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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to let a game take over your life...
In "The Player Of Games", an immensely powerful but somewhat lazy and hedonistic man-machine society called the Culture plays a game against the much smaller but aggressively militaristic Empire of Azad. The Empire has as one of its key social drivers a hugely complex board game called Azad (which means Life). Successful players of Azad prosper in the Azadian society,...
Published on 14 Mar 2003 by Dr Frazer Anderson

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, yes super dull and unsympathetic
Dull. Super dull. I am not sure why Banks seems to hate his protagonists in The Culture books ( this is my 3rd ). The hugely contrived blackmail to force the dull protagonist into a long journey, a long and boring boring journey, irritated the heck out of me. I persevered for another 100 pages, and found minor characters of no sympathy or depth, whiny bits of metal...
Published 28 days ago by William Donelson


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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to let a game take over your life..., 14 Mar 2003
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
In "The Player Of Games", an immensely powerful but somewhat lazy and hedonistic man-machine society called the Culture plays a game against the much smaller but aggressively militaristic Empire of Azad. The Empire has as one of its key social drivers a hugely complex board game called Azad (which means Life). Successful players of Azad prosper in the Azadian society, winning promotions in the military and civil service. Every few years the society stages a major tournament at which the best Azad player becomes Emperor.
Into this milieu the Culture plays its "piece", a professional game-player called Gurgeh who has spent his entire life playing every sort of game of strategy but would probably hurt himself if he tried to use any kind of weapon. Gurgeh's attempts to compete in the Azad tournament reflect the many contrasts between the two civilisations - and also show up unexpected similarities.
This fine novel can be read in different ways. On one level, it's simply a blast - pacy, exciting, suspenseful widescreen space opera. Read it on a beach and get badly sunburnt. However, there's a lot more depth there if you want it. Banks raises a lot of interesting questions about how we set the rules of our society and how all kinds of play interact with those rules. Are cruelty and ruthlessness taught by game-play - whether in the children's playground or in multiplayer internet shoot-'em-ups - or do people's choice of games tell you about their society? Banks is a known addict of the "Civilization" series of strategy computer games, which many otherwise mild-mannered people play as brutal conquerors and commit acts which in Real Life(TM) would be war crimes. The Culture itself, of course, has gained power and stability at the expense of what one might call "soul". Most people who read this as their first Iain M novel tend to think the Culture sounds great, but on a re-read, or combined with the other novels, there are plenty of problems. The name itself is a sly joke - after all, a "culture" can mean both a human society and bacteria growing on a plate.
Finally, some reviewers have commented that the book's ending seems a little flat after the immersive, sweaty-palms roller-coaster of what comes before; I feel that Banks has perfectly captured the slight feeling of anticlimax when one finishes a particularly intense game of Civilization!
Among Banks' output, this is the easiest of the "Iain M" books to get into and one of the most enjoyable of all his novels. Intelligent, gripping science fiction with a literary edge - warmly recommended.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Player of Games, 24 Feb 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Player of Games (Hardcover)
My first dip into the sea of imagination created by Iain (M) Banks was this inspired story; The Player of Games. This novel not only displays the rich and flavourful society of the Culture it also exposes the way the it treats other societies considered 'inferior' or simply a potential threat to their eutopian-like way of life. Orchastrated by the Contact branch (a sort of special services network in the culture) the Culture sends their best strategest and game player, Jurgen Gurgeh, to the distant Empire of Azad to play in a contest of perhaps the greatest of games, one that forms the very positions one assumes in society, the highest prize: being made Emperor.
The sheer contrast between the Culture and Azadian societies is shown magnificently; where the Culture is open on all fronts we quickly see that, although the rise to power in the Azad system forms a seemingly stable Empire, underneath its glossy surface unimaginable and speakable acts are commited.
This intelligent and fast novel will have you racing to the next page, its sci-fi technology driven worlds, though deeply imaginative and original, will not leave you floundering in doubt. This is an extremely enjoyable read that despite its setting opens your eyes to how life actually is in OUR world, and how Societies today behave towards those seen as a threat.
If you are new to the Culture novels this eases you in with the expert edge only Banks possesses...
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Layers of Games, 4 July 2006
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
Shifting between lives that mirror games, games that control lives, with confusion between reality, gameplay, and subterfuge, The Player of Games is a truly splendid novel. The story expands (along with Gurgeh's horizons) as homely Chiark is left far behind en route to play the Game, but the full stream of the narrative (and Banks' frankly mind-boggling imagination) really switches on when he reaches Azad.

