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The Player of Games (Culture #2)

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  45,832 Ratings  ·  1,902 Reviews

The Culture - a human/machine symbiotic society - has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game...a game so complex, so like life itself, that t

Hardcover, 309 pages
Published February 1st 1989 by St. Martin's Press (first published August 1988)
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prcardi You can read book two without having read book one. A lot of facets of Culture in book one are not brought up or particularly relevant in book two.…moreYou can read book two without having read book one. A lot of facets of Culture in book one are not brought up or particularly relevant in book two. Banks explains, in book two, what you need to know about the characters and systems in order to understand that book.(less)
Austin Hennessey
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mark monday
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 ...more
Kevin Kelsey
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
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 ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, sf-top-20
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 ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, space-opera
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
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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!
Megan Baxter
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cindy C
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readin2007
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: apatt
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
[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:

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
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 ...more
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 ...more
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.

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
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 ...more
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
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex Ristea
Officially hooked on the Culture series. Can't wait to keep going with the rest.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi
"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
Nov 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gaming enthusiasts, SF fans
Recommended to Junta by: A Swedish chess grandmaster
This year there were three novels about games I'd planned to read, where it's all about The Game which is a mirror of life, the reason for living, an entity which transcends life itself, in each. With this novel my self-made trilogy comes to an end, and fortunately they all met, if not surpassed, my high expectations.

I'm a gamer myself - I've loved chess since childhood, always enjoyed video games (owning a PS1, PS2, PS3, Wii, Wii U), playing sports, and in the last couple of years, board games
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I already want to read this again.
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
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Paul O'Neill
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full Review at Tenacious Reader:

Gurgeh is the ultimate player of games on his planet. He lives in The Culture, in which humans and technology have come together to offer what sounds like a type of utopian society. People generally don’t have to work, as technology handles everything for them. There seems to be no crime, and when there is it is punishable by having a companion droid tag along with you forever as punishment. Now I did wonder, after you get
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Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
More about Iain M. Banks...

Other Books in the Series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)
  • Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)
  • The State of the Art (Culture, #4)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • Surface Detail (Culture #9)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10)

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“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 elefant 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 makkeable, 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.

The very first-rank games acknowledge the element of chance, even if they rightly restrict raw luck. To attempt to construct a game on any other lines, no matter how complicated and subtle the rules are, and regardless of the scale and differentiation of the playing volume and the variety of the powers and attibutes of the pieces, is inevitably to schackle oneself to a conspectus which is not merely socially but techno-philosophically lagging several ages behind our own. As a historical exercise it might have some value, As a work of the intellect, it's just a waste of time. If you want to make something old-fashioned, why not build a wooden sailing boat, or a steam engine? They're just as complicated and demanding as a mechanistic game, and you'll keep fit at the same time.”
“My gratitude extends beyond the limits of my capacity to express it,” 25 likes
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