The Squares of the City
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The Squares of the City

3.32 of 5 stars 3.32  ·  rating details  ·  305 ratings  ·  24 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...more
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...more
Kate Sherrod
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Sanya Weathers
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...more
Erik Graff
Jan 04, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
"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...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.
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.
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
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??
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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.
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.
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.
A game of chess, of life and death.
Readable, but not great.
Nenia Campbell
Mar 06, 2014 Nenia Campbell marked it as really-want  ·  review of another edition
Chess-themed sci-fi? I don't think I need to hear anything else.

Christine marked it as to-read
Jul 08, 2014
Pierre Menard
Pierre Menard marked it as to-read
Jun 25, 2014
JT marked it as to-read
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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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Stand on Zanzibar The Sheep Look Up The Shockwave Rider The Crucible of Time The Jagged Orbit

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