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The Player of Games

(Culture #2)

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  65,585 ratings  ·  2,927 reviews
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 em ...more
Paperback, 293 pages
Published February 1st 1997 by HarperPrism (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. Ba…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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Mario the lone bookwolf
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: banks-m-iain
That´s Brave new world and 1984 on space opera steroids, one of the best allegories on human culture ever written, described from the point of view of an objective observer of a far higher developed civilization who visits the primitive, cruel, capitalistic, hierarchical bigots. Us in our past, current, and future manifestations of madness and more or less hidden dictatorship government styles.

This reread in 2 sittings blew me away so hard that I´m hardly able to do more than to suggest to frea
Kevin Kelsey
A good book is entertaining, tells an interesting story, and occupies your mind while you’re reading it. A great book does those things, but also changes you, changes the way you think about things, changes the things you think about. When you finish it you’re not the same person you were at the start. The Player of Games had this kind of effect on me. This book is a Trojan horse.

When I’m heavily invested in a book, I tend to fit in a chapter everywhere I can, often alternating between the physi
mark monday
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 hi
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
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
Shelves: sf-top-20, favorites
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
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Dirk Grobbelaar
This was the second Culture novel I'd read, after Consider Phlebas. I’m trying to read them in order. Well, publication order in any case.

So I’ll come right out and say it: if you are a fan of Space Opera you should be reading the Culture novels. They vary a lot, stylistically and thematically, but they’re all pretty damn cool and very, very clever. Banks managed to juggle sense of wonder elements with intrigue almost effortlessly. Not to mention some gnarly political commentary.

I read somewhere
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Milda Page Runner
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Milda by: York
Shelves: science-fiction
Sorry to say but it didn’t really work for me. My main issue being that storyline only became interesting in the last 30% of the book.
I appreciate intelligent prose, the humour and interesting world (at least on Culture’s side). I also liked the ending, hence 2 stars.
The list of the things I didn’t like is unfortunately longer:
Two thirds of this book is really slow. Nothing really happens – no danger, no conflict, no intrigue or mystery, nothing to hook you in and keep turning pages.
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
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
Megan Baxter
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Banks' second foray into the Culture established him as a major talent for good reasons and this book stands the test of time very well (still hard to believe this came out over 30 years ago). While ostensibly a story about a champion gamer from the Culture recruited to play a new game in foreign empire by Special Circumstances, the 'intelligence' wing of the amorphous culture, the underlying and for me more interesting story concerns the juxtaposition of Culture's society and the Imperial Azad ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The Player of Games is the second book in Iain M. Banks's "Culture" series, set in a far "post-scarcity" future in which human "Culture" has conquered space and all of its survival needs with technology. It is the story of a professional gamer named Jernau Gurgeh who seeks personal discovery in his mission to save an entire galaxy from itself.

Living mostly in non-terrestrial world-sized and ring-shaped archologies controlled by highly evolved artificial intelligences called "minds," humans live
[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:

May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of the social commentary sort of sci-fi
Recommended to jade by: my brother-in-law
“you cannot choose not to have the politics you do; they are not some separate set of entities somehow detachable from the rest of your being; they are a function of your existence.”

the premise of this sci-fi story could not be simpler, and yet at the end of this book i felt like a certified observationalist of the art of layer peeling. onions, anyone?

anyway, in a post-scarcity, semi-pacifistic society, jernau gurgeh spends most of his days playing games and writing papers about gami
The Captain
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
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
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
Lost Planet Airman
Nice. the Culture series is redeemed for me. A person from the millennia-old civilization known as the Culture -- a merger of human and A.I. that owns most of our galaxy, has mastered most societal and personal ills -- is sent to an Empire in the Magellanic Clouds to play a strategy game that defines the Empire.
Dec 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
The last time I read "serious" sci-fi I was twelve years old. I was a bit obsessed with robots, so I bought Asimov's I, Robot collection and dove in. Even at that age, I could sense that something was off. It wasn't the robots -- Asimov writes great robots. In fact, Asimov is so good at writing robots that it seemed like he had applied the same formula to people. Everyone (or at least all the good people) were logical, unemotional, rational, and cold. Reading the stories was like watching a visu ...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.

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
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Gurgeh is the top player of games on his planet. He avidly seeks out new games, determined to master them all. He's good. He's brilliant. He's also arrogant, annoying, and just a little bit bored - and vulnerable to manipulation.
When agents of The Culture suggest that he travel to a planet where an overwhelmingly complex game controls the social hierarchy, the bait has been dangled...

My book club opted to read this book last month in light of Banks' recent very bad news. Not all the readers love
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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

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,” 33 likes
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