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Literature / The Squares of the City

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The Squares of the City is a science fiction novel by John Brunner.

The protagonist, Boyd Hakluyt, is hired as a consultant by the government of Aguazul, a nation somewhere in Latin America; they're having some traffic control problems in their shiny newly-built captial city, Vados. As the story progresses, he has his eyes opened to the social and political issues underlying the problem — and also becomes aware that the citizens of Vados are being subtly manipulated by some external force.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Banana Republic: Aguazul.
  • The Chessmaster: The chess-motif-laden novel appropriately has one as the villain.
  • Chess Motifs: All over the place.
  • Constrained Writing: As explained in an afterword, the plot is based on a chess game (specifically the 1892 world championship game between Wilhelm Steinitz and Mikhail Chigorin), with key characters representing various pieces and their interactions representing their positions; when a piece has the potential to take another piece, this is echoed in the story with one character being under threat from another, and when a piece is taken, the corresponding character is "taken out of the game" by death or imprisonment.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "The Squares of the City" both refers to the city's public spaces and implies the metaphor of the city as one big chess board.
  • Egopolis: The new capital city, Vados, is named after the current head of state, President Vados.
  • For Science!: The motivation of one of the villains; for him, it's all about getting to try out his techniques in real-world conditions, and never mind about fiddly ethical considerations.
  • Gambit Roulette: Even called out in-universe, when a character wonders how humans could be so easily manipulated that they can be predicted.
  • Human Chess: The leaders of the city play it.
  • Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc: Discussed in-universe. Hakluyt briefly ponders that his arrival seems to have triggered a sequence of violent events, but concludes that it's more likely that his being employed by the city, and the unrest, were both caused by the political problems plaguing Vados.
  • Soapbox Square: The government allows the Plaza del Sur in Ciudad de Vados to serve as a forum for public speakers, both those who favor the government and those who favor the opposition (more as a safety valve than out of any actual belief in free speech).
  • Subliminal Seduction: Used to manipulate the population.