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The Squares of the City

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  491 Ratings  ·  38 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
Dec 10, 2012 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
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: construction
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 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
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
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first John Brunner book. I've read many more since and I admire his work a lot. I didn't know that the novel's structure was based on a particular chess game when I read it, and I'm not sure this made much difference (I've no interest in chess, let alone reading about past matches). It seems to me this device helped make the plot a less predictable, perhaps, because it's not the most original story on the planet. What fascinated me, what made it unique, was the discussion of urban pl ...more
Martin Doych
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...
Dec 08, 2014 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
John Loyd
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 t ...more
Jan 12, 2014 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
Erik Graff
Jan 04, 2011 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
Sanya Weathers
Sep 06, 2013 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
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
Jun 02, 2009 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
Paul Dormer
Sep 27, 2015 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.

Nov 07, 2015 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:
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.
Aug 13, 2014 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
Charles Harrison
Sep 23, 2014 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
Oct 20, 2009 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 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!
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.
Alan Newman
Dec 10, 2013 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.
Oct 06, 2012 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...
Aug 11, 2013 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.
Dec 14, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Reminder to self and others to obtain and read, then compare notes.
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.
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Foreword and synopsis contain spoilers, I recommend not reading those and discovering the underlying plot by reading the book.
Brian Smith
Diverse characters, heavy chess references but convoluted plot and a bit of a silly ending
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John Brunner was born in Preston Crowmarsh, near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, and went to school at St Andrew's Prep School, Pangbourne, then to Cheltenham College. He wrote his first novel, Galactic Storm, at 17, and published it under the pen-name Gill Hunt, but he did not start writing full-time until 1958. He served as an officer in the Royal Air Force from 1953 to 1955, and married Marjorie Ro ...more
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