December 18, 2012
Inverted World by Christopher Priest
Inverted World by Christopher Priest was first published in 1974 and for a good chunk of the story it feels like an old fashioned (relative to now) Science Fiction story. Where by old fashioned I mean in the sense of comparing an early seventies intelligent film to the a modern fast cut noisy blockbuster. There's extended flashes of the sort of fiction that Christopher Priest would go on to write, particularly the last third of the story, but the first half is a fairly slow paced investigation of a wild speculative idea.
I don't actually want to talk too much about the details of the plot because much of the story is a mystery, that's the hook that pulls you along. Just what is really happening? Seen through the eyes of the protagonist, the reader discovers the world and environs at the same time, although we're in the position to guess a bit more than the closeted hero.
Of course, being Christopher Priest, there's evocative, yet economical, writing. Maybe not as poetic as his recent work but far, far from a story which cares nothing about its language. And also, being Christopher Priest there are layers around the core concept. The story tackles the issue of a more developed society interacting with a less developed one, it looks at how much the state should control the populace for the good of the populace and it looks at the burning hot heat that is the will to survive at all costs.
By the end of the story the feeling of being an old fashioned story has slipped away and suddenly, although its been coming for half the book, the story is bang up to date and relevant to now. Timeless speculation. And all the crazy Science Fictional thought experiment is suddenly placed in context and makes perfect sense.
Again, like many of Christopher Priest's novels, it's the sort of story that lingers and asks to be read again. Initially my reaction was: interesting, but not in the same league as (his most recent novel) The Islanders, but the more I reflect on the novel, the more I like it, and the more I realise how good it is.
If you like Christopher Priest then I'm sure you'll like it. If you haven't read any of his work before (why not?!) it's probably a decent entry point if you're coming from "standard science fiction"(!).