Saturday, May 11, 2013
The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
Description: 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 his death. (From the back cover)
Review: This is technically the second book of the Culture series, but it was recommended to me as a good introduction to the Culture. Having read a second book in the series, I'll probably agree with that assessment, but I did get a better understanding of certain things when they were described from an outsider's perspective in Use of Weapons.
The story itself is pretty good, however I felt the setup hinged a bit too strongly on the assumption that the main character would act a certain way, when tempted in a certain way.
There are also introductory bits at the beginning of the first three chapters, and an explanation at the end of the last chapter, by another character, which I felt were unnecessary. While it wasn't revealed who these were by until the end, I had no trouble working it out who it was, and they didn't seem to add anything that couldn't have been worked into the story in a far less distracting manner.
Then there's the chapters. For some reason there's only four of them. Chapter two is almost half the length of the book. While there are scene breaks, I found it awkward to find good stopping points while reading. I certainly can't see any obvious reason chapter two couldn't have been split between Gurgeh's journey to Azad and the rest of the chapter. It still would have resulted in a long chapter, but it wouldn't have been quite as bad.
The last thing I really had a problem with, was the planet that the final matches took place on. The ecology of the planet rather strains credulity. It sounds really neat, but it never sounds plausible.
If you're interested in Banks' science fiction works, this is probably a good starting place. The flaws aren't painful in the way Feersum Enjinn's are, and its part of the series that makes up a good portion of his SF work.