by Christopher Priest, afterword by John Clute
The city is winched along tracks through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Rails must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city’s engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the “optimum” into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on Earth. The only alternative to progress is death.
The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in crèches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum.
Helward Mann is a member of the city’s elite. Better than anyone, he knows how tenuous is the city’s continued existence. But the world—he is about to discover—is infinitely stranger than the strange world he believes he knows so well.
...[H]is well-crafted books play fun tricks on the reader. In this devilishly entertaining 1974 novel, Priest tells of a city called Earth that must perpetually move on rails to escape its hyperboloid planet's oppressive gravity.
— Time Out New York
Inverted World reads like a classic science fiction book—the physical concepts of the world in which it takes place are filled with a sense of wonder.
—San Francisco Signal
A somber psychedelic journey through a landscape that seems a collaboration between Breugel the Elder and M.C. Escher, Priest's book is an engine of epiphany, and a formal marvel: a narrative in the exact shape of the conundrum it presents.
— Jonathan Lethem
One of the trickiest and most astonishing twist endings in modern SF.
— Tribune (London)
The author has created a unique and original world.
— Publishers Weekly
Christopher Priest's reissued novel Inverted World presents the reader with a city surrounded by high walls and a populace unaware that the entire polis sits upon tracks, pulled by a giant winch in order to stay ahead of a crushing, slowly moving gravity field...You feel the kind of surprise and exhilaration here that you do when a magician reveals (though they're not supposed to) the simple method behind an illusion.
— Los Angeles Times