kode adsense disini
Hot Best Seller

The Player of Games

Availability: Ready to download

The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.


Compare
kode adsense disini

The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.

30 review for The Player of Games

  1. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    UPDATED REVIEW, 2nd read in 2015: even more ingenious the second time around. The Player of Games is taken to the Empire of Azad to play the greatest of games. the game is Azad is the Empire of Azad is the U.S. and the U.K. and all such toxic empires. in a civilized culture, all empires must fall. the game is feints and surprises and moves within moves; the game is the past that must be broken on the wheel of the future. Banks brings all of his customary elegance, intelligence, humor, and angry f UPDATED REVIEW, 2nd read in 2015: even more ingenious the second time around. The Player of Games is taken to the Empire of Azad to play the greatest of games. the game is Azad is the Empire of Azad is the U.S. and the U.K. and all such toxic empires. in a civilized culture, all empires must fall. the game is feints and surprises and moves within moves; the game is the past that must be broken on the wheel of the future. Banks brings all of his customary elegance, intelligence, humor, and angry frustration at the stupidity and short-sightedness of humanity. he understands the allure but still seethes at the very thought of brutality, let alone brutality as an ingrained governmental program or system. or as a way of life, for any so-called human. much like Banks, I am on the side of the AIs. UGLY OLD REVIEW, 1st read in 2010: (view spoiler)[ an often brilliant allegory. it is interesting to compare the rather spare quality of this novel with the more luxurious expansiveness of the rest of the Culture novels... almost as if it is Iain without-the-M Banks writing about the Culture this time. and the themes are very much in line with banks' non-science fiction suspense novels. banks' wit and imagination are still in play. as are the wonderful drones! well, one drone in particular. mea culpa: so i have been recommending that folks start the Culture series from the beginning. perhaps this is entirely due to reading Consider Phlebas more recently and seeing how much sense it makes as the first novel of an incredible series. well, Player of Games was actually my own first Culture novel, and it worked out fine for me in the long run. so, whatever. choose whichever Culture novel you want to start off with. the challenge that i had with Player was its feeling of sparseness, when compared to the often over-stuffed feeling i get with more traditional space operas...and that nearly too-rich feeling is exactly what i'm usually looking for. i want that swarming of detail and incident, i want to be plunged into some richly imagined world-building. Player did not have that for me. i recognized its brilliance, but that brilliance was in a more intellectual mode, not one that i responded to emotionally or viscerally or as a means of escape into a completely realized yet often rather standardized universe. this is far from a critique (how could a person ever promote the rote and predictable? never!)... but it also did not exactly inspire me to keep reading Culture novels. after Player, it took some time for me to get back into the series. perhaps the escapist in me longed for a less rigorously intellectual pastime. or perhaps something that was less about aliens written like humans and more about actual aliens. still... great book. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Tis Official...Iain Banks can write his flesh cushion off. Okay, so for many of you that is not exactly breaking-news scrolling across the ticker, but I still thought it was worth repeating. I had previously read and loved The Wasp Factory, Banks' classic first novel which was a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of a very disturbed young man in serious need of a hug. I also really enjoyed Consider Phlebas, which is the first of the Culture novels. With Banks having two big wins under his b Tis Official...Iain Banks can write his flesh cushion off. Okay, so for many of you that is not exactly breaking-news scrolling across the ticker, but I still thought it was worth repeating. I had previously read and loved The Wasp Factory, Banks' classic first novel which was a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of a very disturbed young man in serious need of a hug. I also really enjoyed Consider Phlebas, which is the first of the Culture novels. With Banks having two big wins under his belt, I went into this second installment of the Culture series with fairly high expectations and that always makes me nervous and twitchy. It seems that whenever I go into a book hoping for mega, I more often than not crawl away from it feeling like....like um....kinda like uh.... Yeah...just like THAT!!!! Well I'm a pleased as punch happy camper to report that there was no nut-crushing disappointment encountered during this read and Iain came through in fine fashion in this sophomore Culture novel. BACKGROUND: Briefly, the Culture is an extremely advanced, post-scarcity, inter-galactic, utopian civilization. It is a symbiotic union between humans and god-like AI machines, with the AIs performing the administrative and governing functions (i.e., basically ruling) while humans live a leisurely existence enjoying the benefits of UNLIMITED RESOURCES. There are no laws, little reason for internal conflict and force is rarely needed and used only when necessary to protect people from harm. It is basically a giant, all-expenses paid, never-ending vacation in the most amazing high-tech resort you can imagine where the citizens of the culture get to eat....drink.... sex it up....be pampered like royalty....and explore all manner of hedonistic entertainment. In fact, because of the utopian nature of the Culture, everyone is pretty “kumbaya” and there is little to zero tension within the Culture itself. I know, I know…DUH!! Therefore, the Culture novels mainly deal with either individuals outside of the Culture or with the Culture's efforts to expand its influence over a non-Culture society. Despite the many positive qualities of the Culture, they will definitely cut “ethical corners” and take a very “ends justify the means” approach to bringing other societies civilizations under their benevolent rule. PLOT SUMMARY: The Player of Games deals with just such a situation. The main character is Jernau Morat Gurgeh who is among the greatest “game players” in all of the Culture. Through his numerous bio-enhancements (another perk of the Culture), he has mastered 1000s and 1000s of games and can absorb and master new ones incredibly fast. Well, this is just the kind of skill that the Culture’s “Special Circumstances” needs at the moment. I would describe Special Circumstances (SC) as a cross between the CIA and the State Department because they both investigate and establish ties with other cultures in order to learn their customs so they can then determine how best to manipulate them into joining the Culture. It is seriously sweet. Well SC wants Gurgeh to employ his talents to learn a new game. There is a massive civilization called the Empire of Azad that derives its name from an incredibly complex game called…uh… Azad. This game is central to the entire structure of the Empire's society and is so incredibly complex and nuanced that it takes a lifetime to be able to play. However, SC hopes that Gurgeh’s special aptitude will allow him to learn the game in just over two years (the travel time to the Empire). That should be enough background and I will stop there so that I don’t spoil any of the central plot for you. Banks’ writing is top-notch and his imagination is exceptional as he provides a ton of details about life in and out of the Culture without allowing the pacing to get bogged down in a whole lot of exposition. He controls his story very well and you can be confidant that you are in capable hands. This is space opera done very well by someone who has the writing chops to actually convey the wonder of his imagination to those of us who can only envy his talents. 4.0 to 4.5 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    **I've recently finished this novel again, and will be heavily rewriting this review in the near future, what follows is my review from 2015** The first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, did a lot of world-building heavy lifting from a Culture antagonistic POV. Having read that previously, this one is allowed to come in and really flesh out the world from a pro-Culture POV, which was really fun. Reading them in order gave a sort of a pros-and-cons approach to their philosophy. We get all of the ne **I've recently finished this novel again, and will be heavily rewriting this review in the near future, what follows is my review from 2015** The first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, did a lot of world-building heavy lifting from a Culture antagonistic POV. Having read that previously, this one is allowed to come in and really flesh out the world from a pro-Culture POV, which was really fun. Reading them in order gave a sort of a pros-and-cons approach to their philosophy. We get all of the negative things about the Culture first, and then we start to see the positives in this book. Big shocker, I really loved it. The complexities of the main character and his occasional slips into apathy and/or something much darker during his experiences playing the game and interacting with the foreign philosophy an actions of the Empire, were handled expertly and really made him feel flesh and blood. Ultimately, this story serves as an allegory for -- and examination of -- the ultimate cause of the baser desires of humanity. The Culture's philosophy stands in for one possible method that these social terrors might be not only curtailed, but pretty much completely circumvented. Of course, this is a work of fiction, and this philosophy may not work so perfectly in practice. I do think there is at least a little truth to it though, but for it to function in practice we may need access to those pesky 'unlimited resources' that the Culture has. Bottom line, you should read this book. But you should probably also read Consider Phlebas first. Don't be an idiot, read the books in publication order. There has never been a series that has ever benefited from being read/watched/listened to in any other order than the order it was published in. Since I read this back to back with Consider Phlebas, think I'll read a quick palette cleanser before moving on to Use of Weapons. This is heavy stuff, and I'm exhausted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    In 1938, Yasunari Kawabata, a future Nobel Prize winner, was assigned by the Mainichi newspaper to cover a Go match between Honinbo Shusai, the top player, and his challenger Kitani Minoru. Go has an importance in Japanese culture that is hard for a Westerner to understand, and was one of the four traditional arts that a Samurai had to excel in. The match was very even until Kitani played an unexpected move just before an adjournment; its only purpose was to force a response, giving him extra ti In 1938, Yasunari Kawabata, a future Nobel Prize winner, was assigned by the Mainichi newspaper to cover a Go match between Honinbo Shusai, the top player, and his challenger Kitani Minoru. Go has an importance in Japanese culture that is hard for a Westerner to understand, and was one of the four traditional arts that a Samurai had to excel in. The match was very even until Kitani played an unexpected move just before an adjournment; its only purpose was to force a response, giving him extra time to think about his next play. This is completely standard practice in chess, but, although permitted by the rules of Go, was contrary to the complicated etiquette of the game. The rest of this review is available elsewhere (the location cannot be given for Goodreads policy reasons)

