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The Squares of the City

3.33  ·  Rating Details  ·  398 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
"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
Mass Market Paperback, #U6035, 319 pages
Published December 1965 by Ballantine Books (first published 1965)
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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 traf
Kate Sherrod
Mar 04, 2013 Kate Sherrod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 a ...more
Apr 24, 2011 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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 (obviousl
Dec 09, 2014 Troy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chess-novel
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
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:

Do 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
Jan 21, 2016 ScoLgo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Couldn't wait for this one to be over. Overly lengthy and rather dull. To be sure, there were some interesting moments but really, how dynamic can a book be when it is about re-designing traffic patterns in an imaginary third-world city, while the motives of the main characters are (unwittingly) based on a real-world game of chess that was played in 1892?

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this literary experiment more if I was a chess aficionado. At the end of the day, the whole premise just seemed to
Feb 10, 2014 Ian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 sa ...more
Paul Dormer
Oct 09, 2015 Paul Dormer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, joms-reading
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.

Charles Harrison
Sep 23, 2014 Charles Harrison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 diaboli ...more
Sanya Weathers
Sep 06, 2013 Sanya Weathers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Erik Graff
Jan 04, 2011 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Brunner fans
Recommended to Erik by: Michael Miley
Shelves: sf
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 ...more
Jun 02, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
"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. Whi
Dec 05, 2015 fromcouchtomoon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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:
Sep 04, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.
Jun 28, 2014 mensch rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 08, 2010 Larry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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!
Alan Newman
Jun 17, 2014 Alan Newman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
This book has an interesting and ambitious premise but it can some times be a bit tricky to follow.
Radu Stanculescu
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.
Dec 11, 2007 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adolescents and adults
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.
Michael Gushue
You could say that it's a novelization of a famous 1892 chess game between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin. Interesting idea about controlling people through urban planning.

Ray Charbonneau
Like many gimmick stories, things like characterization were less important than making the plot follow the gimmick. Worth a read, but not if you have to go out of your way.
Aug 17, 2013 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
A decent story that probably would have been better if Brunner hadn't stuck quite so religiously to making it accurate to the chess game it was based on.
Aug 13, 2013 Devero rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 06, 2012 Deidre rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Dec 14, 2009 Bob marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Reminder to self and others to obtain and read, then compare notes.
Sep 06, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A game of chess, of life and death.
Sep 16, 2012 Pippa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Readable, but not great.
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The late John Brunner was perhaps as well known for much of his career in the US as in the UK. A leftwing activist, with particular connections to the peace movement, much of his best and most mature fiction is involved in a complex analysis of social trends and where they will take us--novels like Stand on Zanzibar which deals with overpopulation, among other things, and The Sheep Look Up, which ...more
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