Read The Squares of the City by John Brunner Online


"Built in the heart of the jungle, The City was an architect's masterpiece--& the scene of a flesh-&-blood game of chess where the unwitting pawns were real people!" The Squares of the City is a science fiction novel written by John Brunner and first published in 1965 (ISBN 0-345-27739-2). It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1966. It is a sociolog"Built in the heart of the jungle, The City was an architect's masterpiece--& the scene of a flesh-&-blood game of chess where the unwitting pawns were real people!" The Squares of the City is a science fiction novel written by John Brunner and first published in 1965 (ISBN 0-345-27739-2). It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1966. It is a sociological story of urban class warfare and political intrigue, taking place in the fictional South American capital city of Vados. It explores the idea of subliminal messages as political tools, and it is notable for having the structure of the famous 1892 chess game between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin. The structure is not coincidental, and plays an important part in the story....

Title : The Squares of the City
Author :
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ISBN : 9780345234360
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 319 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Squares of the City Reviews

  • Stephen
    2019-03-17 05:34

    3.5 to 4.0 stars. John Brunner has yet to disappoint me with one of his novels. His classic Stand on Zanzibar is one of my all time favorites and The Sheep Look Up and The Jagged Orbit were both excellent. This is not one of his more famous books which is a bit of a shame because of its originality in style and execution. Let me say at the outset that there is not really a "science fiction" element to the story and it belongs more in the category of mystery/thriller. It basically involves a traffic pattern analyst/consultant brought to a fictional South American city in order to solve some infrastructure issues and finding himself in the middle of a political struggle between the wealthy, predominately white, ruling class and the poor native population. I don't want to give away any spoilers, however if you do any research on the book before you read it the "hook" is mentioned a lot. I happened to know the basic idea behind the book before I read it and I think it helped my enjoyment of it because I was "looking for clues" while I was reading and I think it made the read more compelling.Brunner's writing is excellent and the plotting is superb. However, if it was not for the unusual "hook" of the book, I probably would have given this 3 stars based on pure enjoyment. However, the brilliance, in my opinion, of the ending and the big reveal and looking back over the rest of the book after finishing it, I had to give the guy another star. A one of kind read and one that I recommend highly. Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

  • Kate Sherrod
    2019-03-12 06:36

    The Sheep Look Up utterly devastated me when I read it for the first (and definitely not the last) time earlier this year, and I realized that John Brunner was a guy whose books I would definitely need to track down one by one until I had read them all.Then a relatively new Twitter friend, Fred Kiesche, applauding my resolution, told me that if The Sheep Look Up was "death by pollution", The Squares of the City was "death by chess". As in the structure is modeled after a World Championship game in 1982 between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin. I thus knew that this one would have to be my next Brunner, because if there is one thing I love, utterly hopelessly*, it's chess. And people who are obsessed with chess.And I also like a good jaw about urban planning and cities. So, um, as they say nowadays, hell yes.The city in question here, Vados, is a relatively newly founded capital city in a ficticious South American Republic, Aguazul, to which our hero, the delightfully named Boyd Hakluyt,** has been summoned to help improve its traffic flows. Vados might be the most modern and well-planned city in the world, but the problem of moving people and goods around is never really solved, is it?But of course, it's not really a traffic problem our hero has been brought in to solve. See, the circumstances behind the founding, just 20 years ago, of the city of Vados, are troublesome. Aguazul's president, Vados (yes), did not trust his people and their meager resources to create the perfect city he dreamed of, so he threw it open to the global elite as what amounted to an investment opportunity with big returns -- the biggest return being a place to live with a guaranteed high standard of living, elegance, order, and freedom from riff-raff. Yeah, he sort of built Galt's Gulch.But wait! In order to assure the city had adequate water, most of the nation's water supply was diverted. Water that peasants and villagers and small farmers depended on. Water that said peasants etc. wound up having to follow to Vados, even though Vados had no place for the likes of them, resulting in unsightly slums and shanty towns and the general presence of riff-raff in this perfect city. Oh noes!So what Hakluyt is really there to do is come up with a "traffic improvement plan" that requires the city to eliminate said slums and shanty towns, thus forcing the riff-raff back "onto to the land" where they belong. Any plan he might come up with that does not require this will be rejected; he is there to provide an excuse and act as a scapegoat.It takes him a while to discover this, of course. And once he does...Here is the source of the novel's real interest and tension (the chess plot is really just window dressing, though it's kind of fun to track plot developments -- deaths, arrests, kidnappings -- and see how they map onto the moves of the famous 1892 game): Hakluyt spends a lot of this novel trying to rationalize his presence in Vados, to justify to himself and a few key others his dogged determination to do some appoximation, at least, of what he's being paid for. Among those key others is one Maria Posador, leader of a small faction of native-born privilege who have taken up the cause of the slum-dwellers. If there is an opposite term for "femme fatale" that term would apply to Maria, who is constantly trying to get our hero to do the right thing and tell his employers to pound sand.Lots of others would like him to do so as well, and many of them are less subtle than Maria, which means there are some decent action scenes, conspiracy elements, even a bit of a mystery plot woven in with this meditation on haves and have nots and what the former might be seen to owe to the latter. Which is to say that once again, Brunner showed a great deal of prescience -- but this time his work has not achieved anything like the status of self-denying prophecy that The Sheep Look Up has.And of course it's a bit of a dig at the history of the New World in general, isn't it?Well worth a read.*As in I adore the game and never miss a chance to play but pretty much suck at it to a hilarious degree.**I suspect his name is a nod to Richard Hakluyt, an Elizabethan era writer who promoted the settlement of North America in his work.

