My third Culture
book, a series of epic space opera about a post-scarcity human society in the far future. If you are not familiar with this series you may want to read this Wikipedia entry
first and come back (or not, as you prefer). I love [b:Consider Phlebas|8935689|Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327951890s/8935689.jpg|14366] but I followed that up with fan favorite [b:Use of Weapons|12007|Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388530572s/12007.jpg|1494156] and it nearly put me off the entire series. I don't want to go into why I do not like that book, if you are curious you can always find my review. Still, I love Consider Phlebas so much Use of Weapons could not completely eradicate the goodwill I still have for Mr. Banks and the Culture series. The Player of Games then is the book that will make or break the rest of series for me.
Make it is.
The Player of Games is complex, intelligent yet easy enough to follow, none of that mucking about with multiple timelines or switching to and fro between "the present" and flashbacks in some weird reverse order sequence. The story simply revolves around a single protagonist Jernau Gurgeh, possibly The Culture's greatest games players. That is saying something given how important games are to the indolent citizens of The Culture who are supplied with every material thing they can possibly want. Gurgeh is approached by the "Special Circumstances", the Culture's secret service / black ops type organisation to take part in an "Azad" game tournament at The Azad Empire, a rival civilization just a few light years away. This game is so important that it is the cornerstone of The Azad Empire. The winner is elevated to the Emperor status. As to why the Special Circumstances want Gurgeh to take part in this tournament you will have to find out for yourself by reading the book. You can thank me later.
The most fascinating feature of this book for me is the Azad game, it seems like a hyper-chess game with various card games and philosophy thrown in. Its is so complex it makes Quidditch look like Snakes & Ladders. Though the author does not describe the game in so much detail that it would be playable if you had the mega-board, the pieces, the cards and other things to hand, the description is done so well that you can imagine such a game existing. As with the other Culture books I have read Banks has populated the novel with quite a few well developed characters, though most of them tend to be AI or wee robots ("droids"). The central character Jernau Gurgeh is complex and interesting though not particularly likable, a typical trait of Banks' protagonists it seems. Still, at least he is not a tough-as-nails anti-hero, which is getting a bit old for me, his extreme focus and obsession makes him quite vivid. I also love the humorous moments interspersed throughout the book, these are mainly based around an indignant droid in a clunky disguise. The grand finale which takes place on a planet regularly burned by a perpetual wave of fire is wonderfully exciting though little plot twist at the end is not particularly surprising. Iain Banks' prose style is as literary as ever and is a pleasure to read.
This book has made me re-commit myself to reading The Culture series, I look forward to reading many more volumes.