Review of The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

18630Title: The Player of Games (Culture #2)

Author: Iain M. Banks

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Paperback

Where I Received the Title: Library


When Iain Banks died a few months ago, I decided I needed to give him another try. I had a false start a few years back with Consider Phlebas, but had read that his second and third culture novels were much more approachable. My only regret is that I didn’t give Banks a better shot years ago.

The Player of Games epitomizes everything I love about science fiction. In this novel, Banks has created a vast universe, filled with so many tropes and ideas. There are AI drones, human biological modifications, other worlds with vastly different cultures, and a game that has stakes much higher than life or death.

Jernau Gurgeh is the player of games, who has achieved fame for his skill at annihilating his opponents at any strategic game placed before him. He is drawn into the Empire of Azad, where game playing puts kings on thrones and makes eunuchs of brave men. Here he faces opponents much stronger than he has ever faced in a game that is so complex it takes many a lifetime to learn.

Gurgeh’s game-playing ego is soon quenched after he is nearly knocked from the tournament in the first round and he later dances with elimination when facing a formidable opponent who is neither male nor female, but a gender that is culturally considered superior. Gurgeh is literally willing to risk his manhood to win at this game and forsakes luxurious bribes to make it to the top.

While the plot may seem simplistic, there are many political machinations and technological ideas that kept my interest piqued throughout the novel. The characters are also interesting, the pacing is quick, and the prose is intelligent. I love the culture banks has set up  and am very curious to continue the series. It really is a shame I hadn’t done so earlier.

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