The Chess Machine

The Chess Machine

3.3 3
by Robert Lohr, Stephen Hoye
     
 

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Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what is hailed as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion. What is the dark secret behind this automaton and what strange powers does it hold? The Chess Machine is a daring and

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Overview

Vienna 1770: Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen unveils the Mechanical Turk, a sensational and unbeatable chess-playing automaton. But what is hailed as the greatest innovation of the century is really nothing more than a brilliant illusion. What is the dark secret behind this automaton and what strange powers does it hold? The Chess Machine is a daring and remarkable tale, based on a true story, full of envy, lust, scandal, and deception.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
Despite the excitement and the humor, a surprising poignancy runs beneath this story. Löhr never weighs down The Chess Machine with any ponderous meditation, but he keeps hinting at the harrowing implications of modernity, the metaphysical effect of our technological illusions.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

German writer Löhr resurrects a chess-playing automaton in his generously imagined debut novel. Set in 1770, Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen of Hungary, anxious to win the favor of Empress Maria Theresia, builds an engineering marvel: the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton. The Turk, though, isn't exactly as it seems; hidden inside is Italian chess prodigy (and dwarf) Tibor Scardenelli, hired by Kempelen to secretly control the contraption during its debut match in front of the empress. Tibor, a devout Catholic, is hesitant to partake in the scam and insists he will quit after the match. The game goes off without a glitch, but Court Mechanician Frederich Knaus is suspicious of the Turk and convinces his lover, Galatea, to spy on Kempelen. Tension mounts as the Turk gains notoriety and is requested to perform at a ball celebrating the union of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Tibor agrees to a repeat performance (at a higher fee), but when a baroness is found dead after the match and traces of her rouge are found on the Turk, rumors of the "Curse of the Turk" spread and may be Kempelen's undoing. Though the narrative could use a light pruning, Löhr's eye for period detail and cast of eccentrics create an immersive and mirthful experience. (July)

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Harper's Bazaar
If you liked Perfume you'll love it. . . . [The Chess Machine] will grip you from the very first page.
Entertainment Weekly
A promising debut.
Bookgasm
Magnificent—a thinking man's thriller brimming with politics both social and sexual.
Kirkus Reviews
Rich in detail and psychological depth, this historical novel of 18th-century Europe has plenty of contemporary resonance for American readers. German journalist Lohr's debut novel is based on a true story of deception, during a period when society was enamored with the previously unimagined possibilities of technology. A minor nobleman in the Viennese court, Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen witnesses the queen's infatuation with automatons that can accomplish basic tasks. A charlatan at heart, Kempelen promises that, within six months, he can construct an automaton that will play chess at the highest levels. Such a thinking machine clearly presages the computer, but the baron has neither the ingenuity nor the intent to meet the challenge. Instead, he happens upon an Italian dwarf who is a chess master (but whose size makes him vulnerable to attacks from those who play or bet against him). Though the dwarf is also a devout Christian, uncomfortable with the deception that the baron's scheme requires, the baron coerces him into secreting his tiny frame into the chess-playing machine that Kempelen is building. Billed as the Mechanical Turk, a dark master from the inscrutable East, the chess-playing automaton becomes the rage across Europe, though at least one rival for the queen's favor suspects the subterfuge. There's an undercurrent of ethnic tension throughout the novel, with the exotic Turk, the Christian dwarf, the amoral Kempelen and his Jewish assistant embodying distinctions of class and religion, while the attempts to penetrate the secrets of the automaton result in espionage, deception, seduction and perhaps murder. Ultimately, the major characters seem to be enacting a real-life gameof chess, one in which winning or losing has the most serious consequences. In the author's notes that end the novel, Lohr explains what is based on historical record and what he has invented, but this is a work of such marvelously creative imagination that it makes little difference what's factual and what isn't-it all rings true.
From the Publisher
"An immersive and mirthful experience." —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400135134
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
09/17/2007
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.80(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.00(d)

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From the Publisher
"An immersive and mirthful experience." —-Publishers Weekly

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