18 January 2014

Inverted World (Christopher Priest)

Christopher Priest's 1974 sci-fi dystopia, Inverted World, is itself an inverted novel, taking a fairly standard "coming of age in a weird world" narrative and twisting it. But you'll have to take my word for it--not only will I not spoil it for you, I don't have the physics chops to explain the revelations anyway. (I should send this to my brother, he'd love it.)

I can tell you the setup, though: Helward Mann, at the age of "six hundred and fifty miles," joins the Future Surveyor guild of the city of Earth, like his father before him. During his apprenticeship, he works with members of all the guilds that keep the city functioning--and moving, because the entire municipality creeps along on rails, taken up behind and put back down before, and has done so since its creation. The necessary laborers are hired from the dirt-poor villages along its route; the city also borrows women, who gain a temporarily comfortable life in exchange for bearing a child. The secret of why it does so--why it must do so--is unknown to the ordinary citizens, preserved by the guilds under oath. When Helward's charged with taking a trio of village women back home south of the city--a direction mysteriously known as "down past"--he's initiated into the true, bizarre situation of the city, and the peril that faces its inhabitants.

But Priest doesn't stop there. After establishing the parameters of Helward's world, he deftly undercuts them in the book's third section. Argh, I'm sorry to be so vague, but the fun's in the journey, quite literally--hopping on the train-city (which inevitably makes me think of China MiƩville's Iron Council and Railsea--this novel must be an influence), seeing where it goes, and what happens when it stops.

(FTC disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NYRB Classics, in exchange for an honest review.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.