Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Squares of the city

1965 John Brunner

After his most excellent The Crucible of Time I am working on several more Brunner novels, including his seminal works The Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar. However before tackling those I wanted to start with some 'light fare' so to speak and picked up this copy of The Squares of the City. But of course this unassuming paperback is deceptively complex as I've found out.

This is vintage Brunner as he constructs an elaborate parallel to a chess match, with the city as the board and its inhabitants the pieces. When I say a chess match I mean a specific one, the 1892 world championship match between William Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin. The characters in the novel represent specific pieces and make moves and defeat other characters as per the actual match went down - fully detailed in the novel's appendix.

I haven't finished the book yet but find this conept intriguing, and wonder if it is a limiting factor to essentially force the plot to conform to the chess match. Perhaps it will come off as gimmicky but it is still a good example of the kind of experimental writing that good sf is. Along the way there are elements of mind control, social commentary, and class warfare. Good stuff.