Lohr, Robert. The Chess Machine. Lohr has written a fascinating fictional account of historical events. In 1769, Wolfgang von Kempelen created a machine that could play chess , a thinking machine. Except, of course, that it was a deception that required a real person to think and play chess. Kempelen and many of the minor characters existed, but Lohr has fashioned an intriguing story around Kempelen's invention by including Tibor, the dwarf who is recruited to operate the machine in the fictional version, and Jacob, the cabinet maker who builds the automaton and cabinet.
Jacob and Tibor, both social outcasts, add humanity and interest to the factual and imaginative elements of the narrative. Tibor is a chess prodigy, and when Kempelen hears about Tibor's ability, he searches him out to become the brains of the Mechanical Turk. While Tibor's life improves in many ways, he is kept in seclusion as nothing must reveal the truth about how the Mechanical Turk plays chess. Tibor's isolation wears on him, but thanks to his friend Jacob, he eventually finds ways to leave Kempelen's compound on occasion. Jacob, a Jew with a lively sense of humor and an irreverent view of life, is largely responsible for Tibor's growth as an individual.
The novel has mystery, murder, love interest, social commentary, and suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My copy (thanks again to Brian Yingling) is an Advanced Uncorrected Proof.
Aside: the chess machine played the likes of Benjamin Franklin and in a definitely funny incident, Napoleon.
An articled written by Edgar Allen Poe in 1836: Maelzel's Chess-Player (Maelzel purchased the machine from Kempelen).
Fiction. Historical novel. 2007. 344 pages.