Monday, June 6, 2011

Some thoughts on Unsound Variation by George R R Martin From Dreamsongs Volume II

If ever there were a story that exposed my deficiencies as a reader this would be it.  After completing this story, and ultimately being wrong about every warning sign I interpreted as impending fail, I think I will have to re-evaluate how I read which is simultaneously a refreshing and scary thought.
Four friends from a decade past chess team, the B team at that, at the University of Northwestern reunite under absolutely no pretense at all.  They haven't kept in touch over the years nor were they particularly close back in the day.  An invitation is extended and they all inexplicably decide to attend.  ( And we are all aware of the horror of these kinds of reunions…)  The host, Bunnish, is the only one of the four to be met with any kind of success in life and has become exorbitantly wealthy dealing in electronics.  Delmario, has had brilliant ideas, but always beaten to the punch by Bunnish and now has only alcohol to keep him company.  E.C. Stuart has had every sound business decision he has ever made work against him and now revels in a life of mediocrity.  And Peter has suffered a life of failure in every creative endeavor he has ever pursued.
At the heart of Bunnish's success and everyone else's failure is a chess game.  In particular a game that Bunnish lost in what would have been a colossal upset of the University of Chicago's "A" team.  Bunnish has played beautifully and to all eyes in the tournament has the game won.  Nonetheless, he finds a way to lose.  Then he, logically,  becomes a psychopath….     
Using a time travel machine of his own device (roll your eyes here) Bunnish has successfully ruined the lives of his three teammate and the person at UC who beat him.  Apparently, he never once has considered going back to alter the game so that he might win.
It starts with what I thought an inane character and host of repetitious backstory.  Oh the tedium.  Peter's wife is the nagging harridan who by way of the author's skill in depicting her annoyed the hell out of me.  We watch Peter set himself up for her verbal abuse while they drive up to Bunnish's mansion.  He sets 'em up; she knocks 'em down.  Peter: open mouth, insert foot.  It goes on and on.  Through this tedium we get backstory and a slightly manic desire to choke a fictional character.  I had written her off to the point that, when she later suggest the only reasonable course of action, and what was to me the redeeming point of the story, in accepting this future it came as a great surprise.  I didn't expect, nor can I imagine other readers would, the bitch of time to be the voice of reason and wisdom.  
The time travel (I feel like it is always a horrible story mechanic), repetition, and the slightly esoteric nature of chess all paled once Bunnish unleashed his devious plan: he wants to play famous game of chess against each of his teammates from the point it was deemed he had the game won to show that there was no way to win.  I almost skipped the remainder of the story when Delmario was the first to play, and his game with Bunnish got serious attention to detail, lots of chess explanation, and intimate emotional content.  I said to myself, "I've got to go through this two more times!"  Thinking that those two more times had to be even more intense than Delmario's experience to resonate with readers.  Boy was I wrong.  Martin knows what he is doing.  Stuart's game was super short and Peter declined to play--and in doing so, 'won.'  Each of their experiences in play against Bunnish was shorter than the previous player's.  
I feel I was predisposed to dislike this story even though everything I thought to be a pitfall turned out to be a strength.  It's not my favorite story in the collection, to be as objective as I can I think it's the weakest inclusion I've coming across thus far, that said, it was solid, only not for me.  If nothing else it showed me that it may not hurt to turn off my analytical side while reading and simply enjoy what is given.  
Easier said than done, but I'll work on it.      

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