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The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
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Culture series book club discussion - introduction and general discussion

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Luke Burrage (lukeburrage) | 287 comments Mod
From my episode notes (copied from a different forum thread):


1. Player of Games. Probably the best introduction to the Culture, laying out Contact and Special Circumstances and all the rest. Viewpoint: normal culture citizen.

2. Consider Phlebas. The war in this is the main threat threat the culture experiences at its own level. It's also the first book chronologically, so it makes sense to go near the start. Viewpoint: outside enemy.

3. Excession. The best introductions to ships. While there are human-level characters, it's really all about the ships. It's also super fun! You need a break after some of the heavier books.

4. Use of Weapons. Really heavy stuff, showing how war isn't all about ship minds having fun. Viewpoint: outsider being used by Contact and SC.

5. The State of the Art. Once the Culture has been established, it's good to see where the Earth fits in with it. We also get to see more of Diziet Sma. Viewpoint: Culture insider looking at Earth.

6. Inversions. A Culture novel without any character knowing about the Culture. This fits well with State of the Art, as you can imagine what it would be like for someone on Earth to be in the same situation.

7. Matter. This is probably the most "minor" Culture book in the series, in my opinion. It's okay, and that's about it. At least after Inversions it'll get you back into the swing of spending time with ships and drones.

8. Surface Detail. The first on the list of three "death and afterlife" Culture novels. This shows "man's" attempt at creating an afterlife.

9. The Hydrogen Sonata. This shows the "science" of a true kind of afterlife on a civilization level, with much talk of subliming, or not subliming, and what life actually means when faced with something better after death.

10. Look to Windward. This is quite out of sequence chronologically and by publishing date, but could be the best way to finish off the series. While the viewpoint is from an alien visiting the Culture, most of the action takes place within it, rather than outside it (like most of the other novels). It also goes well with Consider Phlebas, so it's good to have them topping (almost) and tailing this list. Finally it rounds out the mini-series about what happens after death... but I don't want to spoil it.


Luke Burrage (lukeburrage) | 287 comments Mod
The guy I punched got ice cream on his face, and the rest fell on the floor. I was really annoyed... I was enjoying that Magnum!


message 3: by Isabel (kittiwake) (last edited Sep 04, 2013 12:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments I am easily sidetracked. Instead of carrying on with the book after listening to the podcast I spent the rest of my train journey home watching videos of combat juggling : )


Luke Burrage (lukeburrage) | 287 comments Mod
This is the latest and best video of 1-on-1 combat featuring me and the best player in the world:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJaey8...


Alexander (liftcage) | 30 comments http://youtu.be/WJaey8Pkj8Y?t=5m29s

Oh poo, the blueshirt referee blocked our view of Luke and Jochen's cathartic Iceman/Maverick man-hug at 5:30.

>"In my and Juliane's defense, my 1989 copy of Player of Games has what looks like a tall white man surveying a game board on the cover."

My own chauvinist xenophobia surfaced in Banks' naming his protag "Gurgeh," which sounds like onomatopoeia for Professor Frink in a chokehold.


Alexander (liftcage) | 30 comments "Gurgeh" sounds like a minor supporting character on Fraggle Rock.

It's such a whimsically incongruous name for a braniac SF protagonist that I give Banks credit for banking his story on this little nub of droll xenolinguistic kink (i.e. on his home planet, "Gurgeh" sounds like Bob or Chris).

Also, I fear even the Culture Minds would be stumped by the ever-elusive Pickle Matrix.

http://youtu.be/Klf5qLV9Ljs


Alexander (liftcage) | 30 comments P.S. Haven't yet listened to the podcast episode, so sorry if you've already covered the "Gurgeh's a weird-ass name" subtopic.


message 8: by James (new)

James Smith (jimfromvenice) | 2 comments I wonder how much Banks was influenced by Herman Hesse when he wrote "The Player of Games."

Hesse wrote his science fiction novel, "The Glass Bead Game" (Das Glsperlenspiel), also called "Magister Ludi" (Master of the Game) in the 1940s. It became a worldwide best seller, especially in the 1960s when Hesse was something of a pop star.

The book is set in the 25th Century in a mythical country or world, called Castalia. As in "Player of Games," society revolves around The Game in Hesse's book. Also like Bank's novel, "Magister Ludi" is constructed on layer upon layer of meaning.

Hesse didn't win a Hugo, but he did win a Nobel Prize for the book.


Alexander (liftcage) | 30 comments I'm still surprised and impressed the book even works.

Dramatizations of game-playing in prose fiction are difficult to pull off or care about, especially when the reader more-or-less knows the protagonist is going to triumph.

I guess it's all the worldbuilding spice and garnish that keeps the story flavorsome and worthwhile, like that amazing throwaway paragraph about the prison designed like a moralistic LARP where inmates have to conquer an ethical maze to win release.

"A perfectly good person can walk free of the labyrinth in a matter of days, while a totally bad person will never get out."


Michael (the_smoking_gnu) | 1 comments I listened to "Consider Phlebas" and "Player of Games" and I'm listening to "Excession" at the moment.
I really want to like the Culture series. Iain M. Banks has great ideas and the Culture universe is a fascinating place but somehow his way of writing is not as enthralling and captivating as Peter F Hamilton's.

I'll just name two things which are bothering me about "Excession".
Banks puts what amounts to long email conversations full of incomprehensible technical terms in his book and then afterwards uses a character to summarise the content.

The amount of ship names and abbreviation is just overwhelming, "From MSV "I'm sorry, who are you again?" to GSV "Should I know who you are?" forwarded to GCV "I can't remember your name" in reply to GCU "Sorry, I forgot your name"".