  • jzthompson
    2019-03-03 11:33

    Apologies for the rambling gonzo review that is to follow - wanted to get my thoughts on this down in short order before the book faded from my immediate memory. I fully intend to edit this into something more sensical in due course. I wasn't actually going to write a review on this until I started to see the "Recommendations" Goodreads were supplying me off the back of my four star rating and started to get a little irked... It's telling I think about how difficult John Brunner is to classify as a writer - and how thoroughly he has slipped from the view of all but the SF faithful - that the recommendations are high Sci-Fantasy stories from the 50s and 60s about Robot Popes and Resurrected Thomas Moores on Mars. All perfectly enjoyable stuff no doubt but about as distant from what Brunner is about as... oh I dunno... "Wuthering Heights" is from "Bridget Jones's Diary."I have a huge deal of admiration for Brunner's abilities despite having really only skimmed the surface of his phenomenally vast output. In fact this is only the fourth John Brunner I have read since I first read Stand on Zanzibar about 12 years or more ago... in part this due to the difficulty of laying hands on copies of even his most noted works. I found this as a well preserved paperback on a summer visit to Hay on Wye in amidst a box of moldering Star Trek novelizations. Now I'm the first to sing the merits of decent SF but this seems unfair - whilst he seems to have published a lot of space opera tripe to pay the bills the three earlier books of his I'd read (Stand on Zanzibar, This Jagged Orbit and The Sheep Look up) sit far more comfortably in the dystopian tradition of Ninteen Eighty-Four or The Handmaid's Tale and in my view are far more accurate eerie reflections of our current world of turbo-charged capitalism than... well to be honest anything else I've ever read. When an English bloke writing in the 60s and 70s managed to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the IT revolution, medicalisation of every aspect of the human condition, and even the organic vegetable racket it seems somewhat mysterious why he sits in the box with Jim Kirk teaching green skinned space babes about this human thing you call love rather than being respected as a prophetic genius. Heck, forget mainstream literary credibility aside if the CIA had given the bloke an office and a carton of cigarettes a day they could have saved themselves a fortune.The Squares of the City is barely SF at all... it's set in a fictional Latin American republic and there are a couple of references to subliminal advertising and briefcased size personal computers that take it out of "the real world" but that aside the story here - conflict between the haves and the have-nots in an ultra-modern prestige city - could have come from a political science text book. This isn't the best Brunner I've read and it's clear there are flaws. A couple of nice descriptive passages aside the prose is functional rather than stylish. The decision to structure the book after a chess game is a nice conceit but proves a straightjacket by the two thirds mark - the plot becomes a bit predictable when you realise that every "move" by one side will be met by a countermove by the other in short order. The biggest problem is that the volume of characters required to give each chess piece (black and white) an equivalent in the story leads to all but a handful of the cast being archetypes rather than well developed. But at least Brunner bothered with characters and a plot - most "classics" of the dystopian genre didn't even bother with that... Can anyone give me a summary of the plot of Brave New World that takes more than two sentences? Can anyone tell me anything about Julia from Ninteen Eighty-Four's character aside from "is really young and totally hot and is well into older dudes that - by a complete coincidence - are a bit like George Orwell?" John Brunner deserves more than the 60p paperback box in Hay on Wye. If you are interested in dystopian fiction or political science please give him a chance.

  • Diana
    2019-02-25 07:42

    This book is a head trip and a half. One of my former friends gave it to me, telling me only that "it was a sci-fi book about a chess game". Needless to say, I was ill prepared for what I was about to encounter.First of all, it's barely science fiction. It's mainly a story of urban planning, and the tribulations that can result.Secondly, The entire book is the chess game, and the difficulty is recognizing which characters correspond to which pieces, and when they're meant to have moved (obviously, when one is killed, it makes things easier, but other than that...). The edition I read had a handy guide in the back, which I didn’t discover until I finished reading the book. It was interesting to compare the authors intentions to my own interpretation.Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I felt that I would've liked it much more had I been prepared for what I was truly about to encounter.

