Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Mini-Review: The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
A few months
ago I was very saddened by the announcement that Iain Banks had terminal cancer
and was only expected to live a few short months in the best case scenario. At
that time I had only read a short story or two of his and not any of his
novels, though I had copies of several and have been meaning to for many years.
Of course I reacted to the news by finally choosing to read one of his novels.
Since that time Iain Banks has passed on and now that I have finally read one
of his books I can more fully appreciate the magnitude of his loss to the SFF
I wanted to
read one of the books from his Culture series, which is less of series and more
of a setting in which a lot of stand-alone, space-opera style books are set.
And there is a good bit of dissention on which book is best to start with – Consider Phlebas (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), the first one he wrote, The Player of Games (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), or Use of Weapons (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). Each has a good case for it, though in the end I chose to
read The Player of Games, as it’s
generally recognized as one of his better books and a good introduction to the
is a large galactic civilization and a human-machine symbiotic society that is so
far advanced is essentially a utopia. Within the Culture there is tradition of
gaming and Gurgeh is one of the best there is (yes, that is one of the most
unfortunate character names I’ve ever come across). The short of it is that
Gurgeh is manipulated by government forces to represent the Culture in the
neighboring Empire of Azad where a complex game forms the pillar of its
The Player of Games is a relatively straight-forward story of Gurgeh’s trip to Azad,
his first contact with their society and his more important journey through a
grand tournament of Azad where the winner emerges as the new Emperor.
Parts of the
book could be read as a condemnation of authoritarian governments, colonialism,
and militarism. And with the gender flexibility of the Culture and the rigid
gender distinctions in Azad, additional gender issues are certainly present.
And while all of these are interesting, the real enjoyment come through simple
story of game play, getting to know Gurgeh and seeing how he changes through
this experience, and enjoying the knowledge that he’s being manipulated from
afar the whole time.
end of the story is expected, and the big surprise will likely not be a
surprise to most readers, however as I’ve indicated above, it’s enjoyment of
the journey that drives this book. Banks makes it all seem effortless, only to
make us miss him even more. So, what’s the best way to honor a SFF writer who
died before his time – read his books of course.