The Player of Games

someidiot

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So I recently read "The Player of Games" as I hear lots of good things about Banks, and I like games :) I really wanted to like it... but found it extremely hard to keep reading.

Are his more recent books better/easier to digest or if I didn't like this one, I won't like the others either?
 

pyan

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I'm afraid not - IMHO, The Player of Games is about the most accessible and linear of the Culture novels, the rest being fairly tortuous.

That's just my opinion, of course - others may give you different takes on IMB's work.

Have you tried Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card?
 

someidiot

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I'm afraid not - IMHO, The Player of Games is about the most accessible and linear of the Culture novels, the rest being fairly tortuous.

That's just my opinion, of course - others may give you different takes on IMB's work.

Have you tried Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card?
OK, thanks for the tip :)

Yes, and loved it. Read the rest of the Ender series and they weren't bad either. Didn't get into the Shadow series much, and haven't tried any of his fantasy books.
 

Rodders

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WOW, the Player of Games is my favourite book and i've read it about 10 times now (although not recently, i must admit).

Just out of curiosity, what is it about the book that you don't get on with?
 

Louis Wu

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Player of games is one for the culture crowd.. like Consider Phlebas..
If you are not 'into' that universe then its not for you?
Personally i love the concept
all culture novels are a treat for me.

Wu
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I've finished re-reading Iain M. Banks' The Player Of Games. I thought Banks showed a growing mastery of style in this novel, unlike Consider Phlebas where several sentences in a row were sometimes clotted with clauses and fly-specked with commas. The style is considerably more fluid here and the lyrical streak in Banks's prose is allowed more free rein in describing the various strange settings Jernau Gurgeh, the player of games, moves through as well as the mental states associated with his immersion in his game-playing.

Gurgeh is a master gamer, sent by Special Circumstances, the Culture's espionage wing, to the empire of Azad. Power in Azad is won as the result of an individual's performance in the great game that gives the empire its name. I wonder if there's a nod here to the 'Great Game' between the British and Russian empires for control of central Asia in the 19th century. Banks' depiction of the empire of Azad is obviously a critique of imperialism and it goes beyond simple outrage to portray a society that is built on identifying and destroying innocence at every level. I can't help but read a similar critique of western foreign policy into the Culture's unwillingness to overtly enter into hostlities against a regime that is opposed to everything it stands for, out of deference to the common people of Azad, who would wind up being conscripted against their would-be liberators rather than uniting against their imperial oppressors in such a scenario.

The game of Azad is not shown in any detail; there is no way you can even approximate a description of its rules from the hints Banks lets out. Instead, Banks focuses on the mental rigours and insights Gurgeh has to experience to master the game. Again, this is a fascinating process because of the reactions of Gurgeh, a citizen of a loosely organised, anarchistic society to a rigidly structured and hierarchical society. At some level, Azad is not that different from any of our societies, a point that hits home when we see an Azad city through Gurgeh's eyes, with its crowds, traffic, chaos, sharp divides between privilege and poverty and its architectural patchwork.

The suspense grows to a fever pitch, and it soon becomes clear that Gurgeh is playing for higher stakes than simply to make a decent showing in the game of Azad and help boost the Culture's prestige. There's a memorable final act which works on both the surface level of the story and as a summation of the political and social ideas Banks is playing around with. Banks' mechanical characters continue to be more appealing and engaging than his humans, but otherwise, this is a satisfying novel, thought provoking, exciting and as good on my second read as I recall it being the first time around.

PS: The gender business, while fascinating to me the first time around, does not play a very significant role in anything. Banks' points about the differing role of gender in the egalitarian, sex-changing Culture and Azad could as well have been made with normal number of genders. It would also work better if I felt Banks actually had any intention of engaging with gender in any serious way, which a number of things in this novel and its predecessor argue against. Still, it's a nice little touch of SFnal strangeness.
 

Rodders

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I alwasy felt that there was a subtle subtext regarding the percepption of freedom in this book.

The Empire of Azad was prortayed as a cruel place where the emphasis was on ownership and power was never too far away. The Culture was shown as a direct opposite as a free and permissive society. But, how free can we really be in a society such as the Culture if there are great minds that can play and manipulate us they like?
 

J-WO

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PS: The gender business, while fascinating to me the first time around, does not play a very significant role in anything. Banks' points about the differing role of gender in the egalitarian, sex-changing Culture and Azad could as well have been made with normal number of genders. It would also work better if I felt Banks actually had any intention of engaging with gender in any serious way, which a number of things in this novel and its predecessor argue against. Still, it's a nice little touch of SFnal strangeness.
I think its more than a 'touch'. Its not so much the genders of both socieites but the fluidity (or lack of it) and the perception of gender fluidity, that mirrors the differences between the Culture and Azad. In the Culture, Gender is a choice whereas with Azad its another control. In that respect there's even a flavour of it in that incredible final game.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I alwasy felt that there was a subtle subtext regarding the percepption of freedom in this book.