    2019-02-26 05:57

    review of John Brunner's The Squares of the City by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 9, 2014 "Review is too long. You entered 21001 characters, and the max is 20000" - In other words, see the full review here: you ever think about the urban planning that goes into things like the way traffic lights work? I do - & I'm impressed when such things work so efficiently that traffic keeps flowing w/o my getting too annoyed by delays, w/o accidents. "I came quickly to the central traffic intersection that lay at the focal point of the flow generated and governed by the four great squares. I stopped there for some time on the sidewalk, watching the vehicles move—and they did move, with no breaks. Ingenious use of precedence lanes and total avoidance of same-level crossing had eliminated the need for stoppages altogether, and there wasn't a traffic signal in sight" - p 25 On the other hand, I think about the way highways can be built that isolate certain communities & cause urban blight. This, of course, can be a type of racism/classism: the people to suffer the blight are considered disposable, unimportant. I remember when I-70 was planned to go thru Baltimore City & the communities to be effected by this protested & actually WON, thank goodness, & prevented the highway from cutting thru, & dividing their neighborhoods. That was probably in the early 1970s. WELL, once again, Brunner had the foresight to present just such an issue in a highly developed & entertaining way - & he did it in 1965. &, as w/ pretty much everything I like, there's more to it than that, much more. Subliminal Suggestion features prominently. Remember the book by Wilson Bryan Key called Subliminal Seduction (1974) about the way advertisers used subliminal means to convince you to buy things? You can read reviews about that here: . I think Key wrote a follow-up bk too. I don't have any problem believing Key's premise but I never bothered to read his bk b/c it struck me too much as sensationalism. Yes, unscrupulous people will use whatever techniques they can get away w/ to make themselves richer & the rest of us poorer - that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll succeed enuf for it to be worth it for any of us to become obsessed w/ it. The more insidious propaganda methods used by TV News, eg, are far more successful in framing the worldviews of the people who waste their time 'tuning in' (but never really tuning out). That sd, protecting yr free-thinking is certainly a worthy goal from my POV. ""It is too dangerous to watch television in Aguazul."" - p 87 ""Who first saw the possibilities? I cannot say. It was all kept very secret. In most countries use of subliminal perception is banned by law, because its effectiveness—oh, it has been made reliable by testing!—it is inhuman. But in Aguazul there was no law. The single obstacle was that most of our people are, illiterate. Yet that in its way was an advantage; it was soon found that even for persons who could read, pictures worked better than words. A message in words can be argued with, but pictures have the impact of something con los ojos de si."" - p 93 "Western society, biased toward the objective mental mode of experience, tends to be blind not only to the power of images but also to the fact that we are nearly defenseless against their effect. Since we are educated and thoughtful, as we like to think, we believe we can choose among the things that will influence us. We accept fact, we reject lies. We go to movies, we watch television, we see photographs, and as the images pour into us, we believe we can choose among those we wish to absorb and those we don't. We assume that our rational processes protect us from implantation, or brainwashing. What we fail to realize is the difference between fact and image. Our objective processes can help us resist only one kind of implantation. There is no rejection of images." - pages 257-258, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television - Jerry Mander [See my review of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television here: ] ""There are few places in Vados where it is safe to watch television, señor. This is one of them. I have a device which I think in English is called a 'blinker.' Our name for it means 'sieve.' I have just played you that recording without the blinker." ""A blinker, so far as I'm concerned," I said, "is one of those gadgets that you can set to shit off commercials. You haven't any advertising on that program." ""No?" she said, and gave her wan little smile again. "Did you ever hear of a technique called subliminal perception?"" - p 90 In the Introduction to The Squares of the City, Edward Lasker tells us: "this story in which the two chief protagonists in a South American country attempt to direct the actions of their followers by using the unconscious but powerful influence of "subliminal perception," a technique which may well threaten all out futures." (p 5) In other words, this novel is about CONTROL, a subject dear to my heart, a subject explored deeply by another favorite writer: William S. Burroughs. "I saw myself—or at any rate a recognizable likeness of myself—dipping my fingers for holy water into the font at the entrance to the cathedral. Another few yards of tape: I was shaking hands with el Presidente, and then in a few more moments I was kneeling before the bishop I had seen coming out of the elevator at the TV studios. Finally, before the sequence began to repeat, I was shown—this was so crude it nearly made me laugh—as an angel in a long white gown, holding a flaming sword over the monorail central, from beneath which figures ran like frightened ants." - p 92 "I frowned. "Well, I know the principle—you project a message on a TV screen or a movie screen for a fraction of a second, and it's alleged to impress the subconscious mind. They tried it out in movie houses with