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.



pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the post may have to have a title to come up. But when I click the link on my blog, it works. Thanks, Charles.

David Cranmer said...

I will have to get this. Chess is my favorite game and a whole anthology devoted to it sounds awesome. I've read Ambrose Bierce's “Moxon’s Master”... great classic short.

SQT said...

I don't know why, but I rarely read anthologies. I guess I like the story to go on awhile after I become invested in the characters. Probably why I like series fiction.

Miladysa said...

“Moxon’s Master,”

That's a cool title.

What age upwards would you say this book was for Charles? I have a nephew who may like it but he is only 10. Too young?

Sidney said...

I first read Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man in junior high and I remember than time fondly. It's great to remember stories and the time we first read them.

Todd Mason said...

A sophisticated 10yo probably would enjoy that antho. One might also go one to read heavily into Fritz Leiber, who was a chess Grandmaster himself: "The Sixty-Four Square Madhouse," "Adept's Gambit," et al. "Von Goom's Gambit" here is a minor classic, it has what is probably Ruth Berman's most famous short story, but omits Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore's "The Fairy Chessmen," Kurt Vonnegut's not quite fantasticated "All the King's Horses" and others.

Todd Mason said...

Go on to read more Leiber, of course.

Charles Gramlich said...

Pattinase, I got the title on it now.

David Cranmer, I think you'd love Anderson's story if you like chess. You ever play at Gameknot?

SQT, I go through periods. Sometimes I really enjoy a collection of short stories. Other times I'll prefer novels. I'm in a novel reading stage at the moment, but I can never totally neglect short stories.

Miladysa, 10 might be young to get all the details but there's on bad language in it that I remember, and not really a lot of adult situations. He might especially like the Poul Anderson story, though, even if he doesn't know about the game.

Sidney, that's why I've really come to enjoy forgotten books friday. Makes me think about those old tales.

Todd, I always thought they could have done a second collection of these chess related stories. there is some good stuff they missed, and maybe I missed. I don't know "the Fairy Chessmen," though I've read a lot of C. L. MOore's stuff.

David Cranmer said...

I hadn't heard of Gameknot before so I went and checked it out. Looks like a great site. I've mainly stuck to the GNU chess WinBoard that I downloaded years ago and just play against the computer. I'm not so sure I'd be good enough to go up against the seasoned players on a site like Gameknot but maybe I'll sign up for the puzzles and individual games.

Todd Mason said...

There are at least two marginally fantasticated anthologies that come to mind, THE SIXTY-FOUR SQUARE LOOKING GLASS and this one, more criminous:

Sinister Gambits ed. Richard Peyton (Souvenir Press 0-285-63052-0, 1991, £14.99, 318pp, hc) Anthology of 18 chess stories of murder and mystery.
7 · Introduction · Richard Peyton · in
17 · The Dreams of Albert Moreland · Fritz Leiber · nv The Acolyte Spr ’45
33 · The Three Sailors’ Gambit · Lord Dunsany · ss The Smart Set Aug ’16
41 · The Devil That Troubled the Chessboard · Gerald Kersh · ss John o’ London’s Weekly Jan 11 ’36
50 · Pawn to King’s Four · Stephen Leacock · ss Happy Stories Just to Laugh At, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1943
58 · The Royal Game · Stefan Zweig · nv Woman’s Home Companion Mar ’44
102 · End-Game · J. G. Ballard · nv New Worlds Jun ’63
124 · The Queen of the Red Chessmen · Lucretia P. Hale · nv Atlantic Monthly Feb, 1858
151 · A Game of Chess · Robert Barr · ss Pearson’s Magazine (US) Mar ’00
163 · A Set of Chessmen · Richard Marsh · ss The Cornhill Magazine Apr, 1890
180 · The Haunted Chessmen · E. R. Punshon · ss The Novel Magazine Mar ’16; Weird Tales Mar ’30
193 · Bishop’s Gambit [as by Stephen Grendon] · August Derleth · ss Avon Fantasy Reader 3, ed. Donald A. Wollheim, Avon Book Co., 1947
205 · The Immortal Game · Poul Anderson · ss F&SF Feb ’54
222 · A Chess Problem [Hercule Poirot] · Agatha Christie · ss The Sketch Feb 13 ’24
234 · Checkmate · Alfred Noyes · ss The Hidden Player, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1924
248 · Professor Pownall’s Oversight [“The Unseen Player”] · H. Russell Wakefield · ss The Royal Magazine Mar ’28
260 · The Cat from Siam · Fredric Brown · nv Popular Detective Sep ’49
291 · Fool’s Mate · Stanley Ellin · ss Stanley Ellin’s Mystery Magazine, 1948
306 · A Better Chess-Player · Kenneth Gavrell · ss AHMM Nov ’89