  5. 5 out of 5

    unknown

    This was my first book in Iain M. Banks sprawling Culture series. I have been reading a lot of sci-fi and fantasy lately, because for some reason that's all that sounds interesting to me, but I have to admit it is very annoying knowing that every book I pick up is the first in a _______. Usually that blank is "trilogy," except when it isn't (or it really isn't). And while there may be lots and lots of Culture books, they are all standalone stories with a beginning and an end. You can read one pu This was my first book in Iain M. Banks sprawling Culture series. I have been reading a lot of sci-fi and fantasy lately, because for some reason that's all that sounds interesting to me, but I have to admit it is very annoying knowing that every book I pick up is the first in a _______. Usually that blank is "trilogy," except when it isn't (or it really isn't). And while there may be lots and lots of Culture books, they are all standalone stories with a beginning and an end. You can read one published in 1987 and one published in 2010 and it won't make a difference. This is very soothing to my nerves. So anyway, the Culture. I wanted to read this series because of a Goodreads review I came across for Excession which noted that half the book is smartass back-and-forth between two sentient artificial intelligences. I love stories about wiseacre supercomputers; in my book, HAL 9000 is the hero of 2001: A Space Odyssey and all the humans just get in the way of the computer in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. My favorite episode of Futurama is the one where the ship (voiced by Signouney Weaver, natch) falls for Fry ("You're just jealous! Nobody loves you because you're tiny and made of meat!"). The Culture is a society ruled by these machines, which instead of going the violent Skynet route... has decided that hey, humans aren't so bad after all. In the Culture, the machines take care of everything; no human goes hungry, disease and famine are a thing of the past. Sci-fi nerds call this a post-scarcity society, but basically it means that people don't have to actually do anything to survive. They don't even need to work, because no one needs money in a society with no wants. So basically because you are still going to need to do something with your existence, the human citizens of the Culture devote themselves to creative pursuits like art or repeatedly undergoing sex changes or, like Gurgeh, playing games. Gurgeh is, in fact, the best Player of Games in the entire Culture. Board games, we're talking. Not sports. For this he is super-famous anyway, and frequently hosts parties, writes papers and speaks at symposiums. This would be like if the nerds who play Magic: The Gathering were as idolized as Magic: The Johnson. But Gurgeh is so good at all the existing games that he jumps at the chance to travel to a newly-discovered alien society known as The Empire (subtle!) and play the game known as Azad, which is so complex and revered that it has come to form the basis of the Empire's power structure. Meaning it would probably piss some people off if a foreigner came by and casually won, thus destroying the foundation of their entire society and such (symbolism that I totally missed is revealed in Manny's review). That's a pretty good setup right there, I think. I like stories about games (the obvious parallel is, of course, Ender's Game), and this is a good one, even though Banks doesn't really explain Azad to us (this is just as well; it takes Gurgeh over a year of dedicated study to begin to understand the rules; reading them would be confusing/boring/underwhelming/all three). We don't have any idea what is going on, but the loosely sketched matches still make for exciting reading, as do the sometimes heavy-handed comparisons between the refined politeness of the Culture and the raw barbarism of the Empire, as well as the musings on the morality of state-building, i.e. intervening in a less advanced society because you know better, i.e. the Prime Directive Paradigm). But what really made the book fun for me were the trappings of the Culture itself. The idea of a post-scarcity society is really interesting to me, and Banks has fashioned a good one, with a lot of fun examples of the ways humanity (so to speak) has dealt with its status as a largely extraneous life form in the grand scheme of galaxy-spanning sentient worldships. The AIs themselves are collectively my favorite characters, from the massive spaceships, so big they are controlled by robotic hive minds, to the small drones that follow humans around and make fun of them. And swear. I imagined them like this, but sassier: I always liked that movie. I bet if I watched it again I would discover it really isn't very good, Jessica Tandy aside (Tandy power!). Despite my series-stress, I am definitely going to read more Culture novels. Facebook 30 Day Book Challenge Day 5: Book you wish you could live in.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Apatt

    My third Culture book, a series of epic space opera about a post-scarcity human society in the far future. If you are not familiar with this series you may want to read this Wikipedia entry first and come back (or not, as you prefer). I love Consider Phlebas but I followed that up with fan favorite Use of Weapons and it nearly put me off the entire series. I don't want to go into why I do not like that book, if you are curious you can always find my review. Still, I love Consider Phlebas so much My third Culture book, a series of epic space opera about a post-scarcity human society in the far future. If you are not familiar with this series you may want to read this Wikipedia entry first and come back (or not, as you prefer). I love Consider Phlebas but I followed that up with fan favorite Use of Weapons and it nearly put me off the entire series. I don't want to go into why I do not like that book, if you are curious you can always find my review. Still, I love Consider Phlebas so much Use of Weapons could not completely eradicate the goodwill I still have for Mr. Banks and the Culture series. The Player of Games then is the book that will make or break the rest of series for me. Make it is. The Player of Games is complex, intelligent yet easy enough to follow, none of that mucking about with multiple timelines or switching to and fro between "the present" and flashbacks in some weird reverse order sequence. The story simply revolves around a single protagonist Jernau Gurgeh, possibly The Culture's greatest games players. That is saying something given how important games are to the indolent citizens of The Culture who are supplied with every material thing they can possibly want. Gurgeh is approached by the "Special Circumstances", the Culture's secret service / black ops type organisation to take part in an "Azad" game tournament at The Azad Empire, a rival civilization just a few light years away. This game is so important that it is the cornerstone of The Azad Empire. The winner is elevated to the Emperor status. As to why the Special Circumstances want Gurgeh to take part in this tournament you will have to find out for yourself by reading the book. You can thank me later. The most fascinating feature of this book for me is the Azad game, it seems like a hyper-chess game with various card games and philosophy thrown in. Its is so complex it makes Quidditch look like Snakes & Ladders. Though the author does not describe the game in so much detail that it would be playable if you had the mega-board, the pieces, the cards and other things to hand, the description is done so well that you can imagine such a game existing. As with the other Culture books I have read Banks has populated the novel with quite a few well developed characters, though most of them tend to be AI or wee robots ("droids"). The central character Jernau Gurgeh is complex and interesting though not particularly likable, a typical trait of Banks' protagonists it seems. Still, at least he is not a tough-as-nails anti-hero, which is getting a bit old for me, his extreme focus and obsession makes him quite vivid. I also love the humorous moments interspersed throughout the book, these are mainly based around an indignant droid in a clunky disguise. The grand finale which takes place on a planet regularly burned by a perpetual wave of fire is wonderfully exciting though little plot twist at the end is not particularly surprising. Iain Banks' prose style is as literary as ever and is a pleasure to read. This book has made me re-commit myself to reading The Culture series, I look forward to reading many more volumes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    Starting my second read today, for a group read with a great group of people.... and I've finished my second read. I'm much more impressed with the novel on the reread than I was the first time, so I've bumped my stars up from 4 to 5, and I don't think I'm being generous at all. It deserved it. My main problem with either reading was that I just didn't quite care with the whole overt premise of a game player. I'm a game player, myself, but reading about games that are completely foreign and strang Starting my second read today, for a group read with a great group of people.... and I've finished my second read. I'm much more impressed with the novel on the reread than I was the first time, so I've bumped my stars up from 4 to 5, and I don't think I'm being generous at all. It deserved it. My main problem with either reading was that I just didn't quite care with the whole overt premise of a game player. I'm a game player, myself, but reading about games that are completely foreign and strange with rules only obliquely intersecting any that I've ever known strikes me as pointless and strange. It strikes as much interest in me as, say, reading a novel about Hockey or American Football. My boredom is so palpable that even my dog can smell it on me. And then, there's the other side of this book, the one that reads like a jousting tournament, full of heavily laden knights with shifting alliances and champions for opposing kingdoms. That part is quite exciting. It only gets better because it's set in the Culture, the ultimate let's-all-get-along mega-spanning galactic anti-empire filled with all types of aliens and machine minds living with (pretty much) no coercion, unless, of course, a bit of finesse is "Really" required. And that's where we come into the story, and we get to play and be a piece on the board at the same time, feeling all the ups and downs, the close-calls, the frustration, the elation and the triumph. Often all in a single night, oft repeated, but never dull, and this is true for me even though, as I said, the idea revolves around a freaking game with which I have no real stake. Well, that's true, I guess, until later, but by then the stakes take on a completely different flavor, and the fall of galactic civilizations are at stake. (Well, one is at stake, anyway. If you're reading this for the first time, I'll let you discover which one I'm talking about.) I paid closer attention to the descriptions of settings and people, this time, and was pleasantly surprised to see how they matched pace with the games this time, especially the one with the Big Guy on the Flaming Planet. And of course, no author can beat the wonderful names of the Culture Ships. I am glad I read this a second time. I actually forced myself to really try and imagine the game, or at least make up some heavy approximation of it, and in the end it became just another worldbuilding exercise. A lot of us readers like to fill in the blanks and use our imaginations to build a living and breathing world out of the hints and implications of authors, and I think I failed to do that last time. I focused on the world and enjoyed that plenty, but then I forgot to focus on the game. If you don't read this novel with the explicit intent to get into the game, itself, rather than just the interesting characters, then you're missing out on more than half the novel. That might turn some people off, just as it threatened to turn me off, but I feel better for sticking with it. The novel became really quite awesome by the end, and not just a clever plot. If you're really interested in what I wrote a few years ago about the novel then, here's what I threw together: "The novel is surprisingly deep for a character to start out so shallow. A very different novel from the first Culture novel and a much more direct plot-line with just as much of a great touch when it comes to the ebb and flow of the story. Very amusing satire that is only given a light touch, thank goodness, and used primarily to raise the tension. All in all, great writing, even if I won't put the novel among my top 100, but definitely a good read."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Felicia

