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Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles
John J. Reilly
Christopher Rose

Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse is the story of a society where the various kinds of academic study - in particular mathematics, music and history - have been absorbed into the playing of a particularly complicated game.

The book tells the story of Joseph Knecht, one of the legendary players of the game. We hear of his life in elite schools, his years of study of obscure parts of history and his gradual rise in the heirarchy of the game until he reaches its pinnacle - the position of Magister Ludi or Master of the Game. But Knecht begins to have his doubts about how much the game players have become cut off from society and warns that their way of living cannot last forever.

One tends to see the book as a comment on the separation of academia from 'real life', but I felt that this doesn't really work - the split between them just seems false. For instance astronomy and physics are supposedly part of the game, but Hesse just seems to see them as playing with formulae, rather than eagerly awaiting data from newly built telescopes. The book seems much more to do with the choices of an individual - do you become a hermit, is it better to be an 'organisation man', or is there another alternative. In the end I felt that the message wasn't really worth the effort of reading 400 pages - it would be more suited to a shorter story. The 3 'lives' at the end of the book, which are, effectively, short stories with a similar message, are definitely worth reading though.