The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

The Player of Games book cover
Rating 8.6/10
Sci-fi grown up. Long may it continue!

The Culture – a human/machine symbiotic society – has thrown up many great players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy.

Iain M Banks second novel is the story of Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a genius of all the games The Culture has to offer. A master of strategy and a man getting bored of his current lifestyle and the challenges it brings. That is until he is tempted by an offer of an intriguing game from a distant Empire, an Empire whose existence has been kept secret form The Culture’s citizens. At first Gurgeh is reluctant to go until a drone blackmails him. Now Gurgeh faces the biggest challenge of his life, in the game of Azad. A game where the winner becomes The Emperor...

Banks has an easy and understated style of writing, which requires the reader to concentrate a touch more than most books do. This is a lot to do with his world setting and incredible imagination, as well as with keeping track of the crazy and wonderful names his characters and ships possess. The Culture that he has created is a vividly drawn universe where humans and machines live in Utopian harmony. There is no disease or sickness and no need for money. If you fall off a cliff a drone will save you! For Gurgeh this however, is not enough. He has conquered all the games of The Culture, and yearns for something different. It is this idea, which provides us with our focal point for the book, the exploration of a different society’s ideals. It is an interesting course we witness Gurgeh undertake, and Banks provides us with a tale of moral depravity, darkness, twists and a few disturbing scenes along the way, as we watch a character’s development from start to finish.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this novel possibly more than the score suggests. The imagination of Banks for me is genius and I wish I could comprehend and engage with his universe more fully. The way the characters are depicted, from the humans, who think a little differently to you or me, to the wonderfully witty machines and drones, is first class. The world setting is also atmospheric and superbly created, and there is a definite change in feel between The Culture and The Empire.

I have always found that there are simple sci-fi books, such as Ender’s Game and Mission Earth, or harder books such as those Banks, Charles Stross and Alistair Reynolds produce. These books will always make you earn your buck. Sci-fi grown up. Long may it continue!

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