    If I had to pick a favorite of Iain Banks...well, I haven't read them all yet, and anyway I couldn't pick, because each one I read becomes a favorite for a different reason. This one is a fascinating study of a complex character, set in an insanely well-drawn world. If you're a gamer you will definitely appreciate this book on another level, so pick it up!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Gaming All-Nighters: "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks "All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Gaming All-Nighters: "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks "All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains make-able, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of the rules. Generally, all the best mechanistic games - those which can be played in any sense "perfectly", such as a grid, Prallian scope, 'nkraytle, chess, Farnic dimensions - can be traced to civilisations lacking a realistic view of the universe (let alone the reality). They are also, I might add, invariably pre-machine-sentience societies.”     In “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks       “I… exult when I win. It’s better than love, it’s better than sex or any glanding; it’s the only instant when I feel… real.”     In “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks       Some of the imagery in Bank’s novel concerning gaming strategies closely remind me of my own: “In all the games he’d played, the fight had always come to Gurgeh, initially. He’d thought of the period before as preparing for battle, but now he saw that if he had been alone on the board he’d have done roughly the same, spreading slowly across the territories, consolidating gradually, calmly, economically … of course it had never happened; he always was attacked, and once the battle was joined he developed that conflict as assiduously and totally as before he’d tried to develop the patterns and potential of unthreatened pieces and undisputed territory.” This means you know you’ll get a biased sort of review. Just so you’re warned.     If you're into SF, read on.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cindy C

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Use of Weapons was far superior, in plot and characterization. Player of Games offered no surprises especially if you have read other Culture novels. The plot twist is reminiscent of Ender's Game, and is alluded to in the very first sentence. The central game is never described, and therefore too vague of a concept to care about. Any exposition about the human condition, racism, and sexism were poorly entwined into the book, and did not fit naturally into the plot.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Megan Baxter

