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

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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

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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.

Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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