Cover Image: Getty Images
Cover Design: Blacksheep
THE PLAYER OF GAMES
A CULTURE NOVEL/
CULTURE BOOK TWO
IAIN M. BANKS
Publishing Date: 1988
On the cover:
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 - and very possibly his death.
The central premise of this novel is games, or to be more specific, a game that is complex enough to run an empire. Not the most common of science fiction principles, but a very interesting one.
Banks is very adept at getting his concept across to the reader. First by introducing us to the game-player Gurgeh and his life. Through Gurgeh we get a very good idea of how the Culture treats games, and what position they have in society. The introduction of a world run by a game is done in such a way that you never get the feeling that Banks is talking about something hypothetical, but instead it feels both plausible and real.
The story itself is great, it has the plausibility that in my opinion is needed to get immersed in SFF, and it doesn't lack in suspense. Banks manages to keep the info dumping integrated to the story, and it doesn't slow down the narrative.
It is a rather short book, and is a quick read. That doesn't mean that it lacks complexity. There are many parallels to our world here, and if you feel like it this is a novel that is a great springboard for analysis. Even the descriptions of the Culture's differences to the Empire of Azad serves to highlight that we are in a wholly different world from what we know. But at the same time it is not lacking in references to real-world society.
There is much to learn about the Culture here. And as this is the second novel Banks has written about the Culture, that is a good thing. He is expanding on his creation too great effect. And the shadow of the much larger world that exists outside the novel is very much present.
This book is not an action-filled space adventure, but an immersion into a different culture in a future setting. It is a type of social science fiction I thoroughly enjoyed. If you are at all interested in science fiction for more than big guns and spaceships I advise you to read this book, it is one I know I will re-read sometime in the future.
Note: This novel is marked correctly by the publisher as "A Culture Novel". It is not a direct continuation of the events in Consider Phlebas, the novel that preceded it. But it is set in the same universe, and although the two novels are very different, they are part of a series.
Review: Consider Phlebas
Links: Iain M. Banks Orbit