    This is the second Culture book I've read. The first was Excession, which was decidedly not the book to start with. I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. Of course, the second one I ended up picking up wasn't the first book in the series either, but at least it was the second. And much more accessible. Whew! Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entir This is the second Culture book I've read. The first was Excession, which was decidedly not the book to start with. I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. Of course, the second one I ended up picking up wasn't the first book in the series either, but at least it was the second. And much more accessible. Whew! Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  12. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Sometimes an author writes a novel so great that while you're reading it you realise you're holding not only a kickass book, but the promise of many more amazing stories to come. The Player of Games is one of those novels - the sort of book that gives you that rare, sweet premonition of a future filled with tens of hours of pure reading pleasure. This novel is the second book in Iain M. Banks' Culture series and while Consider Phlebas kicked off Banks' famous universe it is The Player of Games tha Sometimes an author writes a novel so great that while you're reading it you realise you're holding not only a kickass book, but the promise of many more amazing stories to come. The Player of Games is one of those novels - the sort of book that gives you that rare, sweet premonition of a future filled with tens of hours of pure reading pleasure. This novel is the second book in Iain M. Banks' Culture series and while Consider Phlebas kicked off Banks' famous universe it is The Player of Games that marks its entry into the illustrious ranks of the all-time greatest science fiction scenarios. This is a novel of riotous and fascinating imagination. Protagonist Jernau Gurgeh is a citizen of the post-scarcity, AI/human civilisation known as The Culture. Across a vast society of ringworlds, planets and moon-sized starships The Culture is a utopia whose people are free to pursue whatever interest or obsession takes their fancy. Sport, learning, sex, whatever - you can push the limits to your heart's (and other organs'!) content. Gurgeh has used this freedom to become an obsessive who spends his life playing and mastering all forms of games. He's known for it, and regarded highly for it. It's fair to say that playing games is central to who he is. This innocuous hobby has, however, drawn the eyes of some of The Culture's shadier citizens. For the culture, as friendly and utopian as it is, likes to meddle in the fates of more barbarous civilisations via its covert-ops division, Special Circumstances. SC has taken an interest in Gurgeh and by taking advantage of his obsession with winning they are able to blackmail him into agreeing to complete a job for them. Gurgeh is pressed into travelling to a faraway empire, a society somewhat less utopian than The Culture that uses a series of games - where the stakes can be life and death - to determine who will be their next leader. Gurgeh is to enter these games as a Culture observer, under the close protection of his Special Circumstances AI drone, but of course, his role may be a little bigger than he anticipates... I won't divulge any more as I would hate to spoil your reading fun, and what fun you'll have! Bank's wit, so rare in an SF writer and liable to make you laugh aloud, is evident here, along with his gift for pulse-racing action sequences, allied to an enviable skill at building completely plausible and immersive worlds. This is a fantastic novel that had me daydreaming about the Culture for weeks. Read it, and prepare to lock yourself in a room with the brilliant series of books that came after it. Seriously, if you love SF, and you haven't read The Player of Games stop what you're doing, ignore your friends and family and get thee to a bookstore. My only regret with having read the entire Culture series is that, like an idiot, I greedily gobbled them up too quickly, saving none to be savored later. With Banks' passing the Culture series is prematurely over. This is a terrible loss, but in my opinion, we're very, very lucky to have what he had time to write.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Well played Mr Banks. Well played. I'm struggling to find the words to express my awe in the wake of finishing this book. I feel much as I'd imagine a wizened game player would watching true masters dance across the board. Unable to do so myself, but completely transfixed by the beauty and depth of their movements. I don't think I can recommend this highly enough. It isn't necessary to have read Consider Phlebas which is the first book in the Culture series. I've read half of it and had to stop t Well played Mr Banks. Well played. I'm struggling to find the words to express my awe in the wake of finishing this book. I feel much as I'd imagine a wizened game player would watching true masters dance across the board. Unable to do so myself, but completely transfixed by the beauty and depth of their movements. I don't think I can recommend this highly enough. It isn't necessary to have read Consider Phlebas which is the first book in the Culture series. I've read half of it and had to stop to read a book club book and haven't pick it up since though I'm not sure why. Kim really enjoyed this one and suggested I add it to my challenge. I'm so so glad I did! It started out a bit slowly, but it wasn't in any way dull or boring. We learn a lot about the Culture and how those who are born within it live. It's a fascinating society. Highly technologically advanced, they live in a nearly utopian world where each citizen is free to do whatever they find most enjoyable. The Empire by contrast is not as advanced nor as accommodating. It's a brutal place where people have little in the way of rights and the Emperor rules supreme. Interestingly they choose their ruler by means of a highly complex and competitive game called Azad. I couldn't help but draw parallels between the planet Ea and Earth. Of course this was the worst possible parts of Earth and humanity, but it was in my head from near the beginning. You learn more about Ea as the book progresses that makes your blood run cold and I wished I hadn't made that connection in my mind early in the novel. I don't know if it was intentional on the part of Iain M. Banks but it resonated deeply in me. The game theory aspect was fascinating. It's always been a subject that I find interesting and it was put to such good use here. (This next bit is a spoiler since it only comes out near the end, but I don't think it ruins any part of the story at all. I'm marking it anyway for those who are completely spoiler averse.) (view spoiler)[I also particularly liked the way language was demonstrated to impact the way you think and feel. Speaking only the language of the Empire for an extended period of time had a noticeable effect on the protagonist which was a subtle but genius touch I thought. (hide spoiler)] Besides being brilliant it's also just a really fun ride. I'm really looking forward to reading more in the Culture series. I'll be thinking about this one for months yet!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A very satisfying read for me and a worthwhile homage to a modern master of science fiction whom we lost this year. I enjoyed his first foray in this genre, “Consider Phlebas”, many years ago, so it is fitting that I plug a big gap in my reading history by taking on this 1988 landmark set in the same fictional scenario of a far-future society called the Culture. In the Culture, all basic human needs are taken care of through technology, there is no war or crime, and its peoples are free to party A very satisfying read for me and a worthwhile homage to a modern master of science fiction whom we lost this year. I enjoyed his first foray in this genre, “Consider Phlebas”, many years ago, so it is fitting that I plug a big gap in my reading history by taking on this 1988 landmark set in the same fictional scenario of a far-future society called the Culture. In the Culture, all basic human needs are taken care of through technology, there is no war or crime, and its peoples are free to party, pursue the arts, take up useless hobbies, or apply themselves to building the next artificial world. If they are bored with their sex life, they can change their gender. Our hero, Gurgeh, has become a highly respected master of game playing, living for the next success in a tournament or the acclaim of his next academic paper on game theory. He is basically a neutral, non-judgmental character by which the reader gets to experience an interesting contrast between utopian and dystopian societies. Among Gurgeh’s best friends are robots (“drones”), whose level of artificial intelligence has led to their achievement of full personhood status. Bank’s does a great job in making them seem more human than real people, especially in their emotional aspects. One ancient drone has a perspective on reality and the human enterprise which appeals to him, and another recent immigrant, Mawhrin-Skel, engages his empathy over its frustration at being booted out of the service devoted to exploring alien cultures, “Contact”. This latter friend recognizes what drives Gurgeh: Oh, it’s all so wonderful on the Culture, isn’t it, Gurgeh; nobody starves and nobody dies of disease or natural disasters and nobody and nothing’s exploited, but there’s still luck and heartache and joy, there’s still chance and advantage and disadvantage. But life in paradise inevitably becomes boring, and as a reader we become starved for an interesting plot development. Gurgeh hears of a secret distant empire, Azad, which is effectively founded on a game used to winnow out who succeeds in their society, and a Contact agent drone easily persuades him to travel a couple of years to join their tournament in what he is told is an ambassadorial initiative. He can’t resist the prospect of playing a game (also called Azad) where the stakes are so high . It turns out, these aliens have a society with all the ills of our current human civilization, including wars of domination, political corruption, the cruel hierarchy of the haves and have-nots, violent crime, pornography, etc. It becomes hard to recognize them as aliens, save for the quirk of having three genders. Gurgeh is so concentrated on succeeding at the game of Azad, it takes him a while to truly become disgusted with these folk. With a bit more advancement in technology, the Azadians could become quite a dangerous scourge in the galaxy. How can an idealistic, egalitarian society like Culture deal with such a throwback to dog-eat-dog life without playing their own game of forceful domination? Late in the game Gurgeh comes to understand he is a pawn in the clash between cultures. There are plenty of other writers who push the envelope further in areas of space colonization, impact alien cultures on human sensibilities, and use of technology in the service of hopeful utopias. Yet Banks excels with these subjects by taking a less thrilling or splashy route, one that puts you personally in the picture through a self-centered anti-hero. It may not have the philosophical depth of Le Guin’s contrast of socialist and capitalistic worlds in “The Dispossessed”, but it is still a worthy classic exploration of what human qualities might be lost when risk and death are conquered and what aspects might be retained in robots we create or aliens we might encounter. In closing, I would like to share a couple of examples where the prose occasionally takes flight. In the following, Banks nicely captures some of how game playing infects Gurgeh's way of looking at the world: As happened every now and again, everything he saw around him seemed to be part of the game; the way people stood like pieces, grouped according to who could take or affect whom; the way the pattern on the marquee was like a simple grid area on the board, and the poles like planted power-sources waiting to replenish some exhausted minor piece and supporting a crux-point in the game; the way people and police stood like the suddenly closed jaws of some nightmarish pincer-movement… all was the game, everything was seen in its light, translated into the combative imagery of its language, evaluated in the context its structure imposed upon the mind. In this example, Gurgeh's robot assistant tries to educate him about the Azadians by showing him examples of their cruel pornography: The man’s eyes glittered in the screen-light, unused photons reflecting from the halo of iris. The pupils widened at first, then shrank, became pinpoints. The drone waited for the wide, staring eyes to fill with moisture, for the tiny muscles around the eyes to flinch and the eyelids to close and the man to shake his head and turn away, but nothing of the sort happened. The screen held his gaze, as though the infinitesimal pressure of light it spent upon the room had somehow reversed, and so sucked the watching man forward, to hold him, teetering before the fall, fixed and steady and pointed at the flickering surface like some long-stilled moon.

  15. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    [I am removing my reviews as I do not want to support Amazon.] You are playing a game. In adjournment you are offered a cast iron safe opportunity to cheat. It won’t affect the outcome of the game, you are going to win anyway. But it may change how you win. So what do you do? For the rest, here: http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    The Player of Games: A game so complex it mirrors the society around it Originally posted at Fantasy Literature The Player of Games (1988) is the second published book in the well-known Culture series featuring the post-scarcity utopian machine-human galactic empire known as the Culture. Once again Iain M. Banks adroitly chooses to focus on the interactions of the Culture with a non-Culture society, this time the more primitive empire of Azad. The Azadian society is centered around an incredibly c The Player of Games: A game so complex it mirrors the society around it Originally posted at Fantasy Literature The Player of Games (1988) is the second published book in the well-known Culture series featuring the post-scarcity utopian machine-human galactic empire known as the Culture. Once again Iain M. Banks adroitly chooses to focus on the interactions of the Culture with a non-Culture society, this time the more primitive empire of Azad. The Azadian society is centered around an incredibly complex game called Azad, and every six years it holds a tournament that begins with 12,000 players, with the winner becoming the Emperor. The idea is that anyone brilliant enough to master the game and defeat all rivals is worthy to run the Empire as well. Jernau Gurgeh is one of the Culture’s greatest games players, and this is saying something in a sprawling galactic empire where most of its citizens are devoted to pursuing their hobbies and entertainment. Of course, being so good and facing few difficulties in life, Gurgeh feels a bit unsatisfied. When he is presented with the opportunity to play in a game with more complexity and layers than anything he has ever played before, he is immediately drawn to the idea. However, it takes a little old-fashioned blackmail to push him into action, and I found this a bit implausible since he is supposedly a strategic genius. He really walks right into a trap that anyone should be able to recognize. But his desire to find a new challenge apparently overrides his better judgment. The remainder of The Player of Games is devoted to Gurgeh’s playing in the Azad tournament, which is a massive media event in the Azad society, something like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, United States presidential election, and Superbowl all wrapped up in one. We see how the Azadian press initially considers Gurgeh an oddity, and not much of a threat. However, as he steadily dispatches stronger opponents and evolves his style of gameplay for each round, the Azadians become increasingly hostile to him doing excessively well in their sacred sport. I felt there was a strong parallel to foreign sumo wrestlers here in Japan, who have enjoyed great success, especially three Hawaiian wrestlers in the 1990s (Konishiki, Musashimaru, and Akebono; the latter two reached the highest rank of Yokozuna, which automatically makes them social icons). Initially people thought it was quant that gaijin were attempting Japan’s ancient national sport, which first came about as part of Shinto religious ceremonies. Therefore many Japanese became alarmed when the Hawaiian wrestlers started winning too much, and the first of them, Konishiki, was never promoted to Yokozuna partly because he was foreign, if you are the suspicious sort. Fast forward two decades, and the two most dominant Yokozuna in recent years have both been from Mongolia: Asashoryu and Hakuho. Hakuho in particular is so tough to beat that the audience sometimes celebrates more when he loses since it’s so rare (and the way they celebrate this is by throwing their futon cushions down onto the wrestling mound, which is fairly demonstrative in an otherwise well-behaved society). So you can definitely sense when a culture is feeling threatened by foreigners intruding on its national sport, even if it doesn’t want to admit it. The Player of Games reaches its climax when Gurgeh reaches the final round of the game to face off directly with the reigning Emperor, who by definition is their greatest player. At this point Gurgeh is purely focused on the game itself, and doesn’t seem to be overly worried about what might happen if he actually wins. Would he become the next Azadian Emperor? He isn’t at all interested in such an outcome, but cannot resist the allure of beating the most formidable opponent the Azadians can field. Of course he also hasn’t really thought about why the Culture might be willing to involve himself with such an important event. Again, I was a bit surprised that someone so incredibly sophisticated at game play wouldn’t be interested in the larger game being played between the Culture and Azad. There are implications of the game that do not become clear until the end, and a game player like himself should be thinking many moves ahead. The book is well-paced and engrossing, despite it being almost completely centered on just a few characters and locations. It could easily be a stage play without much adjustment. And unlike the previous Culture novel Consider Phlebas, there are no large-scale battles or extended action sequences, because the game itself is the big attraction. And Banks does a good job of keeping each round different and interesting. I had the feeling that he felt obligated to use more traditional space opera tropes in Consider Phlebas (even if it was partly in order to subvert them), but got this out of his system and felt freer to explore the decadent side of the Culture in The Player of Games. It’s a finely-crafted book and a good entry point into the Culture universe.

