Kiri's Reviews > The Player of Games

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
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's review
Apr 02, 2012

really liked it
Read from April 02 to 07, 2012

This book starts out slow, as we meander around with a jaded, disaffected protagonist who's living the high life but perhaps a little... bored. Celebrated for his gaming skill (in competition and in writing game theory papers), Gurgeh is ripe for Something To Happen to him. And it does. Gurgeh heads to another planet on which the game Azad is the central focus of the society, the way in which officials attain their positions, all the way up to the Emperor. Gurgeh enters the fray as an alien, a curiosity, an untouchable, and proceeds to battle his way upwards.

We're not really surprised at seeing him do well -- this is a novel about the Player of Games, after all -- but what's most interesting are the changes this process wreaks on his character, most clearly shown in his evolving views of the Azadians' society. (It is hard, too, not to see echoes of our own society in this Azadian one, which I'm sure is no accident.) The final game on the Fire Planet is entirely engrossing, and Iain Banks shines in his depiction of it, his prose taking flight into the most lyrical depiction of a game I've ever read. Yet it captures perfectly that rapturous feeling of true communication, perhaps all the more so when it's a communication no one else understands, a beautiful (and here, tragic) meeting of minds.

The book itself is told in a curious fashion, with little or no insight into the mind of the protagonist. This makes sense in the (ultimate) story frame; the story isn't being told by Gurgeh, but rather by those observing him. It just makes me want all the more to get inside his head and really understand what he thought of the experience.

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