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The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
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Group Reads 2018 > August 2018 Group Read - The Player of Games

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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jo | 1089 comments This is to discuss August 2018's Group Read - The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.


Marc-André | 298 comments I've read it two or three years ago. I gave it three stars.

I like how in a post-scarcity society, playing games can become important and the purpose of your life, and Banks manages to build a plot around many rounds of a game, but I wasn't blow away. It was very moralist they way the alien culture is presented as violent and abusive. I'm not sure why this novel and the series (althougt it is the only work from the Culture that I have read), gathers so much praise.

Maybe someone here can enlighten me.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments I'll be starting this one soon. I'm looking forward to it since I've heard so much about the series.


Bruce I'm listening to the audiobook, and I find the evil drone/robot hilarious. Similar to HAL in 2001, although HAL wasn't funny.


message 5: by Ed (last edited Aug 14, 2018 11:12AM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Spoil me baby! I want spoilers!

I've read this before and don't intend to read it again. I do remember that it has an interesting structure, which is worth some stars, but it was unsatisfying. All along it hints at some deep, dark secret, but when that secret is revealed I was like "Bah, Humbug!". It was so silly to me that I've forgotten it, so I need the spoiler.

Update: this was actually Use of Weapons that I'm talking about. I was confusing them.


message 6: by Leo (new)

Leo | 560 comments I'm going to start but still doubt whether I will begin with Consider Phlebas first.


message 7: by Jo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jo | 1089 comments Leo wrote: "I'm going to start but still doubt whether I will begin with Consider Phlebas first."

I've started with this one and it read perfectly well without knowing anything about the first book. It is often written about the Culture series that it is better to start with the second book. Maybe somebody who has read the first book can comment?

I'm surprised how much i'm enjoying a book about game playing, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one but so far so good.


message 8: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
I just realized I have not read this one before. The one I actually have read is book 3: Use of Weapons. So maybe I will need to read this one.


message 9: by Pi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pi (pi_symbol) | 7 comments I started reading the Culture series fairly recently, about an year ago, and so far have covered the first four books. All of them have independent of each other plots, so can be read in any order, although they also supplement each other, so probably best enjoyed in the order of their publishing.

From the first two books, Consider Phlebas is the more action-packed and, with its many worlds and space ship battles, most typical of the space opera genre. I really liked the inventiveness of the author and the unpredictability of the plot, which made the experience unique.

The Player of Games is, in a way, about the Culture from within. There is again a clash of civilizations in the story, but this time a clash presented mainly on the psychological and cultural levels, through differences in customs, values and beliefs. I definitely enjoyed this one better than the first, probably because it felt more philosophical and better structured, thus easier to read.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments I'm starting this one today


message 11: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments It's in my queue


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments I'm a couple chapters in but it hasn't really grabbed me yet. The hyphens in the droid names are irritating, like apostrophes in McCaffrey's Dragon world.


message 13: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments I thought I had read a few of Banks' novels before, but I had confused him with David Brin. Are Iain M Banks and David Brin anything alike in their writing? My only prior Banks novel is The Hydrogen Sonata which I started and abandoned several years ago. So, The Player of Games, which I started this morning, will be my first novel by Iain M Banks, presuming I finish it, that is.


message 14: by Leo (new)

Leo | 560 comments I did start with Consider Phlebas. I like it.


message 15: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments In The Player of Games, an empire is considered an archaic and unusual form of government. This is the exception to the rule in science fiction where empires seem to me to be fairly common.


Marc-André | 298 comments Archaic from the point of view of the Culture, a post-scarcity anarchist society ran by AIs.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments I liked the encounter with the Contact droid. That had a nice touch of intrigue. But otherwise the first 80 pages is pretty boring.


message 18: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments I finished The Player of Games this morning. It gets off to a slow start but gradually it pulled me in. Well before the climax, I was fully engrossed. It's pretty good.

I haven't heard any rave reviews of Consider Phlebas, the first in the Culture series, so I don't know If I should read it or not. I think I'd definitely like to read more Banks. Any recommendations?


message 19: by Pi (last edited Aug 24, 2018 03:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pi (pi_symbol) | 7 comments I believe Consider Phlebas is quite revealing of the Culture and their place in the grand scheme of things, so it might be reasonable not to skip it.