  17. 5 out of 5

    The Captain

    Ahoy there mateys! Several years ago, I was lamenting that there were no standalones that were somehow intertwined in one universe or world. Me brain is usually a sieve and lots of time in-between books in trilogies and such means that I lose details and sometimes have to start the series over. I wanted the effect of extreme world building with a tied-up story in each book. The First Mate suggested the Culture “series” in which every book is set in the same universe but all can be read as standa Ahoy there mateys! Several years ago, I was lamenting that there were no standalones that were somehow intertwined in one universe or world. Me brain is usually a sieve and lots of time in-between books in trilogies and such means that I lose details and sometimes have to start the series over. I wanted the effect of extreme world building with a tied-up story in each book. The First Mate suggested the Culture “series” in which every book is set in the same universe but all can be read as standalones and in any order. And sci-fi to boot. Arrrr! So I began with the novel consider phlebas which was Bank’s first Culture novel. Have read it twice now and loved it even more the second time. So eventually I bought this book which was Bank’s second written Culture Novel and the First Mate’s favorite. 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. https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordp...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    So it has been a really long time since I have read the first book in Iain Banks's Culture series, Consider Phlebas. But that's just fine because the books stories are independent of each other and merely take place in the same shared universe. In this case it is the far future in a technologically advanced post-scarcity human society. Well, I say human, but it is actually operated and organized by highly advanced artificial intelligences. Everything is wonderful and and safe and people self-act So it has been a really long time since I have read the first book in Iain Banks's Culture series, Consider Phlebas. But that's just fine because the books stories are independent of each other and merely take place in the same shared universe. In this case it is the far future in a technologically advanced post-scarcity human society. Well, I say human, but it is actually operated and organized by highly advanced artificial intelligences. Everything is wonderful and and safe and people self-actualize and it is all rather boring, which is why these stories take place on the fringe of Culture or in alien societies. This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game. The man is a game-player called "Gurgeh". The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game. Gurgeh is one of the pre-eminent game-players in the entire culture. Not just a player of games (see what I did there?), but a theoretician and highly sought after quasi-celebrity. When everything is provided for free and perfectly safe a society something has to help people pass the time. But the same low stakes social conditions that make games so popular also sap the thrill of game playing for Gurgeh: "...With no money, no possessions, a large part of the enjoyment the people who invented this game experienced when they played it just...disappears" "You call it enjoyment to lose your house, your titles, your estates; your children maybe; to be expected to walk out onto the balcony with a gun and blow your brains out? That's enjoyment? We're well free of that. you want something you can't have Gurgeh. You enjoy your life in the Culture, but it can't provide you with sufficient threats; the true gambler need the excitement of potential loss, even ruin, to feel wholly alive." ~~~ "This is not a heroic age. The individual is obsolete. That's why life is so comfortable for us all. We don't matter, so we're safe. No one person can have any real effect any more." Pretty easy for a particular type of individual to be overcome with ennui in such a situation. Post-scarcity world problems, I know, but that is the funk Gurgeh finds himself in. After a few poor choices he finds himself shipped off to an far distant alien empire to play in a gaming tournament, not sure if he is a player or a game piece on the board of a larger game. And not just any game tournament, but one that decides many governmental and military positions as well as the head of government. "I thought the colleges just taught people how to play." "That's all they do in theory, but in fact they're more like surrogate noble families. Where the Empire gains over the usual bloodline set-up is they use the game to recruit the cleverest, most ruthless and manipulative [individuals] from the whole population run the show, rather than have to marry new blood into some stagnant aristocracy and hope for the best when the genes shake out. Actually quite a neat system; the game solves a lot." As a huge fan of "sci-fi as an exploration of alternative social orders" I greatly enjoyed how Banks built up this very alien society and culture around a (albeit very complex) game as well as following the logical consequences of such an arrangement. I found the alien culture, the Azad, pretty fascinating. The game in question, also called Azad, binds their society together in a particularly strong way. It is the center of their culture and molds the way their society thinks. Banks's exploration of this culture and its peoples was a very effective driver of the story. Gurgeh's experience in the gaming competition and all the politics and gossip that swirl around, it made for a really interesting story, especially as intensive exposure to the game and its strategic mindset affected his own personal outlook and mode of thinking. In this case the proverbial abyss both stared back at him and invited Gurgeh in for a nice chat over coffee. I found most of the character, while not terribly deep, interesting enough to service the story and plot. This was a very fast and engaging read with plenty of wrinkles in the plot beyond simply a book about games. So even if you haven't read the first book in this series you can still fully appreciate how enjoyable this installment is without missing much of anything.

