here is something about a really good book. If you watch a really good movie, you want to go buy the DVD or something. With a book, you want to have the author’s baby, the feeling is so powerful.
I’d have Priest’s children after reading through this 1974 classic about a colony settlement that’s in a horrific situation. See, they know they came from Earth. And they know the sun their new planet orbits is strange, shaped rather like a child’s top. And they know the ground beneath them is slowly sliding, a mile every ten days or so, down a long gravity gradient that will slowly rip them to sheds if they slide far enough into it. The solution, some hundred years ago, was to build a city on huge bogies, ones mounted on four railroad tracks. These tracks are forever constructed before the city and torn up behind. Once the tracks are in place, huge cables are laced up to massive posts and the city cranks itself along, ending up a mile towards the “optimum” (the place where everything is fine). And so this has been going on, long enough and steady enough that time is measured literally in “miles”.
There are settlements here and there, places where the city can negotiate with the huddled survivors of the initial colonization effort, to barter for labor and women (for breeding) in return for synthetic foods and drugs. Usually this pisses the natives off. So the city grinds on, mile after mile, fending off attacks while trying to keep to the optimum, mindful of what might happen should they fall too far behind.
We enter this strange world in the body of a young apprentice – what better way to find out the strangeness of this dimension than to live it through it. We find out what happens as we go down-time (behind the city) as well as up. And, oddly, the author changes the storytelling for each book section, sometimes first person, sometimes third, once as another character. It was strange at first but seemed to work.
I’ll say this – I really, really liked the ending, once everything was said and the mystery stripped away. Yes, I was wondering how such a city could be built, and how humans could come to settle on such a strange planet. It wasn’t what I expected, which made it all the better. I’m sure purists could punch holes in the logic of the thing but I don’t care – I prefer to keep my head tipped back and eyes shuttered, savoring the story for what it was, not as a possible history of manned settlement of other planets, but a cracking good story from the late-golden-age, stories without Jedis and Star Fleet nonsense. Real scifi.
Anyway, I really enjoyed it. Since it’s been reissued, you should be able to get a copy. If not, check your library. For you SF fans, this one’s mandatory. Classic!