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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.
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction
The Player of Games belongs to my fiance. He has a HUGE sci-fi collection, so every now and again when I am in the mood for it, I have a great selection of science fiction to choose from. The Player of Games came highly recommended so I thought I would give it a go.
This novel follows Gurgeh, a brilliant Game Player who spends his days, you guessed it, playing games. He lives in The Culture, a utopian society of leisure where no one has to work, where humans and artificial intelligence live happily side by side, losing a limb isn't an issue as it can be grown back and people can change sex as they choose.
Those who live in The Culture can also choose to have drug glands, which allows the person to control their hormonal levels and release other chemicals as desired. This can range from sexual stimulants, relaxants, mind-altering substances and sensory enhancers. Game Players are allowed to use their drug glands as they see fit.
Basically this is a society where people can live their lives as they wish. Perfect. Gurgeh, however, is bored with his life. He is an excellent Game Player, he always wins and there is no challenge anymore. So when a game goes wrong, he jumps at the chance to travel to The Empire of Azad, where a game (also called Azad) is played.
Azad is a game unlike any Gurgeh has seen before. It is a huge game, in both size and length of play, used to determine the social and political rank of Azad's inhabitants. The winner of the ultimate game is made emperor.
Gurgeh is nervous at first as many of the Azad game players have been learning the game for many years, but he surprises everyone, himself included, when he does well at the game. A little too well for the liking of those in power.
Soon Gurgeh finds himself fighting to not only win the game, but for his life as the true nature of the game and the society of Azad is revealed.
What did I think?
I had read one Iain Banks novel previously, called The Wasp Factory. That novel was more of a work of Gothic fiction, which is obviously quite different to a science fiction novel. So I went into this book without any real expectations and because of that, I enjoyed it.
The Culture is an interesting society and I liked learning about it. I always enjoy reading about worlds that an author has created. So much goes into them and that really should be commended. It takes talent to write a novel, but it takes an even greater talent to create a whole new world or universe and write about it across many novels. This is exactly what Banks has done.
I also enjoyed the game play in this novel. I love to play board games myself, so it was an interesting concept that a man spends his life playing games. The premise is was original and well thought out, which made for a great read.
The depravity and horror seething under the society of Azad was also interesting... a good reminder things are never what they seem.
I would recommend this novel for anyone who likes science fiction and playing games. It really is a fun, interesting and original read.
Have you read anything by Iain M. Banks? Which novels would you recommend?