A fantastic and deeply realised, well-characterised story. Beats me what the negative reviewers have been reading.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to like this book..., 31 Jan 2007
By 
William K. James "will_wiggle" (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
This is not a book for purists (Iain Banks or Sci Fi). This is the most Culture-d(imho) of Banks' books. All the amusing ship names and foul mouthed witty droids are here, plus excellent alien races and sly and not so sly reference to modern popular culture. There are some great themes about boredom, cheating, redemption and the glory of untamed cultures with primaeval urges and how attractive that can be. The Culture does not come out of this one unscathed; but the rationale for its power and success is evident.

Banks continues a theme started in Consider Phlebas about the importance of games in a society where much of the danger, and therefore excitement has been diluted by obsessive and overbearing technology - people cannot even die decently and eventually get bored and order themselves to be destroyed; it seems that immortality will eventually suck.

The visceral thrill that the protagonist feels when he realises that his entire reputation is on the line because he has cheated is relevant to how we currently live today, fairly insulated from excitement or having hygiencally cleansed experiences like bungy jumping to try and reconnect with our limbic system and some more basic pleasures like, fear, lust and anger.

If you like the Culture element of Banks' books then this is the one to read and if you like a bit of redemption and thoughtfullness then go for it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding scope and imagination, entertaining, disturbing., 25 May 2003
By 
D. M. York (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
Picture a society so unimaginally advanced that the last common preoccupation of its inhabitants resides in hedonism. Thus is the world of the Culture, and for those who have read Banks's Culture novels the idea of the cultural hedonism is something that is always touched upon but never explored fully.
Player of Games submerges itself in the society of the Game Players, those whose soul occupation is to play games to the best of their abilities, formulating new strategies, quite akin to champion chess players. Though the story follows the transition between different cultures, as accepting a challenge a renown game player travels to a distant empire ruled by a game, an empire inconceivably corrupted and immoral.
Player of Games is complicated, but not so complicated as to hinder reading it. I have found Player of Games to be entertaining, splendidly descriptive and in places quite unsettling. The mark of a good book is that you are sad when you have finished reading it. I was sad when I finished this wonderful novel.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "No-one ***** with the Culture...", 7 April 2006
By 
L. Davidson (Belfast, N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
"The Player of Games" is an exquisitely constructed piece of science-fiction and it is one of the best novels that I have read for some time. Iain M Banks creates a detailed and entirely credible future world populated with a wide range of interesting and intriguing characters. The standard of writing is exceptionally high ,as one would expect from this author, with life on the Chiark Orbital and the Fire Planet Echronedal being portrayed particularly vividly. "The Player of Games" is set against the backdrop of an engagement between the Culture and a newly discovered Empire called the Azad, whose power structure is based around success in an elaborate game of the same name. Chiark Orbital resident and expert games player ,Jernat Gurgeh, is asked by Culture S.C. to participate in the game as a representative of the Culture at the behest of the Azadian Emperor. As the game progresses, Gurgeh finds out that success at this game comes at a much higher price than he could ever have imagined. While the storyline is entertaining and absorbing , the best part of the novel is the backdrop of the clash of values and attitudes between the cruel and aggressive inhabitants of the Azad and the hedonistic, hi-tech cunning of the Culture, which like all of the best science fiction novels mirrors events and conflicts on Earth. The drones ,Mawhrin-Skel and Flere-Imsaho, are wonderful creations as is the talented ,phlegmatic games player , Gurgeh. The book is perfectly paced and builds up steadily, culminating in an exciting finale with a surprising little twist at the end. I would recommend "The Player of Games" not only to science fiction fans , but to mainstream novel readers as well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks' greatest Culture yarn so far....., 23 Feb 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
As any reader of Banks' science fiction knows, the Culture is a sprawling proto-Communist superpower of genetically-modified humanoids and hyper-intelligent sentient machines. This book portrays the Culture at its best and worst, from the idealistic paradise that comes with being a part of the Culture, to the utterly insidious and Machiavellian way that it manipulates other interstellar empires. A gem of a book, with some of Banks' most engaging characters so far.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful imagery, 30 Nov 2002
By 
Eolake "eolake (.com)" (Lancashire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
Is one of Banks' books taking place in the Culture, a semi-galactic empire. The Culture is very advanced, very powerful, and very benevolent, which is unusual in (SF) literature. It is indeed, according to Banks, the driving force in the whole series, and I love him for it.
To put some suspence in the books, most of the stories take place on the edge of the Culture, literally and ethically, in the Special Circumstances division of Contact, the part of the Culture that deal with the new civilizations they meet as they expand into the Galaxy.
Here murder and intrigue can be necesary for the greater good.
The Player of Games is not the most action-filled of the Culture books (that would be Consider Phlebas), but it is my favorite, perhaps.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iain Banks' best 'culture' novel ever, 14 May 2008
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
This book is rich and immensely satisfying. It's like the perfect cup of coffee. If it was a song, it would be called Norwegian Wood. If it were a stranger it would be the most steamingly erotic person you can imagine seducing you. If it were a drink it would be called a pan-galactic gargle blaster. If it were a drug, it would illegal.

