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The Player of Games (1988)

by Iain M. Banks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Culture (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,3071911,479 (4.15)1 / 320
Fiction. Science Fiction. 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 h… (more)
  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. 20
    Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (kaydern)
    kaydern: High sci-fi with excellently complex worldbuilding.
  3. 10
    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. 00
    The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick (Cecrow)
  6. 13
    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (jeroenvandorp)

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» See also 320 mentions

English (181)  French (5)  Spanish (2)  Italian (2)  Finnish (1)  All languages (191)
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
Good book, depressing although maybe not on the same scale as the 1st in the series, great descriptions of the culture and the empire, the writing about the game got a bit too flowery and over the top for me sometimes and the depressing stuff made me mad even though that sounds stupid but it was good.

Major ending spoilers: Someone spends the whole book doing stuff and then at the end it turns out he was manipulated all along, then in the very end it turns out the manipulation goes even further than you thought, that it'd been an even longer set up. It's weirdly depressing - I can deal with "some people try and do stuff and fail because everything is bigger than them" even if it's horrible but there's something about the being manipulated to succeed thing that's worse. To a certain extent I'd expected something like the ending but it was still unpleasant to actually read. And of course it all fits in with the theme of game playing - the biggest game players are the Minds in Contact etc

Also the empire feels like a blatant capitalist analogue and the whole thing pretty anti-capitalist, admittedly pretty weirdly at times. Pretty minor spoiler: The comment at the estate where the college head says how they appreciate the music more for knowing the cost of the instruments it's played on and then listing the actual murderous stuff that was done to make them struck me as really blatantly about capitalism - I mean we often talk about the cost of things and conspicuous consumption is such a big thing by rich people, we just don't take it as far as listing the actual human cost of the things. lifting the veil of the commodity fetish or something whatever.

Another ending spoiler plus a question: At the very end of the book the identity of the drone that accompanied the main character through the empire is revealed to be the same as a drone in the early part of the book. OK, fine. But I was thinking and I felt there's either 2 possibilities: it was true that the drone had been stopped from joining Special Circumstances and was admitted when the main character asked it to be or it was false and the drone had been acting on special orders while on the orbital in order to make the main character do what they wanted him to. Either leaves open the question of why the drone's old casing was apparently left on the orbital to be found years later - the first leaves open the question of why on earth the drone was taken back, the second leaves open the question of why the records of acceptances of people or drones into special circumstances are open at all, if they're apparently willing to fiddle with them like that. The second is the only one that makes sense to me and it's pretty heavily implied - the first doesn't fit with what we're told about these acceptance boards and doesn't fit the wider theme of game playing. But although the second was my immediate assumption and I'm like 99% sure that's what happened, it still felt kind of hollow. I mean, the leaving of the drone case almost suggests they wanted to be found out, because there's no other reason to have left it - yet they're so good at keeping secrets otherwise, it seems like a huge oversight and a completely pointless one. One of the things that made the whole thing kind of a bitter ending to me is both this and the glee with which he describes the main character's apparent death after the narrative - given that nothing is discussed of the Culture's attitude to death, for the drone to suddenly describe him being displaced into the Sun with no explanation is absolutely bizarre and feels kind of insulting. This was so confusing that I actually had to check the Wikipedia page on the Culture about death, accidentally spoiling myself but not getting any more enlightened. The drone, despite apparently being the narrator, doesn't say anything else about what happened or their own feelings. Which makes sense, in a way, but is frustrating. It just feels like a very weird one page ending tacked on as a sort of private joke. I don't know. Just... weird. ( )
  tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
Incredibly imaginitive and thought provoking despite brief moments of heavy-handedness. I will definitely read more by Banks. ( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
Jernau Morat Gurgeh is a master “Player of Games.” In fact, he is so masterful, that he is becoming jaded and cynical. His success allows him to live an idyllic existence surrounded by friends and admirers. Like a mountain climber who has crested Everest, what’s left? Cue a series of events that will lead him to a hidden empire – The Empire of Azad. This entire culture is built around a game – a game so complex that the winner becomes the emperor.

I greatly enjoyed this novel mostly due to its fresh, unique storyline. I guess the only thing that comes close in my reading history was “Ender’s Game.” You can feel the clarity of plot that Banks had in his mind when he wrote this and that makes it an accessible and engrossing tale. In addition, the Culture universe is complex and sophisticated, filled with cool space megastructure, amazing ships, and interesting AI self-aware minds and drones. This is my second read in the Culture universe and it’s a fun place to explore.

As to downsides, my primary disappointment was with the Empire of Azad itself. I liked the ambiguity of ‘Consider Phlebas,’ where it was often difficult to determine who to root for. In that tale the main character saw flaws in both the Idirans and the Culture and that led to subtleties and a realistic texture. In this book, while there are still flaws in the Culture’s approach, once the underbelly of the Empire of Azad is revealed, there is no longer any doubt of who to favor and that weakens that plot in my opinion. At that moment, you know how the book must end. I also felt like Gurgeh accepted some plot points way too easily, which went against his earlier-established character and values. Unfortunately, I can’t explain this deeply without revealing spoilers. None of this ruined the novel, but ultimately, it lessened the ending greatly in my opinion.

Four puzzle-pieced stars for this wildly imaginative, energetically paced, and intellectually constructed space opera entry into the Culture universe. You’ll want to break out your Risk Shadow Forces board game (or any sci-fi related strategy game) after you’ve read the last word. ( )
  Kevin_A_Kuhn | Aug 6, 2023 |
I really enjoyed this book. In an unusual move, I picked this up not that long after putting down the first book in the Culture series halfway through. I had enjoyed the half of the book I'd read, but then I suddenly realised I really didn't care about the main character at all and couldn't be bothered reading another page. The Player of Games doesn't suffer from that same flaw. I found the plot far more compelling and the main character far more engaging.

It is very well written for science fiction, with clear prose that seems well thought out. There isn't a big emphasis on style, but it's very effective storytelling. The author does a great job of always having something moving the story along, whether it's big picture ideas or a character's own struggles. I loved that the protagonist, Jeurat Gurgeh (spelling?), is really well grounded and we are given a good reason to care about him from the very beginning. I can see how it might be difficult to make readers care about anything in the post-scarcity world of the Culture, but Banks manages to really make all of the events mean something.

I could have done without the really gratuitous violence and sex, and I feel like the moral failings of the Azad Empire would have been more powerful if they had been closer to those on Earth, but they didn't detract from the experience. I loved Banks' lack of judgement in relation to sex and gender in the rest of the book, it was really just the pornography, sexual violence and exploitation that felt over the top to me.

It appears this is the best of the Culture series, so I won't be rushing back to read another one, but when the time is right, I'll definitely be returning to this fascinating and engaging reality. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
Excellent, friendly science fiction. Not one of those books where the science or the world-building is the center of it all, although those aspects are fascinating. I enjoyed it very much. ( )
  grahzny | Jul 17, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benini, MilenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome 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)

Fiction. Science Fiction. 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 h

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Book description
Haiku summary
Azad Empire

A game that is not a game

Careful how you play


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