simple words like 'ice cream,'["]" [Strange, my neighbor & I just now made plans to go get ice cream..] "["]and some people said it worked and others said it didn't. I thought it had gone out of fashion, because it proved unreliable or something."" - p 92 "I chose my words carefully. "I have," I said. "In fact, I spoke to Señora Cortés of the television service, and her husband, the professor, admitted at once without my asking that they use this technique. I don't like it msyelf, but according to what Cortés says, they seem to have some justification, at any rate—" "She seemed to wilt like a flower in an oven. "Yes, Señor Hakluyt. I have no doubt there was also some justification at any rate for Belson. Good day to you."" - p 130 Lasker continues by telling us that "The author has added an ingenious twist to his story which will be particularly intriguing to chess fans. the game in which his characters move as living pieces has not been artificially designed by him to suit the progress of his plot. It had actually been played, move for move, some seventy years ago in a match for the world championship between the title holder, the American master William Steinitz, and the Russian master Mikhail Ivanovich Tchigorin." (p 5) I'm reminded of George Perec's great novel Life: A User's Manual (1978). In 1997, I was invited to coordinate a small Latin American festival at a local university. I wasn't a Latin American expert by any means so I might not've been the best person for the job - it just sortof fell in my lap. In the long run, I think I did it passably well. A side-effect of this was that I went on a spree of reading Latin American novels (in English translation). I became particularly fond of the authors published by Avon Bard. I ended up reading work by (if I hadn't read them already), but not limited to: Allende, Isabel (Chilé) Argueta, Manlio (El Salvador) Arlt, Roberto (Argentina) de Assis, Machado (Brazil) Asturias, Machado (Brazil) Azuela, Mariano (Mexico) Bastos, Augusto Roa (Pataguay) Bioy-Casares, Adolfo (Argentina?) Borges, Jorge Luis (Argentina) Brandão, Iganácio de Loyola (Brazil) Carpentier, Alejo (Cuba) Cortázar, Julio (Argentina; France) Donoso, José (Chile) Fuentes, Carlos (Mexico) Ibargüengoitia, Jorge (Mexico) Infante, G. Cabrera (Cuba) Koster, R. M. (United States of America; Panama) Llosa, Mario Vargas (Peru) Márquez, Gabriel Garcia (Columbia; Mexico) Queiroz, Rachel de (Brazil) Sánchez, Luis Rafael (Puerto Rico) Souza, Márcio (Brazil) Traven, B. (Germany; Mexico)The Squares of the City is set in a fictitious South American country &, as such, is vaguely open to a reading as Latin American fiction. I think it passed nicely. Sometimes it seems that Latin American countries have horrible reputations as dictatorships in North America (Argentina certainly earned it in the 1960s & 1970s - as did Chile under Pinochet after the US helped put him in power, etc, etc) but, then, there's so much great political fiction from Latin America that there seems to be a substantial liberation going on too (obviously). "I looked around, and the buildings said proudly, "Progress!" The laughter on the faces of youths and girls said, "Success!" The satisfied look of businessmen said, "Prosperity!" "But even in that moment, in my first hours in Vados, I found myself wondering what the peasant family would have answered, trudging up the hill toward their shantytown." - p 17 Yep, one person's 'prosperity' might well be codependent on another person's destruction. More about that later. ""But this is a thing you find everywhere in Vados, indeed throughout the country. It is perhaps our national game so much as it is of the Russians, let us say." As though mention of the name had reminded her, she took another draw on her Russian cigarette and tapped the first ash into a tray on the table. It is, of course, a dream of our president that one day such another as the Cuban Capablanca should be found here in Cuidad de Vados. For that reason we play from childhood."" - pp 21-22 Since I'm usually pretty busy w/ a variety of things, when I'm reading a bk I'm also witnessing movies & reading other bks & these multiplicities sometimes coincide in stimulating ways. In this case, I witnessed Andrew van den Houten 2005 Headspace at about this point in reading The Squares of the City & was struck by the chess connection in relation to the last-quoted. In it, a mediocre chess player encounters some much better chess players in the park & gradually becomes enabled to beat the best of them due to an increase of intelligence under mysterious circumstances. I become more engaged w/ what I read when the author references things that interest me - maybe just a casual passing mention of music that I like. "I caught on. "Ah, Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. Yes, I know what you mean. Is that the sort of thing you have in the Plaza del Sur?" ""Exactly. Only—our national temperament being what it is—our discussions sometimes grow more heated than among the phlegmatic English."" - p 22 What 1st struck me about this passage was the way the 2nd speaker seems to trivialize a heretofore only hinted at disturbance that seems potentially of more importance. Having now read the whole novel, I'm more just interested in Speakers' Corners anywhere. Yet another bk I've yet to read (even tho it's in my personal library) is The Speakers (1964) by Heathcote Williams. Will I live long enuf to read everything that interests me? People willing to elongate my life shd feel free to apply. My own excursions into Speakers' Corner type public speaking might be best represented by my "Soap Box Opera episode 4": . Vados seems so 'perfect' BUT "["]The people of the villages and half-pint towns up-country from here saw this prosperous new city on their doorstep, so to speak, and decided they wanted to move in. Why, they argued, shouldn't they get a slice of this cake? Of course, to people like you and me it's obvious why not, but imagine trying to explain the facts to an illiterate Indian peasant.