Read it before you die
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern Classic, 27 Jan 2005
This review is from: The Player Of Games (The Culture) (Paperback)
"Player of Games" remains to this day My favourite Iain M Banks, and possibly my favourite novel of all time. Unlike many of Banks' techno offerings (ie. "Consider Phlebas", and more recently "The Algebraist") it contains a completely fluid narrative with beginning, middle and end. It is a master class in the art of story telling, and to date is the only novel that I have rated with 5 stars.
Gurgeh's journey into the treacherous unknown is paralleled by his mental voyage of understanding. It is essentially a story about one man who appears to have attained his life's goals in the opening chapter. Set within the protective utopia that is the Culture: superficially an idyllic existance where death is impossible and the child-like hedonistic naivette of the Culture's citizens is preserved at all costs.
On the outside, Gurgeh appears to have everything. On the inside he detests the utopian prison and the perfect society that restrains him. He courts death to experience the rush of danger denied him by the overwhelming power of the Nanny state in which he lives. He cheats the system in a time where the very concept of cheating or lying had been made redundant centuries before. He seeks a return to the barbarism of olden days, a concept that is almost wholly absent from the molly-coddled heads of his contemporarys...
What Gurgeh gets from the Culture is a shocking eye-opener that uncovers the bestial, disgusting reality of human (and sub-human) nature. As the layers of protection offered by the Culture are peeled back one at a time, Gurgeh is brutally indulged in his dangerous fantasy and thrust into the real dystopian existance beyond the Culture's walls.
As ever, Banks' interplay between the animal and android remains fascinating and throws up a beautifully crafted twist at the end. The over-riding feeling throughout the novel is of an ever-increasing understanding of the limitless power of The Culture whose Big Brother status lurks beyond the immediate narrative like a hulking shadow. Who is The Player of Games? Gurgeh thinks it is him, but as both Gurgeh and the reader come to appreciate the scale of the game being played, it becomes obvious that we are both more pawn than player.
I would suggest that the education of any Sci-Fi lover is incomplete without reading this book, it is a perfect work of fiction and in my opinion has not been bested by Banks himself, or any other SF writer since.
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The Player Of Games (The Culture)
The Player Of Games (The Culture) by Iain M. Banks (Paperback - 10 Aug 1989)
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