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Vonnegut Random Chess

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Thanks to Layne for pointing out this Salon.com item called "Playing chess with Kurt Vonnegut." He also suggests naming this variant VRC, although I've heard of it before. Anyone who has read Vonnegut's story All The King's Horses knows he knew more than a little about chess. I was a big fan of his in high school when I read a lot of sci-fi; he was grouped in as a genre writer by the late 80's, which is rather sad. I rediscovered him later, and recently reread Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five after recommending them to a friend and feeling guilty about how little I remembered myself. Still very relevant and even riveting in parts, although I realize I've become a terrible prose snob. (Worse was recently trying to read Philip K. Dick for the first time since high school. He was a brilliant visionary but he couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. It was literally painful.) Much more on Vonnegut here, including his NY Times obit.

Here's a clip from the Salon article. They have a free site pass system that baffles my Firefox, or maybe it's a cookie issue. IE worked fine.

On a whim, [Vonnegut] suggested that we rearrange the board. Why did the pawns have to go in front, those sacrificial lambs about to be chewed up by the slaughterhouse of the front lines, those powerless vassals of the high and mighty? Let's force the feudal lords out of their foxholes and into the hurly-burly!

Let's put the pawns in the back row, he proposed. Let's put the knights and bishops and kings and queens in the front rank!

Oh, the thrill of chess sacrilege!

Of course I was game -- how could I not be!? As we explored the craziness inherent in this new lineup, I had only a shred of comprehension as to how this casual act of ad-libbed creativity was of a piece with everything that Vonnegut represented, as an artist, as a writer who willed strange new worlds that spoke directly to all-too-familiar human dilemmas. Mostly, I figured him as a really nice guy who enjoyed messing with the head of an extremely dweeby 12-year-old.

And, well, shaking up the board like that was kind of weird.

And I liked it.

I like the way the writer of the piece, Andrew Leonard, drops in some italics, something Vonnegut was famous for. Maybe not intentional, but notable.


Senior year in high school spent reading everything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote. The two books I recall with most fondness are "Cat's Cradle" and "Mother Night". I also identify with the whole "becoming a prose snob" thing. The interesting thing to me though is often looking back you realize that your mind intuitively knew who the better writers were even before it really developed the palate. There is a reason some pulp endures.

"... although I realize I've become a terrible a prose snob." Thank you for upholding the rule that anybody pointing out an error will inevitably make one himself. Thank you also, for an entertaining and well-written blog.

Oops, fixed that once and then put it back when I added the links. The eternal hazards of copy-paste editing.

The last few days have reminded me that Vonnegut worship, like the worship of John Lennon or of Bob Dylan, has become one of the enduring secular religions. I wager that many of those saddened by the news of his death haven't read more of him than "Harrison Bergeron".

Me, I tried reading _Breakfast of Champions_ once. Dropping a book partly read usually makes me feel guilty but not in _that_ case.

REF: "literally painful"
I wince reflexively when the over misused word "literally" occurs. Thanks for using it with a clever and correct double meaning.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on April 13, 2007 9:27 AM.

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