["]" (p 31) The reader won't have much trouble figuring out that the speaker here is from the privileged end of the spectrum. Later, a more compelling reason for this immigration is revealed. It all hints of classism & other imposed inequalities: "["]The man of mixed blood who was addressing the crowd on his behalf is a certain Sam Francis. He had just assured the crowd—and I, for one, believe him—that he we will not spend a cento on himself until the fine is paid. And yet there are holes in his shoes." "She swung around and pointed at the speaker under the Citizens of Vados banner. "There you see Andres Lucas, secretary of the Citizens Party. The shoes he is wearing probably cost him fifty dolaros, and he probably has more than twenty pairs. I do not know where Guerrero is, their chairman." ""I do," I said after a pause. "Lunching in the Plaza del Norte." "She nodded without surprise. "The check there will be as much as a pair of Lucas's shoes.["]. - p 38 Finally, the real reason for the exodus of the peasants is revealed: ""They must have had homes where they came from," said Angers sharply. ""Had, Señor Angers! When they were starving because their water was taken for the city, when their land was dry, where else should they go but to the city?["] - p 50 Think this is unrealistic? Look at the recent history of India: dams are built, farmland is flooded, farmers are displaced, they go to the city as workers. In 2000, I had an Australian friend who was going to India to document rural Indian women who were going to chain themselves to their homes that were about to be flooded for just such a dam. Their purpose? To show that this displacement is MURDER, their plan was to die, if necessary, if the flooding went ahead. As usual, the beneficiaries of 'modern' society are often woefully ignorant of or cynically indifferent to the price that's pd for their luxury. What suffering went into making the computer I'm typing this on? What suffering went into the electrical power that keeps it running? Into the internet infrastructure that'll enable the posting of this review? ""At home"; yes, that was the trouble in Vados. Or a good part of it anyway. Twenty thousand people who couldn't regard the city as their home, although they lived in it—simply because it wasn't their home. They were in a foreign country in their own homeland." - p 54 One of the things that the Black Panthers always sd that impressed me deeply was that the police in their neighborhoods were an occupying army. Indeed. The narrator, a traffic flow designer whose skills have earned him international acclaim & jobs among the informed, parades his impressive experience before us: "I'd had to allow for the snarls in traffic flow caused by the muezzins in Moslem cities calling the devout to prayer, and the consequent five-times-daily interruption of everything, much to the annoyance of the nonreligious citizens. I'd had to work out a design for an embankment along the Ganges where it was certain that at least a million people would suddenly turn up once a year, but which had to cope with them and with its ordinary traffic without wasting unduly much space on the million-strong crowd which would remain idle the rest of the year. I'd helped develop the signal system in Galveston, Texas, designed to give every fire appliance within twenty miles nonstop to any outbreak without interfering with traffic on any route not used by the engines." (p 61) "and the total impression left on students like myself—who went through college faced with what seemed like equally appalling alternative futures: nuclear war or a population explosion that would pass the six billion mark by the end of the century" (p 82) The above prediction of the worldwide human population by 2000 was written about 1965 or thereabouts. Estimates from multiple groups have the human population as less than 3.5 billion at the time - &, yes, those same groups have us at over 6 billion as of 2000. Now we're supposedly at over 7 billion. Scary, eh? NOW, where I live it's not crowded - one cd even say it's 'underpopulated' - so where is this population increase showing up the most? Wherever it is, expect some spill-over. When I read a bk, I make pencilled jottings on its inner jacket about things that seem noteworthy as I go along. Since I don't know the bk in advance (I rarely reread bks), the notes are made based on whatever I know of the bk so far. THEN, when it's time to write the review, I go thru the notes in order & pick out the ones I want to use (usually almost all of them) & put them in the order they originally appeared unless a different order seems more compelling. I generally avoid following the plotline - both to avoid spoilers & in the interest of exploring subtexts. As I'm writing this, I've rejected a few possibilities as too plot-centered. The next quote is an exception. The structure of the novel is such that, predictably, what seems initially placid, becomes more & more violent as the secrets are revealed to the protagonist: "Someone had thrown red paint all over Vados's statue. "Police in the Calle del Sol were bundling young me into trucks; there was blood on the ground, and one of the police held two wet-bladed knives. "During the lunch-hour meeting in the Plaza del Sur, Arrio had been hanged in effigy from a tree by enraged supporters of Juan Tezol, in protest against his being jailed. Police had had to clear that up, too; the evening edition of Libertad spoke of many arrests. "My car had had the air let out of its tires. "And Sam Francis had committed suicide in jail. . . ." - pp 175-176 Now that I've given away entirely too much of the plot, I'll distract you w/ trivia: ""All right, that wasn't an invitation. Go ahead and sing. How about La Cucaracha?" ""That is a bad song, señor. It is all about marijuana.["]" - p 214

