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The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games (original 1988; edition 2008)

by Iain M. Banks

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4,8351341,417 (4.14)1 / 276
Title:The Player of Games
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (2008), Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (1988)

Recently added byprivate library, itwriter, JMLandels, pnppl, Oleksandr_Zholud, mr.n, A-S, Themis-Athena, greghudson
  1. 30
    Second Game by Charles V. de Vet (DisassemblyOfReason)
    DisassemblyOfReason: Another alien civilization wherein one's status as a game player has a direct relationship to one's status in society, and to which a human game player has been deliberately sent to play the game.
  2. 10
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  3. 00
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two opposing cultures collide in both works. Urras = The Empire but their opposites (Annares and The Culture) have very little in common. Annares is determined by scarcity, the Culture by its lack.
  4. 03
    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (jeroenvandorp)

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English (125)  French (5)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (134)
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
This is one of the early examples of ‘new’ space opera.
The story follows a man from the Culture [post-scarcity society, some may call it anarcho-communism] Gurgeh, who is a player of games [as the book title suggests]. What this means is that he spend his whole life playing different games, studying game theory and history. He is one of the best in the field. However, in a post-scarcity society there is not enough drive behind games, for you cannot really lose something or win, only the process gives the thrill.
As one of the best players, Gurgeh is sent across the galaxy to the Empire of Azad, the empire kept together with an extremely complex game of Azad.
I liked the second volume more than the previous one, [b:Consider Phlebas|8935689|Consider Phlebas|Iain M. Banks|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1327951890s/8935689.jpg|14366]. Usually a space opera is action-adventure set in space. This story has no light saber duels, escapes from live planets or massive fleet battles. This one is different. It keeps the pace but the conflict is much more internal.
While the setting is quite different, the story has for me strong similarities with [b:Hard to Be a God|759517|Hard to Be a God|Arkady Strugatsky|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1425850190s/759517.jpg|41364467]. They both deal with the problem that it is hard to stay outside the suffering and just observe it.
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1 vote Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
For a long time I've wanted to tackle Iain M. Banks' famous Culture saga, that's been often hailed as one of the most fascinating and interesting of our times. Several years ago I did read the first book, Consider Phlebas, and though I didn't exactly dislike it, it somehow failed to captivate me.

Then I recently read some comments here on GoodReads about how the second book, The Player of Games, is really the best introduction to the Culture series, so I decided to try again. And this second attempt went much better.

In short, on the planet Azad the social, political and economic life revolves around a game – also named Azad – that shapes the empire and its people, whose entire life is dedicated to it, to the point that the outcome influences their social standing. Jernau Gurgeh, a renowned game-player from the Culture, is sent to Azad to participate in the Game and at the same time to act as a Culture representative. What apparently starts as a diplomatic mission of sorts, with some double-dealing overtones, soon becomes much more, especially for Gurgeh: Azad will put to the test his game-playing abilities, of course, but also the very foundations of who he is as Culture citizen and as a person.

The story itself builds a constant momentum that involves the reader deeper and deeper, just as Gurgeh finds himself pulled into the Game to the point that it becomes more real than reality itself. One of the best characteristics of the book is that it skims over the rules of the Game, showing it through the players' reactions rather than in a dry list of technical detail, so that the story-telling remains very fluid – and enjoyable. If this is typical of Banks' narrative I believe he's just made a new convert, because I prefer stories where the author leaves details to the reader's imagination rather than boring him with unnecessary explanations that slow down the pace.

The Culture is however the main protagonist here: a star-spanning civilization that has reached such levels of sophistication that its citizens have left behind the troubles of contemporary humanity – not having to battle with illness, poverty, political or social strife, people from the Culture are free to pursue their goals, be they purely hedonistic or more knowledge-oriented. In short, a utopia. The differences with the Azad Empire are glaring: the reader learns, together with Gurgeh, that the Empire is indeed a cruel, merciless entity and that behind a glamorous façade lurks an underworld made of sadistic pleasures.

And yet the Culture itself is far from perfect, because even if the citizens live charmed lives, there are forces that work in secret, that manipulate individuals or circumstances to steer events in determined directions. I encountered one remarkable detail in that regard: while on Azad Gurgeh uses the local language instead of the Culture's own (called Marain) and with time this seems to shape his way of thinking, to mutate his response to situations. To the point that his companion, the sentient drone Flere-Imsaho (yes, in the Culture drones are considered sentients, and some of them have quite an attitude) tries hard to engage him in conversation in Marain to draw the man back to a different way of thinking. An apparently small detail, but a thought-provoking one.

