The Player of Games

Culture, part 2

Paperback, 320 pages

English language

Published Aug. 10, 1989 by Orbit.

ISBN:
978-1-85723-146-5
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4 stars (22 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 the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life - a very possibly his death.

23 editions

Great

4 stars

Even though it was a re-read I read this within 3 days. The story is very captivating. The second of the Culture novels we get a deep dive into it and then we get another deep dive into another alien culture which is quite imaginative. At the heart of this novel is the thrill of games. A lot of people can relate to that nowadays and yet, there aren't that many genre books focussed on that. Although this was written at the end of the 80s the use of they as a single pronoun wasn't yet a thing in literature and the view of gender presented in this book is quite binary (and also heteronormative). Even though gender relations and policy play a big role in Azad and are discussed in the novel. Well, you can't have it all, I guess. A must-read for all sci-fi fans.

Review of 'The Player of Games' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

‘Consider Phlebas’ was great. A real old-timey action science fiction book with a good number of twists. Like being hugged by an alien with eight arms. There are similarities between my experience with ‘Phlebas’ and ‘Dune’, though the two books stand apart from one another. I would argue that ‘Dune’ is, in many places, more finely woven – the politics certainly – but then ‘Player of Games’ happens, and, well, Banks does some magical things to weave in politics, plot and action.

Gurgeh plays board games. He makes them too. He lives on an orbital within the Culture. I thought his life quite ordinary a way – kinda like a space academic, with an edge of play. And yet he appears disaffected, a little absent, almost bored. So he does something out of the ordinary, something which could get him into a bit of trouble. Enough to threaten his reputation …

Review of 'The Player of Games' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Continuing my Culture re-read. I am probably going to do one off and one on. Well, this one was always my favourite and it has held up extremely well. The central conceit of the 'great game' being used as a euphemism for all the horrors of nationalism and sociopathic self-interest of leaders remains as punchy as ever. Banks tendency to populate his books with little vignettes of horrors doesn't feel at all forced in this one as it sometimes can be. I also got a sense in this read through of him trying to describe his Culture ideal but realising that it is in a frame of reference alien to most, so he gives up explaining why it's victory was inevitable in the game within a game that this book describes. This remains a stunning achievement and will probably always be in my top books of all time.

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Subjects

  • Science Fiction