peteg's blog - noise - books - 2019 06 22 Brunner SquaresOfTheCity

John Brunner: The Squares of the City.

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Kindle. Looking for something light and breezy, and because it got mentioned alongside Brunner's fat books, though goodreads suggests none of his stuff is rated in absolute terms.

Brunner takes us to the fictional Spanish-speaking country of Aguazul in Latin America in 1965: perhaps an island, perhaps Central, I imagined South. The perfectly modern 20th century city we arrive in was built in the time-honoured fashion: by underfunding the rest of the country. As the slums encroach the powers that be hire our narrator, a(n Australian!) foreign traffic expert, to give them the right answer. In many ways it's a Graham Greene novel: the country is Catholic, the landholders rich, citizenship has been extended to the foreign help, the peasantry excessive and restive, the newspapers partisan. There's a beautiful woman or two, an uprising and a fascination with chess. It's a sort of psychohistory of a totalitarian technocratic government, but more a demented extended metaphor. By midway it was too hard to track so many bit players, making for a choppy read.

Later reflection made me wonder if Brunner was giving the nod to famed early cyberneticist Stafford Beer, but no, Beer made it to Chile only in the early 1970s. Similarly Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, also a structural riff on chess, came thirteen years later. I conclude that once again Brunner was ahead of the curve.

It's widely reviewed out there on the free web.