All in all this was a great start to what I think will be a fascinating immersion in a multi-faceted universe: how could I resist, for example, huge ships with peculiar, tongue-in-cheek names like "Just Read the Instructions" or "So Much for Subtlety", whose sentient Minds seem very interested in manipulating events? Or the mysterious entity called Special Circumstances that has all the characteristics of a secret organization bent on shaping the course of politics or history? It's more than enough to keep me reading on...
( )
2 vote SpaceandSorcery | Dec 25, 2018 |
The Player of Games is a hard book to get into at first, but about a third way in it did become interesting. I read this book for A Year of Books, which it did not make sense to me to pick a book that is 2nd in a series, I guess they kind of stand on their own, but at first it really is like wtf is going on. It’s a whole made up world and I had no clue what I was reading until a good while into the book. With that said, once I got the feel for it, the book was much better. It’s a story about a futuristic socialist society so the civilians and drones have time to do whatever they please, the main character Gurgeh plays games. Thankfully the book does not go too in-depth of what these games are or the moves, that would be boring as hell. He is blackmailed to compete at an Empire that is not part of Culture. While doing so it compares their society to Culture and explains how important the game is to the Empire of Azad. Then the plot gets old, so many times can the author vaguely explain the game going on before it gets boring, yes you want to find out who will win and how the Empire will react if the alien wins, but it does at an annoying pace towards the end. An overall decent book that kept me interested, but not something I would read again or want to continue the series.

I am bowing out of the A Year of Books bookclub/challenge. Some books have been really great and I am glad to have read them, because I wouldn’t of otherwise. However, too many of them have been dull, some I’ve had to skim through because there was absolutely no interest in them. While most fall in the not good, not great category, that’s not good enough. They are interesting and informative, but it ends up feeling like work to get through the book and I have too many books in my to be read pile to add new books and read immediately that end up just being okay. I might come back to it, especially if I feel I am in a reading slump, or want to read something I wouldn’t pick, but maybe (probably) not. ( )
  wellreadcatlady | Oct 4, 2018 |
Omg yes. More, please. ( )
  _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
Masterpiece of SciFi, alien and human at the same time. The character development is subtle but constant so that when the curtain is pulled back at the end things make sense and you don't feel cheated.

Like all Banks novels there are the cheap secondary character deaths that feel like they should have more impact story wise and for the main characters. ( )
  bhutton | Jul 24, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kenny, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For James S Brown, who once said 'Azshashoshz.'
First words
This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game.
Does Gurgeh really understand what he's done, and what might happen to him? Has it even begun to occur to him that he might have been tricked? And does he really know what he's let himself in for?

Of Course not!

That's part of the fun!
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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Haiku summary
Azad Empire

A game that is not a game

Careful how you play


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316005401, Paperback)

In The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks presents a distant future that could almost be called the end of history. Humanity has filled the galaxy, and thanks to ultra-high technology everyone has everything they want, no one gets sick, and no one dies. It's a playground society of sports, stellar cruises, parties, and festivals. Jernau Gurgeh, a famed master game player, is looking for something more and finds it when he's invited to a game tournament at a small alien empire. Abruptly Banks veers into different territory. The Empire of Azad is exotic, sensual, and vibrant. It has space battle cruisers, a glowing court--all the stuff of good old science fiction--which appears old-fashioned in contrast to Gurgeh's home. At first it's a relief, but further exploration reveals the empire to be depraved and terrifically unjust. Its defects are gross exaggerations of our own, yet they indict us all the same. Clearly Banks is interested in the idea of a future where everyone can be mature and happy. Yet it's interesting to note that in order to give us this compelling adventure story, he has to return to a more traditional setting. Thoughtful science fiction readers will appreciate the cultural comparisons, and fans of big ideas and action will also be rewarded. --Brooks Peck

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:45 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the human-machine symbiotic society called The Culture, there have been many great game players. One, Gurgeh, is a master of every board, computer, and strategy. He travels to the Empire of Azad to try its game, one so complex and like life itself, that the winner becomes emperer. With this game, he takes on the challenge of his life, and possibly his death.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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