speculations on the futures of Brazil and the British Isles, all this at first seems insolently ambitious. We are, at any rate, on another planet. But a wary reader will have noticed that the neighbouring farmers are called 'dagos,' that lowly urbanites talk like Mr Tulliver, and that the local exotica are not in themselves notably exotic. Then the city's hilarious bathetic secret comes to light. We've never left Earth and in fact the dump has been traversing Portugal all along. Portugal … I mean, really, I ask you.

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