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.
©1988 Iain M. Banks (P)2010 Hachette Digital
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
I thoroughly enjoyed, Peter Kenny's rendition of Iain M. Banks' "The Player of Games." Kenny's interpretation, especially his unbelievable mimicking of different drone-like voices, brought the book to life.
"Consider Phlebas," the first Culture novel where man and machine lives in a symbiotic relationship, is in my view, only an introduction to the background aspects necessary to understand this book.
The main character, Gergey, an over comfortable citizen of the Culture, is given a chance to get his cage rattled by playing the game of his life! But like the mysterious narrator tells you in the beginning, it is a story about a battle that was not a battle and a game that turned out not to be a game.
While going with Gergey on this "rollercoaster ride," experiencing how he comes to life, experience emotions he has never felt before, something at the back of the listener's mind keeps on gnawing at you, "Who is this mysterious narrator?" The book plays its own game with you, the question is, will you win or it.
This book comes highly recommended.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
In Iain M. Banks' second Culture novel, The Player of Games (1988), a playful narrator tells the story of Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a jaded 60-year old master game player living in the Culture, a vast interstellar civilization that appears to be something of a utopia. If anything can be said to run such a sprawling and creatively anarchic civilization that solved interstellar travel over 11,000 years ago, the Culture is run by its AI "Minds," spaceships that give themselves clever names like Cargo Cult, Little Rascal, So Much for Subtlety, Of Course I Still Love You, Kiss My Ass, and Just Read the Instructions, and range from modest military models to vast habitats accommodating billions of people. Thanks to the Minds and to the Culture's advanced technology and virtually unlimited access to resources, every humanoid or sentient drone living on one of its many worlds, orbitals, or ships can get or make or do or be anything he or she wants, there is no poverty, disease, money, blackmail, crime, or sexual or racial discrimination, people can change genders and safely "gland" (manufacture at will within their own bodies) any drug as often as they like, fatal accidents are rare, life-spans are long (people in their thirties seem like "toddlers" to people in their 100s), information is mostly free, and everyone is theoretically safe and fulfilled.
The problem, then, for Gurgeh is that he is probably the best games player in the Culture, which, when added to the safety and comfort of his milieu, has led to his having become disaffected by games (and life) played without stakes other than prestige. Sure he cares about that and feels that winning is better than sex or any "glanding," but really, according to Chamlis, a 4,000+ year old drone friend of the family, Gurgeh is at heart a gambler, and "a true gambler needs threat of real loss and danger to feel alive." Thus when Chamlis says that the best Minds of the Culture are in Contact, where they tend to operate like gamblers while seeking out and dealing with new civilizations, Gurgeh perks up a bit.
And the main movement of the novel depicts Gurgeh's five-year Contact mission to master a game called Azad as he travels to a far off Empire called Azad to play. The Empire is an interstellar one founded upon obsolete things like exploitation, ownership, domination, competition, military might, media control, sexual discrimination, and basically everything the Culture opposes. And Azad the game is what holds it all together. The game is a complex affair played for weeks if not months with vast, multiple boards consisting of varied types of terrain, partially sentient pieces with minds of their own, resource and other cards, and complex rules and strategies that most Azadians spend their whole lives learning. The Azadians are also wont to wager on the game mutilation and incarceration and such. For the Azadians the game replicates the complexity of reality and is thus the means by which they earn the right to hold high government offices (including emperor). Will Gurgeh be able to learn the game well enough to compete with the locals? And how will playing the game affect his nature as a member of the Culture? And if he does somehow manage to do well, how will the xenophobic Azadians accept it? For that matter, does the Culture want him to fail or succeed? Banks never quite explains the rules in detail, but does depict Gurgeh researching the game, practicing with his Contact spaceship, and eventually playing against Azadian opponents in momentum changing, surprising, and gripping ways.
As in all his Culture novels, here Banks displays a fertile imagination, reveling in creating awesome things like the Fire World, a planet on which an entire ecosystem has evolved around a vast field of fire that traverses the world once a month. As in all his Culture novels, here Banks explores interesting ideas like the ways in which games and languages reflect culture and reality and change your mindset, etc., and the relative values of societies based on competition or cooperation, and so on. Banks is quite good at doing what the best sf does: using fantastic technology and environments and civilizations etc. to explore the way we live right now. He uses the tri-gendered Azad culture, with all its sexual bias, to make us think about our own bi-gendered cultures, and he uses the Culture to make us think about our own competition-driven, success-oriented, resource-wasting, environment-polluting, poverty-exacerbating cultures.
And Banks does all that with a clean, cool prose. A millennia-old drone floats up an elevator shaft instead of using the elevator car with a "geriatric precosity." Gurgeh experiences culture-shock "as though the city, the planet, the whole Empire swirled around him in a frantic spinning tangle of nightmare shapes; a constellation of suffering and anguish, an infernal dance of agony and mutilation." The Emperor absorbs some bad news "At the top of the high tower . . . seemingly locked into the stone like a pale statue or a small tree born of an errant seed. The wind from the east freshened, tugging at the stationary figure's dark clothes and howling around the dark bright castle, tearing at the canopy of swaying cinderbuds with a noise like the sea."
