22 Games of Chess in Fantasy and Science Fiction


The game of kings is a mainstay of science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes it’s on screen or on the page, and sometimes it’s indirect—an influencing factor in the lives of authors and filmmakers. Here are 22 famous examples of chess in fantasy and science fiction.

1. Star Wars


The only rule I really know about Dejarik holochess is that it’s best to let the Wookiee win. But this being science fiction and all, there are elaborate rules for the holographic pieces fighting on a circular board.

2. Harry Potter

Hermione Granger thinks wizard’s chess is “totally barbaric.” Thankfully for everyone involved, Ron Weasley was a pretty good player, and eventually leads giant pieces into battle while chasing down the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone. Pick your poison).

3. Star Trek

Kirk and Spock famously spar over the tri-dimensional chessboard in the original Star Trek series. My guess is that some prop designer thought it might look neat, and that in the future we’d have all memorized the 10^50^50 number of moves possible in a standard game of chess. Star Trek fans just couldn’t leave it alone, though, and we ended up with this.

4. Fallout

Fallout wiki

Not even a nuclear apocalypse can end the madness that is chess, as evidenced in the video game Fallout. One particularly avid player is ZAX 1.2, a supercomputer.

5. WarGames

If only Matthew Broderick had listened to the computer and played a nice game of chess, a lot of headaches might have been avoided. Instead, after hacking into NORAD, he decides to play something called Global Thermonuclear War, and almost starts a global thermonuclear war.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey


An early hint that HAL 9000 might be losing his mind is revealed during a chess game against Dr. Frank Poole. "I'm sorry Frank,” says HAL, “I think you missed it: queen to bishop three, bishop takes queen, knight takes bishop, mate." HAL is, of course, mistaken. Queen to bishop 3 is an illegal move on the board in question; the correct move would have been queen to bishop 6. A devoted chess player like Stanley Kubrick would have known that. It’s almost inconceivable that with his famous attention to detail he’d have missed it.

7. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union


In Michael Chabon’s novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a chess player is murdered, with a presumably unfinished game of chess left at the scene of the crime. Or is it unfinished? Dun-dun-DUNNNNN.

8. Unsound Variations


In Dreamsongs, an anthology of short stories, George R.R. Martin writes about the repercussions of a missed sacrificing attack during a collegiate chess tournament. Martin, for his part, is a Life Member of the U.S. Chess Federation.

9. Deep Thought

Movies Era

In Douglas Adams’s novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a powerful supercomputer named Deep Thought is built to find the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. It makes perfect sense, then, that when IBM engineers built a powerful chess computer in 1989, they borrowed the name. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov bested Deep Thought in both games of their match.

10. Through the Looking-Glass


Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass is based on a game of chess, with characters often represented as pieces, and scenes as squares on a board. Alice is, of course, a pawn; if she makes it to the eighth rank, she will become a queen.

11. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

After Bill and Ted are killed, the Grim Reaper promises to resurrect them if they can beat him in a game of chess. They opt for Battleship, Twister, and Clue.

12. Nightfall


In Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall, a multiplayer chess variation is played that makes tri-dimensional chess seem reserved. “The men about the table had brought out a multi-chess board and started a six-member game. Moves were made rapidly and in silence. All eyes bent in furious concentration on the board.”

13. 1984


Syme, who works for the Ministry of Truth and is helping write the next edition of the Newspeak dictionary, is on Oceania’s chess committee. Winston knows that Syme has been vaporized when the latter’s name is quietly removed from the committee roster. “It looked almost exactly as it had looked before—nothing had been crossed out—but it was one name shorter. It was enough. Syme had ceased to exist: he had never existed.”

14. The Tempest

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In the final scene of Shakespeare’s romance The Tempest, Ferdinand is found to be playing a game of chess against Miranda. Chess is an important symbol in the play. Prospero has moved the characters around his island much like a chess player might move pieces. Likewise, Prospero is, in a way, trying to capture a king—Ferdinand’s father, Alonso.

15. The Chessmen of Mars

Encyclopedia Barsoomia

Edgar Rice Burroughs was an avid chess player, going so far as to invent his own variant, called Jetan, in his 1922 novel The Chessmen of Mars.

16. Unicorn Variations


Here’s how Unicorn Variations came about: author Roger Zelazny was asked to contribute to two different anthologies. One anthology asked for a story featuring a unicorn. The other anthology wanted a story set in a bar. Zelazny’s friend, George R.R. Martin, mentioned a third anthology with a chess theme, and suggested that he save himself a lot of work and just write a story about a unicorn playing chess at a bar. Zelazny went on to win a Hugo for the story.

17. The Seventh Seal

The Telegraph

In the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal, a knight challenges Death to a game of chess as a way of delaying his own demise. This film totally ripped off Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

18. X-Men


At the very end of the first X-Men movie (the only good one), Professor X and Magneto play a game of chess. The pieces are, of course, made of glass.

19. Superman II

In Superman II, Lex Luthor creates a hologram of himself playing chess, and uses it as a distraction for him to escape prison. Had Michael Bolton actually gone to a minimum-security prison in Office Space, he probably would have thought of this plot device and used it to make his own escape.

20. Jason and the Argonauts

In the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts, the unfolding tale of Jason’s pursuit of the Golden Fleece is depicted as a chess game between Zeus and Hera.

21. Discworld


In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, the Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild plays a variation of chess called Stealth Chess. Two files, one on each side, widen the chessboard and these squares—called “the Slurk”—are colored red and white (as opposed to black and white). Only one piece moves on the Slurk: the assassin.

22. Blade Runner

Tyrell and Sebastian play a game of chess in Blade Runner. It’s based on “the Immortal Game,” a very real and celebrated 1851 game between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky, in which Anderssen sacrifices his major pieces in order to checkmate Kieseritzky with minor ones.

15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.

[h/t Newsweek]


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