  19. 4 out of 5

    nostalgebraist

    My first Banks experience. It was OK. Some cool concepts, writing wasn't awful, the left-wing space utopia was fun, the plot had some twists. But but but. Banks, though he seems like a cosmopolitan guy who's aware of the tropes he's using and their limitations, still commits the basic sin that makes so much science fiction so much less enjoyable to me than it could be. The sin: blandness. Blandness of writing, characterization, worldbuilding, humor -- everything. The problem, and it's not one wit My first Banks experience. It was OK. Some cool concepts, writing wasn't awful, the left-wing space utopia was fun, the plot had some twists. But but but. Banks, though he seems like a cosmopolitan guy who's aware of the tropes he's using and their limitations, still commits the basic sin that makes so much science fiction so much less enjoyable to me than it could be. The sin: blandness. Blandness of writing, characterization, worldbuilding, humor -- everything. The problem, and it's not one with an easy or obvious solution, is how do you present an alien world -- with alien biology, technology, culture -- to a reader without being unintelligible or repulsive? I know of two ways to handle this well. The first is to just ditch the idea of true alienness entirely, make the characters basically human, and focus on making them as vividly and enjoyably human as possible, subordinating all superficially alien traits to that goal. A lot of comedic or light-hearted SF takes this path, and in that context it's hard to object to. (Zaphod Beeblebrox, Karkat Vantas, and the Doctor are basically just people -- but what people they are!) The second approach is to truly recreate the experience of being suddenly immersed in another culture. This necessarily involves all sorts of deliberate confusion, including linguistic confusion -- a culture other than one's own (esp. one at a different level of technological development from one's own) is going to mentally carve apart nature at places one is not used to, and that has to be reflected in the way the text uses its own terminology. The best exemplar of this second approach I've encountered is John Clute's Appleseed, a dizzying linguistic assault that leaves the reader wondering, almost once per paragraph, things like: "is there a difference between 'flesh sapients' and 'flesh sophonts'?" or "what the hell is a 'breakfast head"?" or "wait, have the 'Caduceus wars' ever been mentioned before?" I read Appleseed a few months ago, and was unsure how to feel about it -- I enjoyed it but by the end I was getting tired of not knowing what Clute was going on about. But in retrospect, I think that's simply the way it had to be -- Clute was trying to depict a situation so truly alien that it shouldn't have been comprehensible after a mere 400 pages of contact. Where was I? The Player of Games. Don't want to go on and on about this because the point is very simple. Banks doesn't take either of the two paths I just described. Like a lot of science fiction, he's at the low point in the middle: his characters are alien enough that they're not allow to talk in the terms used by Banks' own (20th century western) culture, but Banks can't bring himself to create a different set of terms, as that would risk Clute-style incomprehensibility. As a result, everything has a bland, schematic quality. The dialogue all feels kind of abstract and perfunctory, lacking the clutter of real (or even of conventionally-fictional) speech. The humor, lacking any bank of shared references, is weightless and generic. There are machine intelligences in Banks' world, but they do not differ in any interesting way from people, and the imperialist aliens encountered by the book's protagonist -- despite having three sexes and basing their entire society around an elaborate board game -- ultimately seem indistinguishable from a generic earth empire. The science fiction elements feel like stage clothing; the scenes about aliens and drones would not be meaningfully different if they were just about people, and the scenes about alien board games would not be meaningfully different if they were about chess. That alien empire is a particularly telling example. Here is how the empire's use of that board game is initially presented to us: The game of Azad is used not so much to determine which person will rule, but which tendency within the empire's ruling class will have the upper hand, which branch of economic theory will be followed, which creeds will be recognized within the religious apparat, and which political policies will be followed. . . . The idea, you see, is that Azad is so complex, so subtle, so flexible and so demanding that it is as precise and comprehensive a model of life as it is possible to construct. Whoever succeeds at the game succeeds in life; the same qualities are required in each to ensure dominance. Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? But when we actually meet the aliens, there is no indication that the game pervades their thinking about anything but the game itself. They use it to determine who rules, but their speech and thinking about everything outside the game does not seem noticeably colored by the game itself (whose structure is, perhaps wisely, left mostly to the reader's imagination). The same thing goes for their three sexes. The third "apex" sex dominates over males and females, but Banks decides to refer to the apices using male pronouns to make things easier to read for humans from patriarchal societies, and as a result the differences between apices and males is indistinguishable from the difference between male aristocrats and male grunts in a human society. Everything that makes the empire interesting also creates the potential for confusion and distance on the reader's part, and Banks is so committed to being understood -- to "storytelling" in the sense of just getting the plot points across -- that he can't allow those interesting features to persist. (Of course, one interpretation is that the empire is a satire of modern earth society, and that Azad and the three sexes are just there to distract us so we don't realize we're looking at ourselves in a mirror. But if it's a satire, its substance comes down to "we're obsessed with power and judge people according to arbitrary standards." Which is . . . true, I guess, but it's so broad and obvious a critique that I don't think it justifies the ruse.) I've heard that many of the other Culture books have more alienness in them than this one, so I still intend to read some of the others at some point. For now, I prefer too much alienness to too little, and Clute to Banks.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Veeral

    When someone who rarely reads science-fiction says that a particular book is light on the SF aspect which could be read by anybody (even those who don’t like SF) I always groan inwardly (Only if some of my dependable Goodreads friends who read SF regularly tell me that even though a particular SF book is light on the science aspect but it's good, I give it a try). Because for me, the "light" often means that the author is trying to hide his/her own weaker grasp of science from his/her readers. I When someone who rarely reads science-fiction says that a particular book is light on the SF aspect which could be read by anybody (even those who don’t like SF) I always groan inwardly (Only if some of my dependable Goodreads friends who read SF regularly tell me that even though a particular SF book is light on the science aspect but it's good, I give it a try). Because for me, the "light" often means that the author is trying to hide his/her own weaker grasp of science from his/her readers. In fact, I am currently reading one such book whose author claims that his main aim was to create memorable characters rather than concentrating on world-building. Liking his characters must be an acquired taste as I am finding his characters absolutely dull, one-dimensional and criminally forgettable, to say the least. And given the length of that particular book (more than 500 pages), the time that I have already invested in it (more than halfway through), means that I can’t really abandon it now. If I am ever going to regret my decision of reading one book in my lifetime while I am on my deathbed, that book is definitely going to be the one. The reason why I am saying all this is because more often than not I avoid reading books which claim that although they are SF, they are more about the characters rather than the world they are set in. I believe that one needs to balance everything in order to write good SF. You cannot write good (read interesting) books by sacrificing one of their essential props for the sake of some other. So, I am not going to say that The Player of Games is more about its characters than other things. I would rather say that it’s a perfectly balanced work of a genius who knew what he was doing. And if it seems to us readers that despite being spare on the SF aspect, this novel is tasteful, it is because Banks prepared this dish with the right amount of ingredients. The book follows a game player, Chiark-Gevantsa Jernau Morat Gurgeh dam Hassease (let’s just call him Jernau Gurgeh from now on) who is bored by his perfect life in the utopian Culture universe. Let’s face it, even reading about utopias isn’t exactly that exciting, so we can really sympathize with Jernau Gurgeh on that point. Even Banks realized that, so our game player is sent to contest in a game called ‘Azad’ in an imperialist world outside the Culture universe. Hence begins an allegory which compares the two polarizing ideologies – imperialism and anarchist-socialism – with coherent arguments. Most people agree that socialism is the next step in the evolution of human civilization. But that time seems very far away (if it ever comes, that is). I have always believed that for socialism to work, first there should be an abundance of everything; from technology to basic needs such as food and shelter, which could be provided to each and every human being with proper management and without any rationing (Yes it's wishful thinking, but we are talking about utopias here). And we also need to weed-out the stringent controlling factors that socialism places on its people. Enter anarchist-socialism. In other words, enter the Culture Universe! Many have said that The Player of Games is the grown-up’s version of Ender's Game. It’s not. It’s not about games at all. It’s about how we should be living and more than anything, it’s about how we are living right now. It’s about human empathy. Or the lack thereof, in today’s world. It’s about what we have already missed as a civilization and are going to miss in the times to come if we don’t expand our cognizance in the right direction. This is my first Iain M. Banks novel (surprise!), and while I am cursing myself for not reading him earlier, I do have the consolation that I won’t run out of his books to read for some foreseeable future. It’s sad that such a genius is no longer amongst us. But I like to think that he is lounging somewhere in the real version of the Culture Universe now, despairing for our pathetic world while sipping martinis.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    So much of what I love about the writing of Iain M. Banks is on display in The Player of Games that it could be my favourite of his novels (if not for Use of Weapons or The Wasp Factory or Canal Dreams or Inversions and who knows how many of the ones I haven't read yet?). Maybe I am wrong here, but I have a hard time thinking of other authors who can turn seemingly simple ideas into complex ideas with a burst of imagination that makes the simple idea seem unique and rare -- all without the alien So much of what I love about the writing of Iain M. Banks is on display in The Player of Games that it could be my favourite of his novels (if not for Use of Weapons or The Wasp Factory or Canal Dreams or Inversions and who knows how many of the ones I haven't read yet?). Maybe I am wrong here, but I have a hard time thinking of other authors who can turn seemingly simple ideas into complex ideas with a burst of imagination that makes the simple idea seem unique and rare -- all without the alienating pretentiousness of the author who knows s/he is great. This ability makes Banks one of the most inviting writers I know, and I savour everything he has written over and over again. If fact, as I write this, I realize that in the past decade he and China Mieville (perhaps the pretentious one of which I spoke?) are the only two authors I have spent any significant time rereading. The former to visit an old friend, the latter to savour language and be dazzled. I admire, Mieville, but it is definitely Banks I prefer to spend time with. This time listening to The Player of Games was pure joy. It didn't matter that I knew the outcome of Jernau Morat Gurgeh's great Azad tournament, that I knew the deal with the drone, Mawhrin-Skel, that I knew the ending was going to leave me a little flat. This time I was able to luxuriate in Gurgeh's journey, focusing on the little things rather than the big picture of the plot, letting his sensuality in the games guide me, letting his desire for the perfect game move me like it hasn't before, letting his flaws deepen his attractiveness rather than being fooled into judging him. This time I was able to admire Mawhrin-Skel's arrogance, Special Circumstances manipulation and the Culture's quite brilliant defeat of a dangerous future foe. This time I was able to recognize Gurgeh's warning to the reader that the ending of a great game -- of Azad and The Player of Games -- must be anti-climactic. I recognized it, accepted it, and let the flat ending ease me out of the emotional high I hadn't realized I had been swept up in. Like Gurgeh missed Azad, I miss Iain M. Banks, and I am going to miss him and The Player of Games until I open another book of his and meet with him again. Even when I run out of new words from Banks, it is nice to know that all his old words get better with each reading. I will never run out of Banks tales to read. And that is comforting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dirk Grobbelaar

