Friday, January 02, 2009
Forgotten Books: Pawn to Infinity
Pawn to Infinity is my favorite science fiction anthology of all time, although I don’t hear it mentioned very often. That’s why I’m putting it up as this week’s Forgotten Books Friday selection, which is the brainchild of Patty Abbott
The anthology was published in 1982 by Ace, and was edited by Fred and Joan Saberhagen. All the stories concern chess in either fantastic or science fiction settings. I bought the book when it came out. I was in graduate school at the time and was also interested in chess. I played with the University of Arkansas team and for a while half ignored my studies of psychology in order to study such esoterica as the Queen’s Gambit Declined and King’s Indian Defense. I finally realized that I didn’t have the brain power to play tournament chess and work on an advanced degree at the same time. Since I knew I’d never make a living from chess, I gave it up as a serious pursuit.
But even if the stories in Pawn to Infinity had a special meaning at the time when I first enjoyed them, most have held up wonderfully over the years and are still some of the finest stories I’ve ever read. The best story in the collection, without a doubt, is Poul Anderson’s “Immortal Game.” It’s a complete and delightful story, and yet illustrates an actual game and can be played by following along on a chess board. The game itself is called “The Immortal Game,” and was played in 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. Anderssen won after a dramatic series of sacrifices. Although there was no officially recognized world chess champion at the time, Anderssen was widely recognized as the best player in the world.
The next best story is “Unicorn Variation” by Roger Zelazny, written in his inimitable style, and also very good is Fritz Leiber’s “Midnight by the Morphy Watch,” which is a thinly veiled Bobby Fischer story, and George R. R. Martin’s “Unsound Variations.” There’s also a very fine classical short by Ambrose Bierce called “Moxon’s Master,” about a chess automaton.
If you like good SF shorts, or love chess, or both, this is a really worthwhile anthology.