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I want to familiarise myself with more SF. I've read a fair bit of Phillip Dick and a varied amount of fanatasy. But SF is mostly virgin territory - I'll have to check this one out.

Danny Tagalog said...

The title attracts me immediately but I doubt there are many copies here in Japan. Moxon's Master is a wonderfully sounding title. Dark and foreboding, perhaps?

Travis Cody said...

Sounds like there are some of my favorite sci-fi authors in that book. I might have to check it out. I'm not a chess player, but I'm always fascinated by this kind of theme as it is woven into a story.

laughingwolf said...

thx charles, i agree about anderson's tale, it's super

i seem to recall the zelazny one, too

don't think i've seen the anthology

Greg said...

sounds like a neat anthology, i've never heard of it before. i think someone was trying to put together a chess/sci-fi anthology recently, but i can't remember who or if it actually came together.

Barrie said...

I really like anthologies. Especially for reading when I'm crazy busy. Hey, and Charles, thanks for ordering I So Don't Do Mysteries. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

David, I played semi seriously for a while on Gameknot but then kind of gave it up. Just the other night I signed up for a couple of games, when I was a little drunk. Didn't play to well. but they have players of all kinds of levels there.

Todd Mason, thanks for the head's up. I'll have to have a look for these.

Archavist, I acquired my taste for SF even before westerns. Some good stuff in most genres if you know where to look.

Danny Tagalong, do you have the eqivalent of a Amazon Japan there? You could surely get it online, though the costs might be high for shipping.

Travis, Yeah, I enjoy a good chess game because it can be much like a puzzle.

Laughingwolf, I know the Zelazny one has been published elsewhere and the Anderson one probably has too.

Greg Schwartz, I have a SF chess story about half done but haven't worked on it in a long time.

Barrie, I got it today, but probably won't be able to read it for a while since we're getting ready to go back to school.

Anonymous said...

It sounds pretty good. I haven't seen it before. I like chess and I like SF:it's a good match.

ivan said...

Ammrose Beirce and chess.

Two old occupations that still interest me.

Erik Donald France said...

That sounds excellent. The title is way cool, too.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, this sounds like something I would read. I'm always keen on science fiction and I played chess when I was younger. One of my brothers taught me.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Chess is a great thread to link anthology stories. So many possibilities.

I don't normally read short stories, either, but I stumbled on Mike Resnick's Hugo Award-winning "Travels With My Cats" yesterday and LOVED it. Now, I'm on the lookout for great shorts. Thanks for the recommendation.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jack, I like the cover as well.

Ivan, it would have been cool to play Bierce.

Erik, yes, I like the title and the cover a lot.

Barbara Martin, someone taught me when I was pretty young so they'd have someone to beat. It wasn't long before I was besting them.

L. A. Mitchell, the single best short story collection in history, in my opinion, in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame volume one

Chris Eldin said...

I LOVE the cover, and this might be one of the few science fiction books I could really get into --because it builds on something familiar and associated with danger in thriller movies. Thanks for this review. I just might order this one!

