Inverted World by Christopher Priest
Many books of science fiction or fantasy can bend your mind, but few will bend it so deeply as Christopher Priest’s Inverted World, originally published in 1974 and now available in a new edition from the New York Review of Books.
That imprint, which generally steers clear of genre fiction, should tip you off that this is not light fare. In fact, in several distinct categories–including the inventiveness and believability of its scientific premises, the relentlessness of its political subversion, and the depth of its narrator’s tragedy–it belongs in a category all its own. On top of this, the book is psychedelic in the extreme. In several places, the things taking place in its physical world opened doors in my imagination I had never known existed. The only books that comes anywhere close in that regard would be those of Philip K Dick at his trippiest–say, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. But where Dick’s playful insights are conveyed in language at times sloppy, Priest is stately, sometimes even cold, and extremely precise about his craft. The tone and (at least superficially) the setting are similar to what you’d expect from a novel of high fantasy in which the whole world revolves around the hero’s quest.
Inverted World opens in the first person, with the initiation of young Helward Ward into the guild of Future Surveyors. From the first sentence, “I had reached the age of 650 miles,” readers are aware that something is deeply wrong about this world. We know it has something to do with the relationship between space and time, but beyond this we can only guess.