Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Inverted World by Christopher Priest


A uniquely powerful novel of a society in decay. On a planet whose very nature is a mystery a massive decrepit city is pulled along a massive railway track, laying the line down before it as it progresses into the wilderness. The society within toils under an oppressive regime, its structures always on the point of collapse, the lives of its individuals lived in misery. No one knows where they are going, why they are going or what they will find when they get there.

What Did We Think?

Christopher Priest's Inverted World (1974) delighted the majority of our book club members. It was considered to be, on the whole, beautifully crafted although the structure of the novel did cause some debate, oscillating as it does not just between focal characters but also through first and third-person perspectives. Some readers found this a peculiar and seemingly unnecessary added confusion whilst others found it to be a jolt against complacency and thus a form of hint at the novel's twist ending. There was a practical element too, it was widely agreed that the second section of the novel would not have been half as effective, or indeed affective, had it been in the first person. One reason for this is the emotional detachment which third-person narration allows: our protagonist, Helward Mann, couldn't understand what was happening him as he travelled south 'down past' and a first-person narration would have had to replicate his confusion and bewilderment, making the task of understanding this crucial episode far harder for the reader during this "journey through faerie". In addition, a third-person narration allowed the numerous sex scenes in this part of the novel to avoid falling into the realms of erotica.

The sexual content of the book was another focus for the group. The motivations of the women as they become seemingly more and more sexually promiscuous were unclear. Whilst we acknowledged that Helward had different moral and emotional boundaries to us due to his very different upbringing, this element of the novel, dubbed a "sexcapade" was largely seen as peculiar and mostly unnecessary. Certainly it did nothing to advance the plot other than provide something for Helward to do on his journey south. In many ways the fact these scenes were not intended to be titillating - as so many similar sections might be in lesser sf fare - made their inclusion all the more confusing.

Criticism of the sex scenes should not be taken as criticism of the gender roles in Inverted World. On the whole Priest does a brilliant job of providing interesting and faceted female characters who prove crucial in driving the plot. Indeed, Victoria and Elizabeth prove to be far more important characters in the novel than Helward in that they are the driving forces behind the plot whilst Helward is simply the catalyst who brings them all together.

Overall, Inverted World was seen as being a novel which despite its age felt fresh and modern. It was enjoyable and absorbing despite, or perhaps because of, being at times remarkably complex. A worthy Masterwork.

Votes were as follows: 7 (in absentia), 8, 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9.


  1. this is a well crafted book, the whole idea of the different writting formats is to empahises the theme of the story, perspective. in helware we have a character who is raised in seclusion. he is surrounded by others of the same ilk and is given the task of saving the city at all costs. the setting of the story is one in which we are led to believe that what we are rasied to believe and educated towards is the norm. helward lives in a world in which brainwashing and drug control are utilised to maintian the heiarchy of control. the 'trip' with the women is a demonstration of the techniques used by the city to control its members, that he cannot eat of the local food and must only use city food maintains city control over him, that the baby demonstrates withdrawal symptoms on leaving the city empahisies this, as does the lack of morals he then demonstrates.
    that the city is not on another plantet is quickly established by the author, the natives speak spanish, to enable the perspective of helward to be questioned as 'truth', hints are given through victoria on questioning his work. with the intorduction of elizabeth we are shown the error of his 'world'.
    in his persepective of the world through the use of mathematicl formula,his image of the sun as he draws it is right, but again persepctive, as smith in 1984 when he confirms that 2+2 can make 5, and also the distorted picture of elizabeth, his perspective of the world around him is complete and real. it is to elizabeth to demonstrate that 'the truth is out there'.

  2. Hi Glyn
    What date is the book club next time? Don't think we mentioned the fact that the first Monday is a bank holiday. So will it be that day or be the following Monday? Thanks

  3. Hey,
    As it says on the top right of the page - it's on May 9th :P