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The Squares of the City por John Brunner
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The Squares of the City (original 1965; edição 1965)

por John Brunner (Autor), Murray Tinkelman (Ilustrador)

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587940,644 (3.37)15
Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

"One of the most important science fiction authors. Brunner held a mirror up to reflect our foibles because he wanted to save us from ourselves." SF Site For each generation, there is a writer meant to bend the rules of what we know. Hugo Award winner (Best Novel, STAND ON ZANZIBAR) and British science fiction master John Brunner remains one of the most influential and respected authors of all time, and now E-Reads is pleased to re-introduce many of his classic works. For readers familiar with his vision, it's a chance to re-examine his thoughtful worlds and words, while for new readers, Brunner's work proves itself the very definition of timeless. In THE SQUARES OF THE CITY, Brunner takes the moves of a classic championship chess game and uses them as the structure to build a novel about a revolution in a South American country obsessed with chess and dominated by a dictator who sees people as pawns in his game of power and survival. Intriguing premise, dramatic story, future setting, great entertainment.

.… (mais)
Membro:scottyn73
Título:The Squares of the City
Autores:John Brunner (Autor)
Outros autores:Murray Tinkelman (Ilustrador)
Informação:Del Rey / Ballantine (1978), Edition: 4th paperback printing, 317 pages
Coleções:A sua biblioteca
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Etiquetas:Nenhum(a)

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The squares of the city por John Brunner (1965)

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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: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/366216-brunner-s-the-squares-of-the-city

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 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: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/686039.Subliminal_Seduction . 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: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/228250.Four_Arguments_for_the_Elimination_of... ]

""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": http://youtu.be/FUY9DwiE1Dk .

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 ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
URANIA COLLEZIONE NR.155
  Vincenzop. | Feb 23, 2018 |
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. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
I've read several less well known Brunner novels over the past couple of years. They've been a bit of a mixed bag, but if nothing else I can admire him as an author who wasn't afraid to come up with an out-of-the-box concept and run with it.

Perhaps this is a book that can only truly be appreciated by chess enthusiasts. To me, it felt like it had potential--especially given a narrator and setting that were both unusual and intriguing. But in the end the "gimmick" (and dare I say the gimmick within a gimmick?) too often took the plot into directions that felt contrived and didn't particularly build towards a compelling climax.

I am used to thinking that in a successful story of this ilk the trick only becomes obvious in retrospective. So Initially it felt strange for the trick to be revealed in the one page introduction to the novel. But as the story progressed through move and countermove, often resulting in the sudden death of a character, it eventually reached a point where this rhythm would have felt ridiculous in the absence of understanding the gimmick. At that point it ceased to be a story about what people might actually do in a certain situation in a certain setting. ( )
  clong | Jun 19, 2014 |
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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Brunner, Johnautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Foster, RobertArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Goodfellow, PeterArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Herholz, UlfArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Kukalis, RomasArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Lasker, EdwardIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Moll, CharlesArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Pukallus, HorstTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Tinkelman,MurrayArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

"One of the most important science fiction authors. Brunner held a mirror up to reflect our foibles because he wanted to save us from ourselves." SF Site For each generation, there is a writer meant to bend the rules of what we know. Hugo Award winner (Best Novel, STAND ON ZANZIBAR) and British science fiction master John Brunner remains one of the most influential and respected authors of all time, and now E-Reads is pleased to re-introduce many of his classic works. For readers familiar with his vision, it's a chance to re-examine his thoughtful worlds and words, while for new readers, Brunner's work proves itself the very definition of timeless. In THE SQUARES OF THE CITY, Brunner takes the moves of a classic championship chess game and uses them as the structure to build a novel about a revolution in a South American country obsessed with chess and dominated by a dictator who sees people as pawns in his game of power and survival. Intriguing premise, dramatic story, future setting, great entertainment.

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