‘A Quiet Game of Chess’ by Maurice Richardson

‘A Quiet Game of Chess’ pushes the notion of determinism to its limit: to disclose how would be to spoil the story. What I can reveal is that Maurice Richardson is a dazzling comic writer – the equal of Richmal Crompton, PG Wodehouse and Stacy Aumonier – and this story is typical of the series featuring Engelbrecht, a surrealist wrestler who fights clocks rather than people, and risks losing time rather than a purse. Terse and inventive, these Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportman’s Club are a hybrid of The Pickwick Papers and Calvino’s Cosmicomics. The club’s membership plays surrealist golf, using the whole planet for a single hole; surrealist rugby, in which Earth takes on Mars for the Interplanetary Challenge Cup; and, in this case, surrealist chess in a game involving human kings, queens, bishops and knights; real machicolated castles; and newly introduced pieces such as the tank, fighter plane and atomic bomb. The game is played across several cosmic dimensions and the Surrealist Sportman’s Club is crammed with cheats who want to win at any cost. What could possibly go wrong?

First published in Lilliput in January 1948 and collected in The Exploits of Engelbrecht, various editions

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