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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Inverted World

The Inverted World - Christopher Priest Some science fiction books are written just to entertain, some are depiction of the author’s vision of the future, and some are for conveying the author’s philosophical or political ideas. Occasionally I come a across sci-fi books that are pure thought experiments, where the authors sets out to explore some outlandish idea to its logical conclusion. For all I know Christopher Priest had some other intent for the book but clearly thought experimentation appears to be the primary purpose.

Inverted World (“The” is added to the title in some editions) is often found in “best science fiction books” lists, it is a Hugo nominee and the winner of the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel in 1975. All well deserved accolades and perhaps the book is even a little underrated. Certainly it is one of the oddest sci-fi conceits I have ever come across.

Basically Inverted World is about a city on wheels called Earth that is being moved in the northerly direction on a railway track that has to be laid ahead of the city’s route and removed after the city has passed to be laid down again ahead. An idea reused in China Miéville's 2004 novel [b:Iron Council|68495|Iron Council (Bas-Lag, #3)|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320419476s/68495.jpg|66379], but Inverted World is much more bizarre though as it is an entire city being moved, for unknown destination and even purpose. The “Earth” city’s citizens only know that if their city stops moving they will all die. The weirdness does not stop there, the law of physics appears to work differently away from the city. People and objects become wider and flatter to the south of the city and thinner and taller to the north.

In spite of the bizarre premise Inverted World is really quite readable and accessible. Priest writes in clear, uncluttered prose with a linear timeline and a single plot strand. Characters are not developed in much depth but their behavior and motivation is always understandable. I can not help but sympathize with their strange plight.

The world building of Inverted World is exemplary, once you accept the weirdness of the book’s universe it becomes a fascinating place to spend some time in. The author often throws me for a loop with the strange developments in his storyline. Once I settled into the groove of the book reading it becomes quite an exhilarating and jaw dropping experience. In some ways this book reminds me of Hal Clements’s classic hard sci-fi [b:Mission of Gravity|525285|Mission of Gravity (Mesklin, #1)|Hal Clement|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328628795s/525285.jpg|894625] as it is also set in a world where the law of physics appears to change from location to location. However, Inverted World is not hard sci-fi as such, there are just too many bizarre concepts for that particular subgenre label. In fact the reality warping aspect of the book where the relationship between time and space become unreliable puts me in mind of the legendary [a:Philip K. Dick|4764|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1264613853p2/4764.jpg]. So if you imagine a collaboration between [a:Arthur C. Clarke|7779|Arthur C. Clarke|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357191481p2/7779.jpg] and PKD you may have a fair idea of what to expect.

Most of the mysteries are explained by the end of the book and almost everything make sense. If I have one complaint it is the rather abrupt ending which makes me feel as if a few pages have gone missing. In any case Inverted World is like a gymnasium for the imagination and I can not imagine a dedicated sci-fi fans not liking it. It is already on my Favorites shelf here on Goodreads.