    This is the second Culture novel I've read, after Consider Phlebas. Some reviewers have likened The Player Of Games to Ender's Game(Orson Scott Card), but I'm not sure I agree. There is a 'game' element in both books, obviously (even the titles suggest that), but that was where the similarities ended for me. Many people have also been harsh in their criticism of Consider Phlebas, stating that The Player Of Games is by far the better of the two. Well, perhaps, but I will say that Phlebas was more This is the second Culture novel I've read, after Consider Phlebas. Some reviewers have likened The Player Of Games to Ender's Game(Orson Scott Card), but I'm not sure I agree. There is a 'game' element in both books, obviously (even the titles suggest that), but that was where the similarities ended for me. Many people have also been harsh in their criticism of Consider Phlebas, stating that The Player Of Games is by far the better of the two. Well, perhaps, but I will say that Phlebas was more fun to read, I also warmed better to the protagonist in Phlebas, whereas the Game Player of The Player Of Games didn't quite fascinate me as much as I'd hoped. However, it is still a great book and certainly worth a look. As far as the series is concerned, the Culture books are rather more interesting than a lot of other Space Operas out there. So, The Player Of Games. The book introduces us to one Jernau Morat Gurgeh. He plays games. He's very, very good at it too. The games themselves are interesting, too. Not quite chess or checkers, but complicated and lengthy affairs from different(spacefaring) cultures. He is invited to a (very) distant empire to play the game of Azad. At first glance this doesn't seem like so big a deal, but it soon becomes apparent that Azad and Empire politics are intertwined and inseparable to a disturbing degree. Without giving the game away (so to speak), I will only say that Gurgeh at last seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. There is a lot of intrigue and maneuvering in this novel, and the game sequences are well written. Also, this novel is for 'adults only'. It seems the Culture books are stand-alone, so there is no need to read Consider Phlebas before this. Some would advise against it. If you're into intelligent space opera and some very big ideas, read this (and the other Culture novels).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex Ristea

    Officially hooked on the Culture series. Can't wait to keep going with the rest.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Carly

    "The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game."In the post-scarcity society of the Culture, men and machines live with the opportunity to do anything or nothing, to travel the universe in the great Culture ships with their infinitely complex Minds, to revel in idleness, to choose any subject and pursue it with singleminded zeal. Jernau Gurgeh chose games. He spends his life leaning, playing, and above all, winning, games from all the varied societi "The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game."In the post-scarcity society of the Culture, men and machines live with the opportunity to do anything or nothing, to travel the universe in the great Culture ships with their infinitely complex Minds, to revel in idleness, to choose any subject and pursue it with singleminded zeal. Jernau Gurgeh chose games. He spends his life leaning, playing, and above all, winning, games from all the varied societies now encompassed by the Culture. When a member of Contact's Special Circumstances approaches Gurgeh and asks him to try his hand at a dizzyingly intricate game called Azad, he is tempted. Azad is more than just a game: in a faraway empire, it is intertwined with every aspect of society: careers are made by it; people die and are mutilated because of it; emperors rise and rule by it:"Azad is so complex, so subtle, so flexible and so demanding that it is as precise and comprehensive a model of life as it is possible to construct. Whoever succeeds at the game succeeds in life...the set-up assumes that the game and life are the same thing, and such is the pervasive nature of the idea of the game within the society that just by believing it, they make it so."SC wants to recruit the Culture's most brilliant gameplayer to act as their representative to the empire, and unfortunately for Gurgeh, a moment of reckless stupidity leaves him with a forced hand. Gurgeh is now a pawn in the Culture's game, and the cards are stacked against him. I have a few friends who have been trying to get me into the Culture books for years. At least one adores these books as--no, more--passionately than I love the Discworld books, but I admit that until Player of Games, I didn't see the appeal. I do now. The Player of Games is a satisfyingly multi-layered story of wheels within wheels, games within games. Through Gurgeh's eyes, the world is something like an Escher drawing: reality may contain the game, but only the game's reflection shows a full view of reality. There are so many layers to the games within the story, and game and reality are inextricably linked. Outside of this central theme, the story is rich in complex and evocative details, from the society where a labyrinth is used as punishment to a planet whose ecosystem depends upon an eternal wall of flame that travels over it, a visual depiction of destruction and rebirth. Throughout the narrative, the Azadians attempt to redefine truth, action, and intent. There are also plenty of moments of pure fun. For Gurgeh, the first shock of Azad culture is gender. Within the Culture, gender is an unimportant, easily modifiable aspect of the self, and its triviality is reflected in Marain, the Culture language:"Naturally, there are ways of specifying a person's sex in Marain, but they're not used in everyday conversation; in the archetypal language-as-moral-weapon-and-proud-of-it, the message is that it's brains that matter, kids; gonads are hardly worth making a distinction over."In contrast, Azad has three genders: male, female, and the dominant "apex" gender, whose reversible vagina transfers sperm from male to female. In a culture where status--and pronouns-- are defined by gender, the standard Azadian gambling penalty of castration takes on a whole new meaning. If the stakes are so high, what can be the appeal of the game? Within the Culture, Gurgeh values the game as a way to "find the measure of himself," but he is discontented in a game with so little risk. As his friend explains,"You enjoy your life in the Culture, but it can't provide you with sufficient threats; the true gambler needs the excitement of potential loss, even ruin, to feel wholly alive."In Azad, however, both winning and losing can have devastating real-world consequences, either to oneself or the other player. It creates a zero-sum society, for in a world where everything is part of the game, there is no place for mercy. Azad creates a world in which victory, ownership, and dominance are everything; to a member of the egalitarian Culture, every aspect of Azadian life looks like slavery. Competition creates a world where nothing can ever be enough. Just as the pleasure of winning is inextricably tied to causing other to lose, Azadian society ties even sexual gratification to the abasement of others. Although our culture more closely resembles Azad, Gurgeh's Culture eyes provide an sympathetic viewpoint. Despite his strategic prowess, Gurgeh is an innocent; in real-life situations, he has all the street-smarts of a stoned deer on a highway. Gurgeh's fascination with the game far surpasses a simple desire for victory; he sees it as a beautiful, intricate system of unpredictable patterns. For Gurgeh to win Azad, he must understand Azad. Yet there isn't much of a step between understanding someone and becoming them. Banks highlights this change via the use of language:"When Culture people didn't speak Marain for a long time and did speak another language, they were liable to change; they acted differently, they started to think in the other language." In the case of Azad, thinking in the native language means thinking in terms of sharply-defined genders, in terms of hunting and stalking, winning and losing, possession and humiliation. In one of my favourite quotes in the book, Banks talks about how conquering changes the conqueror:"The barbarians invade, and are taken over. Not always; some empires dissolve and cease, but many absorb; many take the barbarians in and end up conquering them. They make them live like the people they set out to take over. The architecture of the system channels them, beguiles them, seduces and transforms them, demanding from them what they could not before have given but slowly grow to offer. The empire survives, the barbarians survive, but the empire is no more and the barbarians are nowhere to be found." I've always had some hardcore issues with the Culture--even the arrogant sense of superiority in their name, the singularity of that article, puts my teeth on edge. At least from the outside, they strike me as self-satisfied, decadent, culturally imperialistic, meddlesome, and self-righteous. Who are they to act as arbiters of justice? The Culture is willing to do truly terrible things, to let the ends justify the means--but they prefer not to get their hands dirty. But, as Player of Games asks, who are they to let the atrocities happen when they have the power to stop them? I live in the U.S., a country that, despite all evidence to the contrary, still generally views itself as the city upon a hill, the policemen of the world. We've seen how well meddling with other countries tends to go, we've seen how we have worn our arrogance as armour and treated "different" and "barbaric" as synonymous, but if there really are intrinsic rights, then there are intrinsic wrongs. How can we sit there idly and let indisputable evil happen? One of the hardest aspects of reading this book was realising that I don't believe that a Culture is possible. I want to believe in a world that strives for egalitarianism, where, as Gurgeh tries to explain:"No, life is not fair. Not intrinsically [...] It's something we can try to make it, though, [...] A goal we can aim for. You can choose to do so, or not. We have." I don't believe we will ever reach a post-scarcity future where laws are few and ordered anarchy rules. I don't believe we can ever get to a point where we give up the idea of possession and ownership and debt. I don't believe we can ever create a world where there is a set of universally agreed-upon, irrefutable, objective rules; where breaking those laws does not require the drama of courts and juries, where all disputes end with a unanimous decision, where a "no" is always taken as "no" and retribution and revenge are not even considered. I don't believe in a future where the Culture could exist. I wish I did. But as Banks says:"We are what we do, not what we think." Excerpted from my review on BookLikes, which contains additional spoilers, quotes, and comments that I was too lazy to copy over. Plus, I figure that this review is long enough already.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    An unsophisticated obsessive game player gets caught up in much larger games than he's aware of. This book is split into four parts, but the last is a small coda on the rest of the book. The first part deals with an introduction to the Culture and the main character who is fairly unlikable to start with. He's vain, obsessive and self-absorbed, and also easily manipulated. He's shown to have enduring friendships in the first section, but it's not immediately clear why anyone would spend time with An unsophisticated obsessive game player gets caught up in much larger games than he's aware of. This book is split into four parts, but the last is a small coda on the rest of the book. The first part deals with an introduction to the Culture and the main character who is fairly unlikable to start with. He's vain, obsessive and self-absorbed, and also easily manipulated. He's shown to have enduring friendships in the first section, but it's not immediately clear why anyone would spend time with him. The second section is an introduction to the the thoroughly vile Empire of Azad that the main character has been recruited to visit by the Culture. This section and the next, dealing with the final stages of game tournament and the political intrigue surrounding it are a 180 degree turnaround in the book and make the whole thing worth reading. Like most of Banks work, I found it quite dry, but the interjections of humor or powerful emotion are all the more prominent because of this. Fair warning though, there's some imagery in this book that some people will find disturbing. The Empire is truly vile with torture not only routine, but as entertainment, and it's a deeply sexist society with an apex gender lording it over both males and females. There's also a sickening hunting scene. The good part of this is that the main character uses a lot of this as motivation in his fight against the Empire, but there's a suspicion all through it that he's more interested in a perfect game than he is the motivations behind it. It's not a cheery story by any means, but it is a worthwhile one. Not as good as Excession IMO, but still very good.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Not only was 'The Player of Games' my first taste of Iain M Bank's Culture, it was also the first adult science fiction story that I ever read. Because of this, I feel that this novel influenced my life profoundly and it is always the first to come to mind if I'm asked to recommend a good book. The wit makes this book very easy to ease in to. The Utopian society of the Culture is beautiful and diverse, seeming both alien and familiar to us in equal measure. The opening sections introduce us to th Not only was 'The Player of Games' my first taste of Iain M Bank's Culture, it was also the first adult science fiction story that I ever read. Because of this, I feel that this novel influenced my life profoundly and it is always the first to come to mind if I'm asked to recommend a good book. The wit makes this book very easy to ease in to. The Utopian society of the Culture is beautiful and diverse, seeming both alien and familiar to us in equal measure. The opening sections introduce us to the highly relatable character of Gurgeh and detail his dissatisfaction with his current life and eventual reasoning for travelling to the Empire of Azad. Although the mechanisms of the games are never detailed in the story, the reader looses nothing from this. The games are merely the strands that holds together the story. Once on Azad, the story becomes equal parts thriller and political commentary. The similarities between the barbaric practices of the Azadians and our own world are subtle but evident from the start. As Gurgeh progresses through the games, his life is threatened and the reader is left enthralled to see what will happen to him next. The novel is gripping and unpredictable. While definitely science fiction, I found it a very easy read and so I think could be readily enjoyed by people who normally steer clear of this genre.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul O'Neill