  • Martin Doych
    2019-02-20 10:55

    Не знам дали е (само) от превода, но много трудно се чете... Отдавна не съм оставял започната книга... Много добър сюжет, но просто на една трета от книгата не искам да я чета повече...

  • Troy
    2019-03-18 10:55

    I stumbled across this book on Amazon during one of my many browsing sessions. As a chess player, I sometimes gravitate toward novels that use chess in one way or another. This novel was to take the usual conventions a step further by using an actual game of chess to guide the plot. Intriguing, I thought. The beginning of the book is an introduction by Edward Lasker, a chess master and author. His endorsement of the novel gave me hope that the idea would be well executed. It prepares the reader for a real chess novel, where chess is absolutely central to the book as a whole, which is why I became increasingly frustrated the farther into the book I read. Page after page only an occasional reference to the game would pop up. Only at the end of the book did the big chess section arrive--a huge letdown. To make matters worse, the chess plot, as explained at the end, does not make sense. There are two characters who have decided to solve a conflict by playing a "real chess game" using the citizens of the city as their armies. This is not a metaphor--they have a chess set where they move pieces while simultaneously manipulating actual persons in corresponding manners. When a capture is needed, that person is killed or rendered useless. Brunner uses a game from the Steinitz-Chigorin 1892 World Championship Rematch to structure his novel; it is supposed to be the game played out by the characters. And in one sense it is. A piece for every character, plot points of rough equivalence to the effects of each move in the historical game, etc. But the idea of playing out a chess game with real people does not work in such a literal sense. Brunner uses the city as the board, but the construction falls apart because he allows just the board to remain metaphorical. There are no coordinates to match a real chessboard and therefore there are no boundaries to the influence of the pieces nor of the game itself. Chess pieces get their value from the board upon which they are placed. Outside of that board, their "power" (or mobility) has no definition. So even if we assume that this advanced form of governmental manipulation is able to influence indefinitely those who live within the city limits, the novel fails to explain how such influence is mirrored on the chessboard used by the two acting kings.The white king even admits that he and the black king did not decide who would be the pawns until later in game. Come on. Those are some of the first pieces you have to move in a chess game, and are in fact the first two pieces moved in the historical game. They literally shape a chess game. Brunner informs us at the end that he has left out the final three moves of the historical game. (view spoiler)[Even so, you might expect at least the result to be the same as that game. Nope. In spite of the characters reminding us that the kings of a game are never captured (or killed, for their purposes), the white king is most likely killed at the end of the novel. Which also reverses the result of the historical game, in which (as Brunner reminds us) black resigned on move thirty-eight. (hide spoiler)]Now that is really just the chess gripe, which was the main reason I read the book. I did have other issues with it: boring, repetitive, etc. I will just say it was not my idea of a good final draft of a novel. Redeeming factors included the sociological and political discussions, the gentle prods regarding ethical and philosophical implications of media manipulation, and the novel's relevance to my own literary research. Overall, this novel had some provocative successes but required too much work from the reader that should have been done by the author and editor.

  • John Loyd
    2019-03-21 05:58

    Boyd Hakluyt has been hired to update the traffic system in Vados the shining jewel, capitol city, of Aguazul. A country in Latin America. Once he gets there he finds that he isn't there to fix a traffic problem, but rather a social one. Twenty years ago presidente Vados conceived of creating a new city for the capitol, one that is modern, and engineered to perfection. Many of the foreigners that helped build the city were granted citizenship. There is a disparity between Vados and the rest of the country, many villagers have come to the city, taken up residence and created slums. It is these slums that Hakluyt is suppose to design out of existence. Vados is divided, the citizens want the city pure and clean, the nationals want a share of what is theirs.I read the author's note at the end and maybe a review and learned that the plot of the story was based on the moves of a chess match. I would have been better off without that information, I kept looking at the back page and seeing which character was which piece. Even with the spoilers the book was good. I did wonder how Brunner was going to resolve the issues. What was going to happen to Vados, the city, how was it going to be saved. He managed to make that part of the ending believable.Brunner did a good job with the characters, at least the ones with the most contact with Hakluyt. Angers, Maria Posador, Fats Brown, Jose Dalban. Made it worth reading even with spoilers.