Donnetta said...

I LOVE anthologies and I LOVE scifi. Will have to look this one up. Now...about chess...D

Rick said...

I'll have to buy this book, Charles. First, because I'm a tournament chess player, and second because my story in "Tales Out of Miskatonic University" is about a chess automaton. I didn't realize that Bierce had written one on the topic as well- so now I have to buy the book and see how he treated the concept.

laughingwolf said...

i'm trying to recall the name of one sf book based totally on a game of chess... :(

Drizel said...

My bf trying to teach me chess now, not a easy feat for him.....hihihih.
The book was published when I was only 1, sometimes seems surreal how time never ends.:)
Happy new year Charles:)

Chris Benjamin said...

huh, what an intriguing theme for an anthology. i haven't read enough anthologies to say which is my favourite, but i did just finish a really good collection of short stories (fiction and non) in a feminist journal out of indiana. they were all prize-winners in a contest they held and i was quite impressed. no particular theme though.

Josephine Damian said...

Charles, have you heard the news about Travis Erwin? Check out his blog ASAP.

I will check out that book - have already read IMMORTAL GAME short story.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I read Saberhagen's first Berserker collection this year and I really enjoyed it.

I think he writes a bit like Bradbury but without the purple prose.

Looking forward to more of his work.

Britta Coleman said...

As a fan of chess, you might also like Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It's not sci-fi, but the writing is fantastic.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris Eldin, ahh, SF is where it's at, my friend.

Donnetta Lee, Chess is the only game I've ever been good at, primarily, I think, because it doesn't require luck.

Rick, cool. I'll be interested in seeing your story in Miskatonic. Mine is called "The Vivarium."

Laughingwolf, You might be thinking of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Etain, yes, you are a young whippersnapper aren't you? lol.

Benjibopper, when I was in grad school I pretty much read only short story anthologies because I jsut didn't have time to read novels.

Josephine, that's a good story. I'll check Travis Erwin, post haste.

Paul, I've liked the stuff I've read by him. Really liked "The Veils of Azlaroc?" (spelling there.)

Britta, I haven't even heard of that one. I'll have to check it out.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've always preferred anthologies or short story collections rather than novels. As for chess, last time I played I got my ass kicked by an inmate who studied the game.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR., I guess he had time on his hands.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'd never heard of this anthology before. Thanks for the mention.

I can't imagine a book with stories all centered around chess, though. I can't even play chess except to know how the pieces move. I can't keep the moves in my head!

Vesper said...

Thank you for the review, Charles. Sounds great. Fascinating this idea of winning after many dramatic sacrifices. Yes, I'll have to get it.

Lauren said...

This sounds like a great anthology. I've never heard of it. Thanks for mentioning it.

laughingwolf said...

good guess, charles, but that's not the one i have in mind... it has to do with mexico, i think....

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, the stories in the book just have chess as an element. LIke one that has a chessplaying automoton where things go wrong. You don't really have to know how to play the game to enjoy the stories.

Vesper, sacrifice is often at the heart of the most brilliant chess games.

Lauren, thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed.

Laughingwolf, then I'm lost I"m afrid.

laughingwolf said...

sorry... if i think of it, i'll post the title/author

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I just love the idea of featuring forgotten books. Thanks for this and I hope you make it an occasional feature.


TC said...

You forgot to mention Von Goom's Gambit, by Victor Contoski, included in Pawn to Infinity. A brilliant little piece of writing if ever there was one; the protagonist, a silent diminutive fellow named Von Goom, develops an opening whose layout is so ugly and repulsive to the human mind that those he plays again are sent into seizures, insanity, or death; he becomes world champion by default (until a group of grandmasters figure out the refutation...)

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, no prob.

Don, I plan to do it ever few weeks at the least. It's a lot of fun to me to take a little nostalgia trip.

TC, yes, that was a good one. The whole collection is just really wonderful.