The Squares of the City

The Squares of the CityCheckmate In ParadiseCiudad De Vados Was A Latin American Showplace, A Paradisea Flourishing Supercity Designed And Run Nearly To PerfectionBut Not Quite They Had A Traffic ProblemBoyd Hakluyt Didn T Understand Why, But He Had Been Brought In To Analyze The Situation And To Straighten It Out Or So He Thought But When He Attempted To Get Anything Done, Nothing Worked Right, And Everyone Suddenly Became EvasiveThat S When He Realized The City S Traffic Problems Were The Least Of His Worries Somehow His Every Move Was Being Dictated By Somebody Else He Was Being Controlled As If He Were Merely A Piece In A Chess Game An Expendable Piece, At That Then Suddenly Boyd Concluded He Had Become Part Of A Fiendish Living Game, Playing For His Life On THE SQUARES OF THE CITY

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

➪ The Squares of the City Read ➲ Author John Brunner –
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • 319 pages
  • The Squares of the City
  • John Brunner
  • English
  • 13 March 2018
  • 9780345277398

10 thoughts on “The Squares of the City

  1. says:

    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 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 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 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.

  2. says:

    Storyline 2 5Characters 3 5Writing Style 3 5Resonance 1 5The first few chapters held some real surprises for me I d approached this because of Brunner s science fiction credentials and the book s nomination for the 1966 Hugo Awards I wouldn t, however, classify this as science fiction There s a little technological invention of the Cold War variety supposed developments the other side had and was employing, but nothing that wasn t rud to already be true then in the 1960s Hardly enough to count as science fiction What it was, instead, was a third world political drama I can t find evidence for it on a quick search, but Brunner must have based his Vados on real world Brasilia I thought that was great I d read an excellent history of the city before, and it would be fascinating point from which to build up a speculative fiction story Also the main character s profession is in civil engineering, and I was enthusiastic to see the character complete the tasks Brunner puts him up to Finally, the writing in the early chapters set this apart from general science fiction writing It was contemplative and playful, informed by a writer who obviously had experienced the lifestyle of a traveler There was a common language and familiar observations that synced with the reader who had similar experiences For the first few chapters, then, I was wowed with the possibilities I thought I had stumbled onto a mostly overlooked classic, and I was keen to settle in and enjoy the experience.Unfortunately the book does not live up to many of the initial expectations The science fiction was superficial to the point of nonexistence Aside from this being located in an imaginary city in the near future this was pretty standard literature The profession of our character and his task in the book were not the product of research or experience the depth and information I was looking for never materialized The writing turned functional, and the unique observations of the expat were all used up early on There s some attempts to make this a serious book, 1960s message fiction with real villains and real world problems There were some really provocative questions raised, namely 1 to what extent do natives own or have rights to their native land beyond or in opposition to immigrants who give up everything to make it their home 2 how do you share very limited and non divisible national treasures with a large population These are the kind of themes that serious literature would take on, and at times this posed as serious literature It was posturing, however, and the questions are used instead to direct us to the political drama This turned as internecine and sensational as one would expect with a novel with little else going for it At the end of the book it turned out that the author did have a point I scoffed at the message as I read the final chapter, thinking that the Brunner lost control of the tale The author s note at the end advised me that what I was considering ridiculous, was, in fact, quite purposeful, and had required a great deal of plotting to achieve So my final impressions changed from ridicule to befuddlement I don t know why Brunner wanted to do what he did, but I was neither entertained nor impressed.

  3. says:

    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 doesHere 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.

  4. says:

    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 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 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 comfortably in the dystopian tradition of Ninteen Eighty Four or The Handmaid s Tale and in my view are far 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 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 than the 60p paperback box in Hay on Wye If you are interested in dystopian fiction or political science please give him a chance.

  5. says:

    I stumbled across this book on 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

  6. says:

    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 had I been prepared for what I was truly about to encounter.

  7. says:

    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 Balti 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 to it than that, much 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 insidious propaganda methods used by TV News, eg, are far 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, se or 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 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 Se ora Cort s 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 Cort s says, they seem to have some justification, at any rate She seemed to wilt like a flower in an oven Yes, Se or 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 Chil 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 Brand o, Igan cio de Loyola Brazil Carpentier, Alejo Cuba Cort zar, Julio Argentina France Donoso, Jos Chile Fuentes, Carlos Mexico Ibarg engoitia, Jorge Mexico Infante, G Cabrera Cuba Koster, R M United States of America Panama Llosa, Mario Vargas Peru M rquez, Gabriel Garcia Columbia Mexico Queiroz, Rachel de Brazil S nchez, Luis Rafael Puerto Rico Souza, M rcio 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 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 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 importance Having now read the whole novel, I m 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 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 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, Se or 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 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 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, se or It is all about marijuana p 214

  8. says:

    The characterisation suffers from a contrived ending, essential to fulfilling the authors chess metaphor however the underlying concept of the book, like all the best Sci fi, is extremely prescient As such it s well worth a read Spoliers The central idea is that people can be controlled unwittingly and largely go along with it, as long as they don t perceive the puppeteers strings That concept and the similarities with nudge theory now employed in government departments is unmistakable to the modern reader As such I found the parallels with current events striking, especially what happens when the populace begins to perceive the manipulation and or it fails and the subsequent collapse in social order.

  9. says:

    This was my first John Brunner book I ve read many 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 planning, how altering as road can change the neighboorhood around it It s closer to Graham Green than Asimov its not really sci fi at all.

  10. says:

    I remember being impressed by this when I first read it as a teenager, but that may have been because of its structure as a chess game.

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