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The Player Of Games (The Culture) by Iain M.…

The Player Of Games (The Culture) (original 1988; edition 1989)

by Iain M. Banks

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,9661401,414 (4.14)1 / 285
Title:The Player Of Games (The Culture)
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (1989), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

Work details

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

  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
    Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (kaydern)
    kaydern: High sci-fi with excellently complex worldbuilding.
  3. 00
    The Gameshouse by Claire North (Cecrow)
  4. 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.
  5. 03
    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (jeroenvandorp)

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English (131)  French (5)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
This could definitely be read as a standalone book, though some background about the Culture helps flesh it out a bit. I very much enjoyed the progression of this through the gamesmanship and twists and turns (some expected, some not) and read through the last fifth of the book in one go through a late night.

I don't think it's "perfect", but it was highly enjoyable following along with the main character as he's built up and torn down and gains understanding and loses himself, all within the context of his own ideals and those of the Minds, and all through game playing. I'm sure this book isn't for everyone, but it seemed to have some similar themes to REAMDE or The Count of Monte Cristo (in some ways). ( )
  Mactastik | Sep 4, 2019 |
It took me awhile to get into, but I ended up really enjoying the story. I love portrayals of AI, and this book had very interesting AI characters, and I even warmed up to the main (pan)human character. ( )
  barrettlucero | Aug 23, 2019 |
THE CULTURE: BOOK 2 | The Player of Games

The story opens in an orthodox 3P omniscient, but a 1P intrusion soon suggests an unreliable narrator (or are there two?). As in Book 1, Banks subverts the standard genre story, with the riddle resolved in the last pages.

Majority of narration follows Gurgeh, the titular Player, and the drone, Flere-Imsaho. A few pages describe circumstances of which neither could be aware, at least at the time.

I read from the 2008 U.S. edition (paperback), no supplements.


The premise feels like an alternative response to a question Banks asked and answered in the first book. Book 1 rejected the SkyNet trope of AI-run societies, suggesting that finding meaning is a more pressing concern for both pan-humans and AI. Book 2 seems to follow up by asking: what might that look like in specific cases? One nuance hinted at was the consequences from individuals lacking efficacy in such a society, given the complexity of social arrangements and the necessity of AI oversight. Both Gurgeh and a drone, Mawhrin-Skel, are presented as case studies.

The plot illustrates that no matter how rare or elite, no mind is exempt from exploitation by Contact and Special Circumstances. This narrative choice suggests the Meaning Conundrum is a Macguffin, and Banks is more interested in how power operates in the Culture. The Culture's ethical code appears practical but limited, in effect relying upon mercenaries to act directly in some situations, and in others (especially involving Culture citizens) seeking a compromise in which the individual chooses to do what is wanted. It's difficult to think Culture operatives couldn't be trained to do what Gurgeh was capable of doing, but SC preferred to find a "real" gamer than to invent one. And yet, Gurgeh was consistently manipulated and misdirected.

One ship plays an important part, but the eccentric ships are not yet on display. (The drones Chamlin and Flere-Imsaho come closest to the trademark personalities in later Culture books.) Banks does survey an expanded inventory of ship classes, though only 1 or 2 feature specifically. Notable is that GSV class supports populations in the billions, much larger than orbitals.

Interstellar space is characterised a bit: travel-time necessary despite warp speed, hints at intraspace and hyperspace linked to a background energy grid, which varies in force dependent upon the distribution of mass in the area. I recall Banks admits in an interview this is all very hand-wavey, his brand is not a particularly hard SF.


SYNOPSIS | Gurgeh grows bored with his success at all manner of games, and is presented with an opportunity to join a game in a hostile empire, one defining much of that society's classes and hierarchies, even selecting its new Emperor. Clearly, the Special Circumstances operatives have plans and interests which they withhold from Gurgeh, yet he accepts the offer. He hopes to both keep separate his competitive play from imperial politics, and outmanoeuvre his Contact handlers. Not even his drone companion, Flere-Imsaho, believes Gurgeh can succeed.

● Gurgeh pokes fun at the Culture name template, though Banks implies greater significance when noting a drone's name indicates it was Contact / SC. [40] The episode demonstrates at least portions of his 1994 culture essays were guiding his writing, even at this early stage.

● At one point in Azad, Gurgeh is the guest of academics curious about how a post-scarcity society such as the Culture would work. There is some querying on the nature of money (the Culture's lack of it), power, and property. Conversation soon devolves into a pervading curiosity over sexual mores and body modifications. [284]

● Torture obsession continues here, as expected, neither particularly gruesome nor notable. Some is connected to the Game, some not (but of course, at some point it's all game). I find this a tiresome aspect of Banksian fiction. ( )
2 vote elenchus | Jun 27, 2019 |
This was interesting and the actual game-related parts were very well done, but I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying. I see why people recommended this to me as a better intro to the Culture than Consider Phlebas as it's shorter and simpler, but I think I still enjoyed that one more. ( )
  tronella | Jun 22, 2019 |
Another good read from Banks, not as action filled as the previous Consider Phlebas but still good. ( )
  phollis68 | Apr 9, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
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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.)
Disambiguation notice
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Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
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)

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.

» see all 7 descriptions

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