    Best sci fi I've read so far. I don't read sci fi a lot so I'm not exactly an expert. A big reason why is the emphasis on technology/aliens rather than story. That's not the case with this book and this series. I'll definitely be reading the whole series. Great characters, original premise, simply written with some good twists.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    The second book set in Banks' Culture universe is a stand-along story which many readers believe to be the most accessible entry point to the series. Banks builds a thought-provoking setting and populates it with interesting ideas, but the plot drags horribly in the early going and some of the twists near the end are obvious. Also creates perhaps a new high water mark in the "annoying droid" set.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A mediocre novel by a good writer. I would give it 2.5 stars if I could. The Player of Games is about a man who has devoted his life to games. He plays games, studies games, writes articles about games, and ... well, that's about it. It's all about games for him. Alas, the Player is not a very interesting character to write a novel around. His monomania is dull, and the games are never described except in the vaguest terms. The Player's competitive spirit, cunning, and intelligence seems to be woefully m A mediocre novel by a good writer. I would give it 2.5 stars if I could. The Player of Games is about a man who has devoted his life to games. He plays games, studies games, writes articles about games, and ... well, that's about it. It's all about games for him. Alas, the Player is not a very interesting character to write a novel around. His monomania is dull, and the games are never described except in the vaguest terms. The Player's competitive spirit, cunning, and intelligence seems to be woefully missing anywhere outside of a game. As the plot unwinds there's some rather obvious political machinations that the Player is oblivious to because he is so wrapped up in games. Indeed, as it turns out, he is (obviously) just a pawn in a larger political game. The story isn't so bad, but it could be a lot better if it was told from some other, more interesting point of view. I also thought the plot was hurt by a couple very poorly motivated decisions by the Player, especially his decision early on to cheat in a game. We are told that he is bored playing games, and in a weak moment decides to play dishonestly. He knows full well this could ruin his career, and he even says he'll commit suicide if found out. All this seems totally unmotivated to me. We don't know much about what goes on inside the head of the Player, and so it seems like an arbitrary decision. We also know nothing about the game he is cheating at beyond being told he will pull off a tricky maneuver that no one has ever done before. Part of the problem is that it's hard to know where games fit into the Culture, and what kind of role they play. In our society, they are pretty marginal: do you know the name of the world's best chess player? Backgammon player? Bridge player? Presumably games are a bigger deal in the Culture since it is a society that has more time for leisure. Presumably. Bank's notion of games is pretty dull: he doesn't seem to consider a game as anything beyond a mixture of chess-like board games and cards. Plus only physical board games are discussed; I wondered more than once why there were no video games mentioned. I don't mean skill/reflex video games, but more intellectual ones, such as Civilization, or variations of board games that can only be played with computers (e.g. because the board must change in complex or drastic ways that would be too arduous for humans to do). The idea of an empire based around a game is intriguing, but the book goes nowhere interesting with it. The novel is set in Banks' Culture universe, which I found to be much more interesting than the main plot. I get the feeling Banks probably thinks the same, too.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    First, let me say how much I want to live in The Culture! Where even some of the machine drones go bird watching! I really enjoyed Consider Phelbas earlier this year and I liked The Player of Games even more. Jernau Morat Gurgeh (Gurgeh to most people) is well known in The Culture for his game playing abilities—there isn’t a game of strategy that he doesn’t excel at and he’s spent his life either playing the games or writing about them (and other game players). This is totally foreign to me, as I First, let me say how much I want to live in The Culture! Where even some of the machine drones go bird watching! I really enjoyed Consider Phelbas earlier this year and I liked The Player of Games even more. Jernau Morat Gurgeh (Gurgeh to most people) is well known in The Culture for his game playing abilities—there isn’t a game of strategy that he doesn’t excel at and he’s spent his life either playing the games or writing about them (and other game players). This is totally foreign to me, as I avoid almost all games as often as I can—I don’t find them fun, I find them boring. Why would I spend my valuable time on something that produces no real effect in my world? That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about The Culture—people have unlimited time for anything that catches their fancy. The interesting thing about the beginning of the book is that Gurgeh has started to share my boredom with the game playing scene. His ennui is palpable during the first pages, as he realizes that he’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt. This is how he gets tempted to try the official game of the Empire of Azad, a non-Culture society, a game with real-life consequences because the winner becomes Emperor. Gurgeh re-discovers his enthusiasm as he wades into the fray—adrenaline & testosterone seem to be the spices that wake him up from his torpor. But is the famous game player being played? A teensy bit predictable, but a very enjoyable journey to get to that ending. Banks tends to wrap things up more neatly that I care for—I prefer a more ambiguous ending—but as I say, the drama on the journey makes up for that. I look forward to Use of Weapons sometime in 2017!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.