  • Ian
    2019-03-20 08:30

    An Australian traffic analyst is invited to a South American model city clearly patterned on Brasilia (although the invented country in which it is located is Spanish-speaking) because the visionary president of the nation believes traffic analysis will cure his lovely city of its unsightly slums. From the moment of his arrival, the narrator is in over his head, as it turns out there are two main political factions in the city and he’s being used as a tool by one of them. Though he repeatedly says he can provide short-term solutions to the slums, but in the long term proper housing and education is the only way to really fix the problem, the city authorities want a quick result. And then people start to get killed. I liked that Brunner had based his invented city of Vados on Brasilia, and it seemed to me he sort of captured a similar architectural flavour. The characters also seemed to suit the setting, although the narrator drifted a little too close to Overcompetent Man at times. However, The Squares of the City is apparently notable because the plot is based on a famous chess match, with each of the characters representing various pieces. To be honest, not knowing this in no way changes how you read the story, nor does knowing it actually help you parse the plot. It’s a gimmick that means nothing to the reader, and I’m surprised Brunner even bothered mentioning it. Yes, it turns out the two chief movers and shakers in Vados – the president and the leader of the opposition – have been playing a chess game with people, and that’s why there have been deaths, but it seems too abstracted to make any real difference. I think that makes the novel more of a curiosity than anything else.

  • Erik Graff
    2019-03-09 07:40

    I moved to East Rogers Park on Chicago's north side after graduating from seminary in New York in 1978. I'd been away, except for some vacations, since college and the fabric of my social relationships had unravelled over the years. Thus, my first apartment was a miserable studio on Morse and Ashland, one of the worst areas in the neighborhood. I had no television, no phonograph, no job and very few friends. I did, however, have books, lots of them, stored during the years of my schooling at the home of Valeria Laube back in Park Ridge, books which I brought over as soon as I'd installed brackets and standards for shelves.Michael Miley and his younger brother Tom served as my reintroduction to society. The two of them lived almost a mile north on Chase near Ashland. At the time of my arrival Tom Kosinski, another old friend, was also temporarily domiciled there and their huge, book-lined apartment was a bit of a social hub. On those occasions when I was invited over I'd ingratiate myself by doing dishes, hoping for more invitations to punctuate my loneliness. It worked. My life vastly improved and when Kosinski travelled off to France I was invited in a the third roommate.The Squares of the City was one of the many books shelved in Michael's room. He, being a bit of a writer of fictions himself, had a high opinion of this novel because of Brunner's cleverness in basing its events on the moves of an historically famous chess game. This device was, for me, decidedly unattractive, but I'd read and liked Brunner many times before and took the plunge despite misgivings.As it happened, I didn't like this novel as much as some of Brunner's other works.

  • Sanya Weathers
    2019-02-20 08:38

    While I was trying to describe this to someone who'd never heard of Brunner, I came up with "Phillip K. Dick with a heaping spoonful of Heinlein." The mixture, especially in this book, is a good one - it's very Dick, but the main characters are better drawn, the story is more accessible, and there is a hell of a lot less angst. Still plenty of tension. This particular book would make a brilliant movie.The only thing that keeps me from giving it five stars is the way the secondary characters ran together. The book's gimmick - though not nearly as gimmicky as Dick's I-Ching hot mess - is that the plot echoes an actual championship chess match. (I am spoiling nothing, it says so in the introduction/author's note.) To get all the "pieces" in play, some of the characters simply have nothing to do but exist to be taken. I suspect were it not for the chess match thing, there would have been a lot of character consolidation.But all in all, it's a solid bit of Golden Age science fiction. Two talons up!

  • Ian
    2019-02-26 07:44

    This is the story of a troubleshooter who specialises in fixing the vagaries of traffic flows. He takes a job in a South American city which was built from scratch as the ambitious project of its President. It is a city designed to draw in external wealth, while callously ignoring the poverty of the natives in the surrounding villages who suffered an upheaval because of its existence. It soon becomes clear his traffic management problem is actually one of social engineering, and he sets about the job of fixing both. He is not untouched by his experience, the dispassionate observer becomes embroiled in all kinds of trouble at close quarters, arriving at the moment a pressure cooker is about to explode.It is a fascinating novel, with an ebb and flow between the characters as it progresses, the protagonist peels through the layers of truth, discovering over time the true meaning of his vocation.

  • James
    2019-03-01 13:51

    "Built in the heart of the jungle, The City was an architect's masterpiece -- the scene of a flesh and blood game of chess where the unwitting pawns were real people!" This sociological story of urban class warfare and political intrigue, takes place in the fictional South American capital city of Vados. In this world subliminal messages are used as political tools. The story is most notable for having the structure of the famous 1892 chess game between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin. While the structure is seemingly very formal that does not detract from the excitement of the story itself. Like Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday or Carrol's Through the Looking-glass, this is a tale of a fantastic character. It is a far distance from the whirlwind of Carroll's mirrored universe, but it nonetheless quite exciting.