I really enjoyed The State of the Art: a collection of short stories, one of which a novella. The stories have varying styles and themes, and most are only remotely related to the Culture. They all, however, hint at some of the Culture's unavoidable imperfections.

My next to-read are Excession and Surface Detail. Not sure if I'll read the rest, but for those two I have high hopes.


message 20: by Marc-André (last edited Aug 25, 2018 10:10AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc-André | 298 comments Is the Use of Weapons the better book of the series?


message 21: by Leo (new)

Leo | 560 comments Buck wrote: "I haven't heard any rave reviews of Consider Phlebas, the first in the Culture series, so I don't know If I should read it or not...."
I'm reading it now and can really recommend it. It's great. Don't see one reason why to skip it.


message 22: by Buck (last edited Aug 25, 2018 11:54AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments Thanks Leo. I put it on my list.

It has a goodreads average rating of 3.86, which isn't bad. Most of his other Culture novels are rated higher than 4.


message 23: by Leo (new)

Leo | 560 comments Yes, I also saw some 1 and 2 star reviews too. It doesn't appeal to all then.


message 24: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Buck wrote: "It has a goodreads average rating of 3.86, which isn't bad. Most of his other Culture novels are rated higher than 4."

The first book in a series often has a lower rating than the later ones. The people who read the later ones are those who already liked the first one, usually.


Sabri | 81 comments The Player of Games was my first Culture novel as well as the only Culture novel I've read twice. My first read was about 5 years ago and the second about a year ago; I read most of the other Culture books in-between. This book ranks with Use of Weapons and Excession as one of my favourite Culture novels, and is what I would recommend someone to read as their first.

For me The Player of Games nicely epitomizes two threads through which Banks shapes and explores the Culture. The first thread is its interaction with other civilisations, especially those which it views as having a primitive social structure. The second thread is the hedonic bent of Culture citizens: how does one find meaning in a post-scarcity society?

Interestingly these two threads could be seen as a cultural vs individual manifestation of the same underlying thing. What I mean by this is that the Culture's interactions with other societies is a primary way for them to etch out a meaning to their existence, in much the same way that Gurgeh tries to find meaning through playing games with other people. To put it another way, I wonder whether the title has a double meaning: what is the Culture but itself a Player of Games with "lesser" societies?

I only noticed on the second read - with a fuller understanding of what the Culture is - quite how atypical Gurgeh is as a Culture citizen. He has this predatory, barbaric bent. He only sleeps with younger women, and he *always* has to win games, even if nothing is at stake. There is almost nothing of the well-adjusted, laid-back attitude that seems to be prevalent in all other citizens. He actually seems to admire much of the aliens' culture, seeing it as having a kind of logic. No doubt his personality is one reason why Contact chose him for the task.

Finally, I like how Banks manages to convey an impression of the Culture as a (very?) imperfect utopia. Beyond the softly ensconced ring worlds and cruise ships, there is a part that is willing to engage in manipulation, subterfuge and sheer aggression in order to mold the progress of less developed societies.


Stefan Braddock | 5 comments What I mean by this is that the Culture's interactions with other societies is a primary way for them to etch out a meaning to their existence, in much the same way that Gurgeh tries to find meaning through playing games with other people. To put it another way, I wonder whether the title has a double meaning: what is the Culture but itself a Player of Games with "lesser" societies?

Intriguing thought. I guess I had just assumed the Culture was acting on some sort of "noblesse oblige" sense of duty. It never occurred to me that there might be a self-serving motive. The only other Culture book I know is Use of Weapons, and both stories left me wondering just how much artificial intelligence was actually running the show.

I also got to thinking about the Culture's approach to developing civilizations versus Star Trek's so-called prime directive, which of course they broke on a regular basis. Maybe the Culture also at one time had a policy of non-interference, but found it so untenable they decided to go the other way and dive head-first into the interference business.


message 27: by Pi (last edited Sep 07, 2018 03:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pi (pi_symbol) | 7 comments Sabri wrote: "The Player of Games was my first Culture novel as well as the only Culture novel I've read twice. My first read was about 5 years ago and the second about a year ago; I read most of the other Cultu..."

Great analysis, Sabri! One thing I wanted to add is the eerie similarity I felt while reading The Player of Games between the game of Azad and a kind of evolutionary process. The early rounds of the game somehow reminded me of basic mutation-based biological evolution, whereas the later ones of a more directed, cultural evolution. If this analogy is valid, then the game should indeed be viewed as a model of how ideas and cultures clash and transform as a result, with the fittest surviving. Isn't this what the Culture does throughout the series? Playing a game of cultural evolution: a dynamic, indeterminate process where only relative strengths matter.


