Apatt's Reviews > The Player of Games

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
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Aug 14, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, sf-top-20
Read from May 09 to 16, 2012

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.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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Gabwyn I love this book (as you can see from my goodreads avatar), are you moving on to Excession next? (another one of my favourites).


Apatt Gabwyn wrote: "I love this book (as you can see from my goodreads avatar), are you moving on to Excession next? (another one of my favourites)."

If that is your scholarly recommendation, then yes! :D


message 3: by Gabwyn (last edited May 16, 2012 02:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gabwyn If that is your scholarly recommendation, then yes! :D"

I'd definitely recommend it but then again I was a huge fan of 'Use of Weapons' which you weren't too keen on.

I think it has a lot more of his humour showing through than some of his previous novels especially with the ship names and their dialogue.

There's a chapter in the book called 'Killing Time' which I really, really loved; a modern take on the Flatland concept (and a lot less 'whoosh' than Greg Egans take on it in Diaspora), keep your eyes open for it :)


Chris Apatt, I read this recently and it was a pleasure. The Culture seems interesting and I'd love to know more about the complexity of their anarchic ways. Where should I go to next? Looking at the order, I was thinking Consider Phebas might be best.

I think what I enjoyed the most were the undertones of dark comedy and the political commentary (which wasn't so subtle but probably because it played a crucial role in the story between Culture and the Empire). I have also read most of The Wasp Factory so I know he has more of that sick/disturbing sense of humour in him.


message 5: by Apatt (last edited Nov 07, 2014 05:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Chris wrote: "Apatt, I read this recently and it was a pleasure. The Culture seems interesting and I'd love to know more about the complexity of their anarchic ways. Where should I go to next? Looking at the ord..."

I enjoyed Consider Phlebas a lot but a lot of the diehard Culture fans seem to think it's the worst. Use of Weapons is probably the most popular Culture book, but personally I didn't really like it. I enjoyed Excession though, and I intend to read Surface Detail next.
The best people to ask about this series are at Reddit's PrintSF, here is one example link.


Chris Thanks for the link, ill definitely read Consoder Phelbas after reading that thread. Everyone ranks it (along with Player and Wasp Factory) as his worst books. Ive already liked two of them so ill get through the last of his novice works and move onto the bigger and better works.


message 7: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe I loved The Player of Games and am currently loving Excession. I also disliked Use of Weapons. Consider Phlebas was a good novel, but it was a poor introduction to the Culture, which I find to be endlessly intriguing. Just my opinion, naturally.


Apatt Joe wrote: "I loved The Player of Games and am currently loving Excession. I also disliked Use of Weapons. Consider Phlebas was a good novel, but it was a poor introduction to the Culture, which I find to be..."


Thanks for the input Joe! We seem to have read the same Culture books? Or have you read more than the ones you mentioned?


Chris That thread you linked had a great description of the Culture 'geek scifi porn' - because humans spend all their free time at leisure and playing games. Sounds apt! :)


Apatt Chris wrote: "That thread you linked had a great description of the Culture 'geek scifi porn' - because humans spend all their free time at leisure and playing games. Sounds apt! :)"

Glad you found it interesting Chris, PrintSF is my go-to forum for sci-fi books discussions (plus I help to moderate the site).


message 11: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Apatt wrote: "Joe wrote: "I loved The Player of Games and am currently loving Excession. I also disliked Use of Weapons. Consider Phlebas was a good novel, but it was a poor introduction to the Culture, which ..."

I have also read Hydrogen Sonata. It was an entertaining Culture story but not a great novel. I have high hopes for Windward, Matter, and Surface, which have been waiting patiently for me. I believe it was my enthusiasm for Player of Games that caused me to spend so freely.


message 12: by Jamai36 (new)

Jamai36 Only read CP and Use of Weapon - I found CP to be.. very light. A pleasant read, but it really read much like a comic book. Just a series of events on an adventure. I found Use of Weapons to be just about the exact opposite. Difficult and complex, with many overarching themes and a tangible progression. Still, Use of Weapons is a messy read, whereas CP is not, so I can see some advantages.


message 13: by Glenn (last edited Aug 15, 2015 06:08AM) (new)

Glenn Russell It is so ironic - my eldest son is a master games player, my younger son a professional poker player and my daughter was also a professional poker player for some time. Other than tic-tac-toe I myself never enjoyed board games, computer games, card games.


Apatt Glenn wrote: "It is so ironic - my eldest son is a master games player, my younger son a professional poker player and my daughter was also a professional poker player for some time. Other than tic-tac-toe I my..."

Mind games perhaps? ;)


message 15: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Russell Apatt wrote: "Glenn wrote: "It is so ironic - my eldest son is a master games player, my younger son a professional poker player and my daughter was also a professional poker player for some time. Other than ti..."

Philosophy and literature as mind games -- absolutely!!


message 16: by Cecily (new)

Cecily You're committed to reading the series, but what about commitment to playing games?

Seriously, there is a huge world of fascinating table-top games (not all with a literal board) that I was completely unaware of until my son got into them. A nice geeky vibe, too.


Apatt Cecily wrote: "You're committed to reading the series, but what about commitment to playing games?

Seriously, there is a huge world of fascinating table-top games (not all with a literal board) that I was comple..."


I quite like Scrabble though I always lose (and I can never get the letters to spell "exterminate"), Monopoly and Cludo are also fun.


message 18: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I like Scrabble, but it's not what gamers count as a proper tabeltop game, and certainly not Monopoly or Cluedo (though they can be fun). One more like these:
http://www.themarysue.com/10-board-ga...

I can vouch for Carcasonne and Settlers of Catan, though it weirdly omits Ticket to Ride, which is hard to describe in a way that appeals, but is a really excellent game, that comes in several variants.


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