- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Orbit; Reprint edition (26 March 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316005401
- ISBN-13: 978-0316005401
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #44,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Player of Games (Culture) Paperback – 26 Mar 2008
|Paperback, 26 Mar 2008||
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About the Author
Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. CONSIDER PHLEBAS, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation. Iain Banks lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
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It is true I have read and re-read Lord of the Rings, but the book I have read every year, and sometimes if feels like it is permanently on my bedside table is this one. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.
This is a Culture book, for those of you who may not be familiar with Iain M Banks, he created a great civilisation called The Culture. And though he never set put to write a Trilogy or a series, the universe he created was so popular he returned to it again and again. The full list counts ten titles: Consider Phlebas (Culture), 1987; The Player of Games,1988; Use of Weapons (Culture), 1990; The State of the Art, 1991; Excession (Bantam Spectra Book), 1996; Inversions (Culture), 1998; Look to Windward (Culture),2000; Matter,2008; Surface Detail (Culture), 2010; The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture), 2012.
The Player of Games is thus the second Culture book and I first read it in the year it was released. I have the 1989 edition paperback which has to my mind the most eye catching of all the covers.
Its an interesting precursor to the gaming culture we are now all familiar with, and actually echoes Iain M Banks life long obsession with complex multiplayer board games, which is also writes about under the name Iain Banks in The Steep Approach to Garbadale. Iain M Banks, Iain Banks experience of games reflects my own university years, when not many students had TVs or Cars, and computers were locked away in a lab that was only open 16 hours a day unless a friendly tutor gave you a key and that was normally only for the most obsessive Computer Scientists.
As a student we would gather around a game board with the most arcane rules and while away 6 to 30 hours in play, banter and generally just being.
So Iain M Banks touches on this moment in time and add an element of competitive chess players to create the main character Jernau Morat Gurgeh abbreviated to Gurgeh throughout the book, and tells a tale of a man taken as we would now said 'out of his comfort zone', to play the greatest game of old.
In this book Iain M Banks does not build one civilisation but two, we have a blinding illustration of life in the Culture and this is easily contrasted with life in the Empire of Azar.
I don't think you are supposed to like Gurgeh, but his story as an individual who is unhappy but cannot see why he is unhappy, is compelling from the very first. The action really takes off when he reaches Azar, and here there is a skillful creation of a place which while The giant Culture Minds (great entities of Artificial Intelligence) believe is evil, but where Gurgeh finds a bloody beauty and a vitality that he never before experienced.
I always think there are echoes of our own world in the Empire of Azad, and I find it a strangely comforting place to be. I have no idea if that was the authors intent and is a very personal feelings.
I always recommend this book but with a hesitation. It has been on my bedside and in my life every day through all these long years back to 1989. So yes, a good read, more than that I cannot say.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There was a mention of a labyrinth prison, which I took to be a Chekhov's gun, something that the protagonist would have to deal with later on. It is, instead, a metaphor for Azadian society, which is a dictatorship, where even the highest members of the ruling class can be summarily tortured and executed. Sometimes the torture and execution are the same act.
The author shows us great detail of the Empire, from Imperial palaces to red light districts to slums. The climax is set on a world with an ever raging fire which sweeps around the planet. The author shows great imagination in constructing and describing these places.
I hadn't read the first book at the time of this writing, but I was able to grasp much of the workings of the Culture. I will have to read the first book as soon as possible.
After a short interval to reflect, I've now read the second book in the series: "The Player Of Games," in which Banks has done a great job of laying out the basic precepts of his universe. I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for the complexity and scale of his vision. Indeed, I can now grasp some of the actions taken by various characters in "Consider Phlebas" and the story makes better sense to me in reflection. While the first book had autonomous "Minds" and petulant "Drones," they all seemed fanciful and somewhat nonsensical. Now I more clearly understand their actions and motives.
As for the actual story, "Player Of Games" is a tightly structured examination of one individual, the ultimate strategist and grand wizard of gaming in the galaxy. This is his story as he is inserted into a barbaric and backward empire whose social structures, religions and politics all center around a complex series of games (or one large game) from which all wealth, privilege and power is derived. Is he there as an ambassador, a subversive spy for The Culture, or just to play the game? Even he doesn't know for sure. The characters are great, the story is complex yet very fast paced and highly entertaining. There are no slow spots - just taught story telling of the highest caliber.
As with all great science fiction, there are plenty of corollaries and allusions to our real world issues, which ultimately makes the book worth reading; more than just a ripping good yarn. If you're like me, a relative newcomer to The Culture books, I cannot imagine there is a better place to start than with "The Player Of Games." I wish I had read it first, as it has given me a greater appreciation for Phlebas. I'm well an truly hooked now, and will plow on through the rest of the series with great anticipation.
I loved this book and the world Banks has set up so very much. The game player in this book is named Jernau Morat Gurgeh. He is considered one of the best game players in the galaxy. Through a series of circumstances, he is recruited/forced to play a top secret high-stakes game in another star system, Azad. However the “game” he is playing is anything but just for fun. The planet’s society, politics, religion, and very existence hinge of the outcome of the conclusion of the tournament.
What I found fascinating about this novel is that the tone is extremely different from the other Culture novel that I read. That one was full of action and multiple settings and a dare-devil protagonist. In this one, Gurgeh is a thinker and philosopher of games. He likes his routine and current lifestyle. He is an unwilling game participant at first but becomes engrossed as he gets more and more involved in the life and game of Azad. Yet the background of the Culture makes this book as compelling as the first novel in spite or maybe because of these differences.
I am not a huge game theory fan so the game itself did not always have me focus. But what certainly did were the politics and interactions of the characters. The Culture world has a “humanoid/machine symbiotic society.” Yet Azad is more primitive. I loved Gurgeh and his attitude of almost nonchalance towards everyone else. The game is the only thing for him.
I also loved his robot friend, Chamlis, who is crazy old and lovable for a machine. Gurgeh’s machine ambassador, Flere-Imsaho was also a hoot. He spends his free time bird watching and the remainder of the time trying to keep Gurgeh from making political and social blunders. He also has to hide what he is and he made me laugh with his complaints. I love the spaceship, Limiting Factor. Basically all the machines in this novel have fantastic and distinct personalities. They were nice contrasts to Gurgeh’s own personality.
There is no major way to explain the plot any further due to its complexity. This book was a fast read and I think the writing is superb. Needless to say I recommend the two culture novels I have read so far and I certainly shall be reading more in the series.
Apparently there are 10 books in total. Only 8 to go. But I shall take me time with them to savor the Culture flavor.
Side note: Apparently Mr. Banks passed away in 2013 from cancer. Boo-hiss! Cancer sucks. But I am grateful he left behind a whole world for me to explore.