Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Chess Machine

I approached Robert Lohr's The Chess Machine with a bit of trepidation. I was familiar with the 18th century chess automaton known as The Turk largely through Tom Standage's excellent book The Turk. I thought the true story of the The Turk was far more interesting than anything anyone could create about it.

I was right. Lohr doesn't really add anything to the story. The novel is mostly about a creation of Lohr's, Tibor, the dwarf that supposedly plays inside of Wolfgang von Kempelen's machine.

It's a nice enough novel. Too much time is spent on boring details that don't add to the story. The action of the story and the plot often times feel forced and convoluted.

The strength of the book is Lohr's creation of heavily flawed yet sympathetic characters. Everyone seems to have a skeleton that they don't want out of the closet and they go to great lengths to protect them but suffer much guilt for doing so.

When it comes down to my rating, the character development isn't enough for me counter the flaws and the twisting of a solid true story so I'm not giving it any stars.

I do have to recommend Standage's book again. It has been years since I've read it but it is a really entertaining and informative bit of non-fiction. Lohr mentions in the afterword of his book another book on the Turk by Gerald Levitt. Levitt's book was reviewed by Scientific American of all places. It's going on my "to read" list because the story of The Turk is really good.

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