  • Paul Dormer
    2019-02-25 07:51

    I first read this book some forty years ago and had remembered little except a chess game was involved.Reading it again now, some parts are dated. These days, social media would play a great part controlling the people and the loss of one TV station and one newspaper would not be of such great import. But other part about using media to subliminally control people seem very contemporary. There seem echoes of today's refugee crisis in the problems of the economic movement of peasants into Vados.Finally, I have to wonder if the makers of The Prisoner back in the sixties knew of this book. Not only was their a giant human chess board in the Village, the narrator of this book more or less says he is not a number but a free man.

  • fromcouchtomoon
    2019-03-23 10:47

    Political maneuverings, strange alliances, color segregation, characters dying under complex circumstances, intricate traffic analysis, blocky format... sounds like a game of chess.SF styled as political thriller, inspired by the mid-century political turmoil of Latin America, where the most stable of nations operated under CIA-backed despotic regimes. Brunner recognizes the complexities of race, power, history, and economics, and the subtleties of power, but he forgets the most important part: these regimes did not operate in a vacuum. The heavy hand of the United States is absent in this novel.

  • Christopher
    2019-03-14 13:30

    An interesting conglomeration of concepts...The major premise of the book is that the characters are all chess pieces, and the events of the book play out the movements of a famous chess game from 1892.The secondary premise is that the protagonist is a traffic flow consultant, trying to solve problems in a South American city that bears a remarkable resemblance to Brasilia, in being a capital city constructed into place. And the principles he works by seem interesting and relatively plausible.

  • James
    2019-03-19 12:28

    An intriguing book, in many ways as much an academic exercise as a novel. Usually referred to as science fiction (though the sf elements are few until the denouement), it is perhaps better to consider it more generally as a tale of a Latin American country on the brink of revolution and accept it on those terms. For the most part, it works well in this way, though there are moments when the conceit of the story (basing the character moves upon a real historical chess match) threatens to intrude too far. For all that, a good readable yarn.

  • Charles Harrison
    2019-03-12 10:45

    I have always liked Brunner novels and this although different in style is no exception. The science fiction element is the notion of putting abstract notions like social control and town planning into practice. I particularly liked the notion of using traffic flows as lysosomes to cut off and eliminate undesirable elements from a city. Imagine how long a city would last with all its traffic connections cut? This is paired with a thrilling adventure with corruption and murder coming do a diabolical ending.

  • mensch
    2019-03-03 06:53

    Certainly not Brunner's best book, but a worthy read nonetheless. "The Squares of the City" does have the typical Brunner hallmarks, the unconventional narrative structure to point out one example. Apart from that "The Squares of the City" is a story about the politics and social unrest in a fictional city somewhere in Latin America. The main character, Hakluyt, is an urban planner from Australia, who unwillingly gets caught up in the political intrigues and urban class warfare.

  • Larry
    2019-03-12 05:43

    Everyone goes on about how this book is like a chess game,well I didn't get that from it. Buut then again I was so bored with it I couldn't finish,so maybe I missed the chess reference or perhaps after a while I just didn't care anymore! I hope his other books are better than this! Science fiction? Yea right!

  • Radu Stanculescu
    2019-03-19 07:37

    Everyone who knows me knows I'm a chess fan, so it's not surprising that I liked this book. :) If you've ever wondered how real life could be made to look like a game of chess, this is the book about it.

  • Alan Newman
    2019-02-23 06:34

    A prophetic novel about overpopulation, city planning, the expendability of the poor. Brunner predicts a time when overpopulation and urbanization would lead to people, called "amok-ers", to flip out and go on mass killing sprees. Sound familiar??

  • Jessie B.
    2019-03-17 13:46

    This book has an interesting and ambitious premise but it can some times be a bit tricky to follow.

  • Deidre
    2019-02-22 05:57

    I first read this many years ago. An enjoyable example of politics buried in sci fi.And the poor consultant who discovered he was a pawn...

  • Devero
    2019-03-21 10:35

    Un romanzo scritto come una partita di scacchi, basato su una partita vera di cui riproduce lo schema e le mosse. Non proprio riuscito, come esperimento.

  • Bob
    2019-02-27 06:43

    Reminder to self and others to obtain and read, then compare notes.

  • Oldnomad
    2019-03-12 13:34

    Not really SF. Enjoyable thriller which raises many political-philosophical issues which have been raised for centuries. A bit contrived, but still, hard to put down.

  • Burd
    2019-03-11 10:37

    Foreword and synopsis contain spoilers, I recommend not reading those and discovering the underlying plot by reading the book.

  • Brian Smith
    2019-02-28 08:35

    Diverse characters, heavy chess references but convoluted plot and a bit of a silly ending

  • James
    2019-03-20 11:53

    A good story from one of the masters. This tale uses the game of chess as a metaphor, framework, and vehicle for an examination of politics, power struggles, social prejudice and economic injustice.