The world of Christopher Priest’s novel Inverted World is literally moving forward.

Indeed, the world is, one learns, a large mechanical sphere moving on continuously built-out tracks which are plotted by people such as the novel’s protagonist, Helward Mann.

Mann’s only job, as a “Future,” is to survey ahead of the track-work, making sure that the world’s journey towards what is referred to as “optimum” is as smooth as is reasonably possible.

The reason the world engages in this peculiar activity is the oft-mentioned fear of a centrifugal force in the natural world which, as Mann can attest to, would suck the mechanical world into a Hellish entropic spiral – a void.

(Mann saw this).

Now, this would be fine were it not for the fact that this world – in its endless march towards “optimum” – is overrun with mountains of its own feces.

One can hardly look around the world without viewing its own crumbling mechanical apparatus, its own genetic aberrations, and its own unapologetic human exploitation and warmongering – all conditions contingent upon the world’s progress in one way or another.

But, surely – as Mann would argue – there is simply no other option – one must keep going.

Indeed, Mann, as a professional surveyor into the future, would know – he has, after all, seen it:

If Man(n) stops working, Man(n) goes to(ward)s Hel(l).

(This is what Helward Mann saw.)

For Mann, one must choose the lesser of two evils and march on into the future.

The problem with all this, though – as the novel’s foil to Mann, Elizabeth Khan, demonstrates – is not that Mann is wrong per se, but rather that his question is badly stated.

It’s not that there is a binary between going forward towards the Truth and backwards towards Hell (as if time were a piece of string); but rather that there are a plethora of radically incomplete goings – never forward (as if towards “optimum”), but simply “on.”

All one can do here, then, is be reasonable and present to what is in front of one; that is to say, see things.

In the case of the world of Inverted World, the paradigm of seeing must shift or the world will drown in the endlessness of the ocean (in a sort of reversal of Mann’s own understanding of the void).

Again – it’s not that Mann is “right” or “wrong” here but that his vision is for better or for worse in ruins.

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