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The Player of Games (Culture) Paperback – March 26, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 319 customer reviews
Book 2 of 10 in the Culture Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The Culture's greatest game player travels to the Empire of Azad to participate in a complex competition that could settle the fates of two civilizations. Theauthor of Consider Phlebas vividlyportrays an empire ruled by arcane conventions and sophisticated brutality in an ambitious novel of gamesmanship and intrigue. Supple prose and subtle manipulations of plot produce a thought-provoking story which is highly recommended.-- JC
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Culture (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; Reprint edition (March 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316005401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316005401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (319 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Battaglia on November 9, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I believe this was the second Culture novel (Banks' future history series, for those unfortunates who haven't read this series yet) and about as far from Consider Pheblas as can be. While that book was a grand space opera, taking place right in the middle of a war, featuring a lead character fighting against the culture, this novel is a lot more scaled down. But it's probably better than Consider Pheblas, if only because the mood isn't so downbeat, Banks can be morbidly witty most times but sometimes he goes too far and becomes downright depressing. So, here we have Guergh, probably the greatest game player in the Culture . . . he finds that games really don't hold any excitement for him anymore, and everything in the Culture easy to get (even sex changes!), there's no challenge elsewhere either. Until Contact invites him to go on a mission to a civilization based completely about games. He goes for it and winds up on a place so different from the Culture it might as well be barbaric. From there plots and counterplots start spinning, though this book is delightfully straightforward for the most part, but things are spinning around so fast that you can barely keep your breath. He gets the details right on everything and manages to generate excitement from the series of games that Guergh has to play without going into lengthy details of the rules. The climax is about as surprising as they come, as Guergh gets farther in the games and the stakes get higher as the civilization tries to stop this "outworlder" from making them look like a bunch of idiots. Probably the first SF book you should pick from Banks, both for its relative simplicity (compared to the others) and general lightheartedness. It's not all fun and games but the mood is generally witty and swift. One of those few books you really can't go wrong with if you want a good read.
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Format: Paperback
The Culture is a galaxy-wide civilization, so far advanced that it has solved most problems that afflict humanity. The great concerns of our time are all resolved. No longer planet-bound, no longer concerned with meeting needs; the Culture is a utopian, decadent paradise. A mix of wildly evolved humans and super-intelligent machines, including intelligent spaceships, it is very nearly all-powerful and omniscient.

But there are still parts of the galaxy, or at least parts of the Magellanic Clouds, where the Culture has not yet gained influence. Those parts of the Galaxy are the business of Contact, the part of the very loose government of the Culture that deals with alien civilizations. And in the difficult cases, Special Circumstances steps in to solve the problem. "Special Circumstances," like most names in Banks' books, is a euphemism: "Special Circumstances" isn't bound by the legal, moral or cultural constraints that bind the rest of the Culture.

Gurgeh, the protagonist, is recruited, perhaps blackmailed, by Special Circumstances to help Contact with an awkwardly difficult alien culture. The Azadians present a space-faring civilization, less advanced than the Culture but still powerful, whose entire ethos is based on The Game. Social position, military rank, governmental power, wealth; all of Azad is based on one's performance in The Game. Gurgeh is one of the Culture's best games players. Special Circumstances sends Gurgeh to Azad to compete in The Game.

At one level, Banks is writing about the effect of an advanced culture on a less advanced one. At another, he is having fun with a traditional space opera culture that is in contact with his more subtle and sophisticated one. At another, he is poking fun at traditional SF authors.
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Format: Paperback
I say "near perfect" because as those who've read a lot of Ian Banks know, Banks is somewhat obsessed with cruelty and torture and this book has its fair share. At least here, however, it forms a logical and integral part of the book unlike Banks' Consider Phlebas, where it's so gratuitous and specific that it's really disturbing, and it doesn't form a huge part of the book like it does in The Wasp Factory, which I couldn't finish because of it.
The above aside, the story is compelling, the writing superb, and the author's premise intelligent without being condescending or dense. Banks has created a version of Utopia, called the Culture, and thought it through quite well. Ownership and status have been eliminated, there's plenty of space, there's equality (even sentient machines share the same status as humans), people can internally create whatever drugs/state of mind they need/want and even select their gender, and people are happy and engaged. So when Jernau Gergeh, a professional game player, is recruited to play the game of Azad in the far-distant empire of Azad, he is reluctant to leave his home for the five years the game will take. But Gurgeh does leave, and Azad turns out to be a civilization much more like our own than that of the Culture. Azad is hierarchical, crowded and violent, and status is everything.
One of the interesting things that Banks has done is to make us recognize ourselves in the empire of Azad, while still finding ways to make the Azadians different than the alien races one so often finds in mediocre science fiction writing. For one thing, the Azadians have three genders. Banks also focuses on the difference between the languages of the Culture and the empire, and how language may shape thought.
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