Sabri | 81 comments Stefan wrote: "The only other Culture book I know is Use of Weapons, and both stories left me wondering just how much artificial intelligence was actually running the show."

The more you read, the more you come to understand that humans are playing little more than a bit part. This is taken to the extreme in Excession!


Sabri | 81 comments Pi wrote: "Isn't this what the Culture does throughout the series? Playing a game of cultural evolution: a dynamic, indeterminate process where only relative strengths matter. "

Yes exactly. It's a game within a game within a game and so on. It fascinates me that Banks had such a clear idea of the Culture's significance at such an early stage of its conception.


Oleksandr Zholud | 768 comments I just finished it, a few days after the end of the month, so I am a bit late to the discussion. Nevertheless, here are my thought
1. I liked it more than Consider Phlebas, which for me looked like old-time action-adventure [even with savage cannibals] placed in space. This volume has a nice pace w/o the need for battles are impossible escapes - a rare thing for a space opera
2. it reminded me about Hard to Be a God - while it is different, the message behind the story is the same - we [Culture in this case] cannot be indifferent observers if people suffer


message 31: by Sabri (last edited Sep 05, 2018 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sabri | 81 comments Oleksandr wrote: "it reminded me about Hard to Be a God - while it is different, the message behind the story is the same - we [Culture in this case] cannot be indifferent observers if people suffer "

Yep, I'm sure Hard to be a God was an influence on Banks and many other sci fi authors. His novel Inversions is even more similar to Hard to be a God, as is Matter (for that matter!)


Bruce I finished it last week too. I mostly liked it, the story, events, games, politics, but I actually disliked Gergeh immensely. I’m not sure if this was intentional on the author’s part or not, but it slightly detracted from an otherwise great story. Sometimes it makes sense to have a character like that to see the character development over the course of the book, but I didn’t see how Gergeh was that great by the end of the story.


message 33: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments Gurgeh was not a particularly likeable character, but he wasn't a bad guy, and did seem to mellow as the story progressed.


Oleksandr Zholud | 768 comments Buck wrote: "Gurgeh was not a particularly likeable character, but he wasn't a bad guy, and did seem to mellow as the story progressed."

I'd say he is far from perfect, but usually stories about perfect men are boring, so I'm fine with that. What do you think about depiction of drone AI in at least first two books? They are much more emotional than humans


Marc-André | 298 comments The drone des getting on my nerves.


message 36: by RJ - Slayer of Trolls (last edited Sep 07, 2018 09:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments I'm still plugging away at this one. The story doesn't get moving very quickly and I have found myself bored at times. I'm now at the part where Gurgeh lands on Azad so I'm hoping things will move more quickly from this point on. Gurgeh is not the most likable guy as Buck pointed out but I assume that was the author's intent. The droids all irritate me, and I'm tired of the hyphenated names. The hyphen to Banks is like the apostrophe to McCaffrey.


message 37: by Leo (new)

Leo | 560 comments I just finished Consider Phlebas. Liked it a lot, but it took me 3 weeks. So I guess reading the whole series, which I think would like, would be a serious operation. Hmm.


message 38: by Buck (new) - rated it 4 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments Randy wrote: "I'm still plugging away at this one. The story doesn't get moving very quickly and I have found myself bored at times. I'm now at the part where Gurgeh lands on Azad so I'm hoping things will move more quickly from this point on."

They do. Azad is the game. Everything up to this point has been build-up.


Bruce I liked the drone depiction for being different from the usual portrayals of drones as servants or independent drones with not much depth. I liked also how there were different potentials for drones to be good or evil.


Sabri | 81 comments Leo wrote: "I just finished Consider Phlebas. Liked it a lot, but it took me 3 weeks. So I guess reading the whole series, which I think would like, would be a serious operation. Hmm."

It's a worthwhile investment =] I almost never read a book in less than a few weeks but I only have a couple Culture novels left to go.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 629 comments Buck wrote: "...Azad is the game. Everything up to this point has been build-up."

Halfway through and the game is just starting. I'm still bored but I'm guessing this is where it gets interesting. Gurgeh played a couple preliminary rounds and is going to start with a significant advantage.


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