The Empire of Azad was prortayed as a cruel place where the emphasis was on ownership and power was never too far away. The Culture was shown as a direct opposite as a free and permissive society. But, how free can we really be in a society such as the Culture if there are great minds that can play and manipulate us they like?
Oh yeah, in a way the real player of games here may well have been the drone, the ones who narrates the story. Something tells me blackmailing Jernau may have just been a ruse to trick him into cooperating with Special Circumstances by a drone that had not been rejected by SC at all but was already a covert operative.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I think its more than a 'touch'. Its not so much the genders of both socieites but the fluidity (or lack of it) and the perception of gender fluidity, that mirrors the differences between the Culture and Azad. In the Culture, Gender is a choice whereas with Azad its another control. In that respect there's even a flavour of it in that incredible final game.
Certainly the point being made is about the difference in gender roles and mutability between the cultures; I meant to say that the gender trifurcation in Azad is not intrinsic to this theme.
 

Patrick Mahon

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I'm very excited to have been selected as one of the people to give out 24 copies of 'The Player of Games' to the general public on World Book Night (23 April here in the UK). I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to sell it to people who don't read SF, but I'm sure I'll think of something over the coming weeks...

Suggestions for what sales pitch to use would be very welcome, though! :)
 

Ursa major

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Tell them it's a book about how banks play the casino with our money...



I wrote this about the book in the summer of 2010, which included:
At first, I did not find the main character (whose POV takes up the vast majority of the book) particularly sympathetic. Neither did the theme - the story of someone whose life is dominated by playing games - seem attractive. Unless I was fooling myself, something else must have been pulling me into the book. And pull me it did, and at speed. I found it hard to put the book down. Apart from one short section (where the POV character is taking part on one conversation while listening to another), I've rarely read anything so easy to read.

And as I was drawn in, the characters became more sympathetic (even those with which we weren't really meant to sympathise) and what looked as if it could be a very silly plot blossomed into a really good tale: well plotted with plenty of excitement.
I've highlighted some of the book's plus points.
 

Grunkins

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Just finished the book last night. I thought it was excellent. He doesn't shrink from difficulty in writing either; taking the game of Azad and making it real (within the fiction of course) works conceptually but is really hard to pull off and he did a good job executing it. The image of Flere-Imsaho, when first encountering the empire, humming and buzzing and spinning in the air alone in the corridor in a sort of self effacing protest to his orders was very funny and stuck with me. Also the image of Chamblis (think that's its name) hovering over/sitting on the couch pointedly not noticing the enumerator (fun animal) staring at it wonderingly was a very good one as well. He uses the drones to great personifying effect.

I'm excited to read more of the series.
 

Connavar

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I will try this author with this book since the only time i tried before i struggled with his Consider Phlebas. I dont mind difficult SF writing as long it is interesting story or writing.

It is not a bad place to try to understand his worlds,series ?
 

Vertigo

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Although not his first book written in the Culture series many people do think it is one of the best introductions to it. It was my first Culture book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also it doesn't put quite as much emphasis on the Culture civilisation as others have, which probably also makes it an easier, less info-dumpy introduction.
 

Connavar

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Although not his first book written in the Culture series many people do think it is one of the best introductions to it. It was my first Culture book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also it doesn't put quite as much emphasis on the Culture civilisation as others have, which probably also makes it an easier, less info-dumpy introduction.
Thats why i choosed this book, SF fans i respect like you have praised this book in other threads and i want an easier book to see if i like the author before i try to focus reading his series full time so to speak.

Im not natural fan of Space Operas of the contemporary kind and Brit authors like him seems to be acclaimed for this type of SF book.
 

Nerds_feather

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Although not his first book written in the Culture series many people do think it is one of the best introductions to it. It was my first Culture book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also it doesn't put quite as much emphasis on the Culture civilisation as others have, which probably also makes it an easier, less info-dumpy introduction.
+1

It's way better than Consider Phlebas, and does a far better job of laying out what the Culture is, how it functions and setting up its relations with neighboring societies.
 

Grunkins

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Player of Games is a fine introduction to Banks' Culture series. I am a fan of Consider Phlebas, but I think only the introduction to orbitals is reason to read it over Player for a first book.
 

Nerds_feather

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Player of Games is a fine introduction to Banks' Culture series. I am a fan of Consider Phlebas, but I think only the introduction to orbitals is reason to read it over Player for a first book.
Consider Phlebas is my least favorite Culture novel. Which is to say I liked it, just not as much as the others. Probably makes sense to read it before Excession and Look to Windward, which make reference to the Idiran War, but definitely think The Player of Games is the best place to start for most readers.
 
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