Sunday, 7 June 2015

Fictional Games

Poul Anderson's "The Saturn Game" focuses on a role-playing game. Anderson mentions chess twice, in "The White King's War," incorporated into A Circus Of Hells, and in "The Immortal Game," although only the latter describes the moves of a game.

(Addendum: Of course, Anderson "mentions" chess more than just twice. See comments.)

Science fiction provides opportunities for imagining new games or variations of games in the future or on other planets, although Anderson did not do this. We would expect the Merseians to play a combat-based board game. However, the winged Ythrians would not think in two dimensions.

Reading on, I have learned that SM Stirling's Martian board game, atanj, the Game of Life, can be played by up to eight and that its board is octagonal with sixty two squares on a side. These and other differences remove it far from any real comparison with chess. Another difference is that the Martians play it virtually all the time, hardly the case with chess. These Martians are unempathetic characters and I much prefer Stirling's Venus.

Iain M. Banks Culture novel, The Player Of Games, centers on extremely elaborate board games but we are not told any of their rules which I think we should be.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Poul Anderson seems to have been fond of chess, from the number of times he mentions the game in his stories and novels. Chapter 2 of ENSIGN FLANDY shows Commander Max Abrams playing chess with the Merseian officer Runei the Wanderer. And while I agree the Merseians are likely to have their own board games, I would not be surprised if Terran chess was adopted by some as eargerly as tea was. One thing I thought a bit odd was how the now obsolete "descriptive" notation for recording chess moves was used. I would have thought Anderson would use the now dominant "algebraic" notation, because it would look more "futuristic" in an SF novel. After all, the latter system was what an ENGLISHMAN, HJR Murray advocated and used in his classic HISTORY OF CHESS (1913).

Other stories of Anderson showing chess being played by humans and non humans are THE LONG WAY HOME, THREE WORLDS TO CONQUER, and "Que donn'rez vous?," one of the stories in TALES OF THE FLYING MOUNTAINS.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I forgot to add in my previous note that I'm sorry you don't quite like Stirling's IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS. I agree that compared to the hominids of Venus, the Martian hominids seem astringent and unempathetic. But I still like COURTS, if only because it shows Stirling's admirable skill in plausibly showing us different kinds of hominids. That helps to make him a worthy successor of Poul Anderson.

And Stirling's Martians DO have feelings and passions! It's simply that their branch of the human race came to naturally prefer restraint and self control. Plus, even after the breakup of the Crimson Empire, the Real World continued to basically have the same civilization as in the days of the Empire, a very old culture lasting many thousands of years. The norms taught by that culture as desirable for showing or not showing emotion would continue to influence Martians.


Ketlan said...

'Iain M. Banks Culture novel, The Player Of Games, centers on extremely elaborate board games but we are not told any of their rules which I think we should be.'

I remember the huge frustration, many years ago, when I read The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, only to find that the game itself wasn't defined enough to be played as an actual game as well as a philosophy. Still a worthy read though.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Ketlan!

At least Edgar Rice Burroughs gives us a detailed explanation of how to play the Barsoomian game of "jetan" in THE CHESS MEN OF MARS. I rather wish Stirling had given us a similarly detailed explanation of "atanj"!


David Birr said...

Andre Norton referred to a board game called "Stars and Comets" in several of her SF stories, but the rules were never spelled out, or even hinted at in any consistent fashion.

As the Wikipedia article on Norton noted, "The rules of movement and capture seem to be very complex allowing hidden strategies and sudden reversals of fortune. It may be that there are both elements of skill and chance."

On one occasion, a character uses a metaphor based on this game to illustrate a particularly dangerous gamble: "It's stars across the board, risking all comets." Another metaphor was the statement that an enemy "may believe that they have every comet on the board blocked, but there are a few wild stars left."