Monday, 12 December 2016

The Player of Games / Iain M. Banks

4 out of 5 stars
The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & 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.

First, let me say how much I want to live in The Culture! Where even some of the machine drones go bird watching! I really enjoyed Consider Phelbas earlier this year and I liked The Player of Games even more.

Jernau Morat Gurgeh (Gurgeh to most people) is well known in The Culture for his game playing abilities—there isn’t a game of strategy that he doesn’t excel at and he’s spent his life either playing the games or writing about them (and other game players). This is totally foreign to me, as I avoid almost all games as often as I can—I don’t find them fun, I find them boring. Why would I spend my valuable time on something that produces no real effect in my world? That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about The Culture—people have unlimited time for anything that catches their fancy.

The interesting thing about the beginning of the book is that Gurgeh has started to share my boredom with the game playing scene. His ennui is palpable during the first pages, as he realizes that he’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt. This is how he gets tempted to try the official game of the Empire of Azad, a non-Culture society, a game with real-life consequences because the winner becomes Emperor. Gurgeh re-discovers his enthusiasm as he wades into the fray—adrenaline & testosterone seem to be the spices that wake him up from his torpor. But is the famous game player being played?

A teensy bit predictable, but a very enjoyable journey to get to that ending. Banks tends to wrap things up more neatly that I care for—I prefer a more ambiguous ending—but as I say, the drama on the journey makes up for that. I look forward to Use of Weapons sometime in 2017!


  1. Hi Wanda

    I was a bit confused initially as to why Banks had introduced the element of Gurgeh cheating. In the end it seems that is to allow him the be blackmailed into taking the assignment and helping the drone Mawhrin-Skel get into the agency, but that setup seems overly long. I guess it was to introduce a game within a game that is almost as significant as the game on Azad but then I wanted more about it at the end. I did feel the interaction between the Emperor and Gurgeh was interesting but could have been more developed and of course the details of the actual game are very vague. I do not know if Player has the scope of the other culture novels, I have not read enough of them. All in all a good read, I am finding the post human and post scarcity SF very enjoyable. I tend to tire quickly of the psychologically fraught SF at present and I don't think anyone is in the mood for more dystopian futures with the way things are trending. I like big ship, aliens and cool ideas so Banks is fine with me.

    Happy holidays.

  2. Hi Guy! I think you're right, the cheating thing was all in the set-up to push Gurgeh into the Azad Empire. My impression was the Mawhrin-Skel was only pretending to be banished and was manipulating him. Gurgeh got played! I'm looking forward to more Culture novels, for sure.

    Nice to see you the other day! Enjoy Christmas!