Apart from this I can't really put my finger on the reasons why I like this series but why I'm not enthusiastic about it.


message 11: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome | 55 comments The Endless Lives of Iain M. Banks: the late science fiction novelist grappled with a fundamental existential—and libertarian—question.

http://reason.com/archives/2013/09/15...


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Luke Burrage (lukeburrage) | 287 comments Mod
Tamahome wrote: "The Endless Lives of Iain M. Banks: the late science fiction novelist grappled with a fundamental existential—and libertarian—question.

http://reason.com/archives/2013/09/15...-..."


That's a really weak argument, in fact no argument at all, that the Culture has anything to do with libertarian ideals. It's more like a libertarian trying to pick out points in an otherwise totally unrelated world that he can agree with.

The end result of post-post-scarcity is a totally non-authoritarian, but I don't recall anything about the route to that end goal being anything like the libertarian view.

Also the idea that the Culture's interventions in other civilizations always went wrong is 100% false. Some novels were written about the times when it went wrong, of course, as those are the more interesting stories! And in other stories, the intervention of the Culture is portrayed as right and good, and successful. Player of Games and Consider Phlebas are both situations where the Culture intervenes in another civilization, at one point to all-out war, and the Culture achieves its goals in both cases.

Libertarians are funny.


Andreas | 6 comments I'm really glad you made this Culture series overview!

When I first listened to the 'Use of Weapons' episode a long time ago, I figured this was something I had to get into. So, I read Consider Phlebas and thought it was decent enough. I then went straight to Use of Weapons. My feeling about it was perfectly summed up in episode 201 with the groan. I laughed quite a bit when you summed up exactly what I had done (go straight from CP to UoW) and captured how I felt about it.

I've put Player of Games on top of my to-read list and can't wait to give The Culture series another go! It really does sound like an interesting universe, despite my initial impression.


Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments It was really interesting to listen to the Player of Games episode while re-reading it. It definitely made me pay more attention to the reality of the way Azad the game portrayed Azad the empire, rather than just concentrating on Gurgeh's relationships and how he was being tricked. When we get to Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata I'd rather read them first then listen to the podcast, as I haven't read them before, but for re-reads it doesn't matter whether I listen to them before, during or after reading the books.

I'm just starting on Consider Phlebas, and it's probably the re-read I've been looking forward to least, as I remember it as being quite a sad story.


message 15: by Isabel (kittiwake) (last edited Oct 14, 2013 04:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments I've finished my re-read of Consider Phlebas and it seemed as if Horza had picked up Kraiklyn's poor leadership habits along with his appearance, including the over-optimistic idea of "easy-in, easy-out" and not ensuring that everyone was aware of vitally important information, such as not being able to use anti-grav on an orbital, and just how difficult it was to kill an Iridian. I guess being a successful spy does not mean that you will be a successful leader!

I noticed that Iain M. Banks used the adjective 'titanic' in the megaships section, which would have been a clue to what was going to happen if I'd noticed it the first time I read this book.


Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments It's occurred to me that Kraiklyn may have put a jinx on his crew by naming his spaceship the Clear Air (easy in easy out) Turbulence (uh-oh suddenly everything goes wrong and people die).


Juliane Kunzendorf | 22 comments Isabel wrote: "It's occurred to me that Kraiklyn may have put a jinx on his crew by naming his spaceship the Clear Air (easy in easy out) Turbulence (uh-oh suddenly everything goes wrong and people die)."

Ha! Good point!


Chris Vena | 2 comments I thought you might find it interesting to know that Turkish has only one personal pronoun. "O" works for he, she, it, that, him, her.


Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments I've finished Excession and although it was quite confusing, I must have been paying more attention than the first time I read it because this time I realised that (view spoiler). At least I think that's what was going on - the first time I read it I hadn't got a clue!


Emanuel Landeholm (elandeholm) | 14 comments I also finished Excession recently and, although admittedly a confusing read, I did manage to figure most of it out. No thanks to my prodigious intellect but because I listened to nearly half of SFBRP 209 before realizing this was a Culture novel I had missed, and thus promptly picked it up.

The excession per se was kind of vague and disappointing. The most interesting thing about it was that it decided to take its name from the Culture's designation.

Speaking of names: Ethics Gradient! What an impossibly cool name for a mind.


message 21: by Isabel (kittiwake) (last edited Feb 17, 2014 05:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Isabel (kittiwake) | 61 comments Last nights I listened to the BBC radio dramatisation of The State of the Art, and I'm afraid I didn't really like it. They dropped the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw's sarky comments which I suppose is understandable but meant that one of my favourite things about the story was lost, but even worse, they made Diziet Sma and Dervley Linter former lovers rather than acquaintances, so that he was trying to persuade her to stay with him when the ship sent her to reason with him.


message 22: by Kev (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kev | 5 comments Finished Inversions recently and enjoyed it. Probably my 3rd favourite Culture book. Looking forward to the podcast,


message 23: by Nick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nick Hawkins (NickJH) | 5 comments In response to the podcast on The Player of Games my understanding is that Flere-Imsaho is not a library/protocol drone (as it claims) but a fully tooled-up bodyguard drone. I base this on the fact that it survived an attack but a much greater mass of equiv-tech weaponry in one the closing scenes of the book.

Another key point in the book is that the drone forces Gurgeh to speak (and think) in Marain after several months(?) of using the Azad language almost exclusively. I believe this was what enabled Gurgeh to go on and win the game by playing as the culture instead of following the native play styles.


message 24: by Luke (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luke Burrage (lukeburrage) | 287 comments Mod
All done!


message 25: by Paul (last edited Apr 02, 2015 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul | 19 comments Just re read 'player of games' , just me or does the end seem a bit contrived? and Luke, you never mentioned the best bit in your podcast "the sacking of the Urutypaig Library", very much like King Edward I of England giving the Welsh a prince that did not speak English.


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