Audiobook reader Peter Kenny does a fine job. I especially enjoyed his drone and ship voices, differentiated so as to evoke their different personalities: avuncular drone Chamlis, snarky American renegade drone Mawhrin-Skel, prissy library drone Flere-Imsaho, Indian warship the Limiting Factor, etc.
Fans of elegant, imaginative, philosophical, and political space-opera flavored by plenty of wit and bite should enjoy The Player of Games.
"Civilisation and the Culture"
This is a stunning book, that I had not read, since it first came out when I was a kid. But it was good enough to stick with me over the many intervening years. This reading is fantastic. Great interpretations of the characters. Hope the accents don't upset anybody. Highly,highly recommended. If we are lucky Mr.Kenny will be reading the rest of the series too.( He also did a great job with -Consider Phlebas) ps please hurry with the others, I can't wait until -Excession is given this treatment
"WOW! Intrigue On A Galactic Scale!"
A bored, disaffected, dilettante game-playing, genius get's twisted by friend who's no friend...
Ian M. Banks' Culture novels are beyond belief in their scope and richness of detail. They are detailed with plots, characters and environments vividly described. That a story of this length can grip you from beginning to end is amazing and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
IMB's Culture stories are a fascinating mix of sociology, solid character development, lavish detail and staggering imagination. The utopian scale of the Culture is beyond anything I have read in 35 years love of sci-fi and each one of IMB's novels adds more and more levels of interest.
If you've heard or read Consider Phelbas, this is different as it's set within the Culture but you'll love it! The action is break-neck and the story is rich!
My only criticism of the audio version is that the character names are so 'out-there' that it can be a problem to remember who's who. It is easier with a hard-copy novel. But that is small criticism and a backhanded compliment to what is a staggeringly good book that is also very, very well read.
"Amazing audio book"
An amazing listen! I’ve read the original book and one of advantages of hear the audio version is that you don’t spend ages trying to guess the pronunciation of the insane names.
A brilliant listen. I highly recommend it.
"Probably now my favourite novel"
Without giving anything away, this is a masterful demonstration of how wonderful science-fiction can be to illustrate real-world issues, as well as providing insights on such issues and how we could deal with them better. But beside that, this novel is funny, thrilling, exciting and there are very few authors who can match Banks' imaginative power. This is a rich and consistent world, detailed and nuanced. In my view, the ideal starter book to Banks' culture universe novels, i.e. don't worry if you haven't read any of his other books.
"Sci-fi at its best"
A very strong story with twists and turns that keeps you on your toes. It weaves in sci-fi in the story in a very subtle way making you believe in the world described for you. Exceptionally read by Peter Kenny, I truly belive he felt the pain of the main character. A definite worthy read.
"Flippin Marvelous !!!"
Im really enjoying my long car journeys now with the great collection of books offered by audible. Never having read any of Iain Banks books before, so I didnt know what i was getting into. So two books in to the cutlure series "consider Phelbas and player of games" and im VERY VERY much hooked! So enjoying the culture series. Listened to the first book and loved the settings, GSVs, drones, and the characters !!! Peter Kenny is a fantastic narrator, bringing this amazing sci fi world to life with his clever charactor voices and build up to tense moments !!!
Great stories, great narration !!!!
In short..... Brilliant!!!!
Totally drawn in.
Without putting spoilers out there, this book builds from what seems to be a fairly uninspiring start point to a gripping climax. The game players are characterised superbly.
The climax to the final game and the realisation of how the game was won.
The second in the Culture series from Iain M Banks picks you up and takes you on a compulsive journey through the life of a self absorbed, arrogant and in some ways narcissistic hero and out into the farthest reaches of the Culture. The winner will survive.
"Masterful space Opera"
I would not listen again, no.
Tough question- many well crafted characters here.
A sense of irony to his telling. He found ways of making it easy to listen to and yet brought the different races to life.
"One of the best Culture books"
Some people like one over the other. I'm a huge fan of audiobooks and think they can add an extra level of entertainment. That's the case here, the excellent narration really adds to the immersion.
Flere-Imsaho without a doubt. I love how Banks writes the drones and ships in this series. Flere-Imsaho is such a fun, complex and interesting character that I was way more interested in him than the humans :)
Again it's Flere-Imsaho. Kenny does some nice voice work with the the drones in particular and you really get a feel for them as distinct individuals.
If you didn't get pulled in by Consider Phlebas and are wondering if it's worth continuing with the series. You really should give this and Use of Weapons a go. You won't regret it.
I've already listened to it twice and could quite happily do so again. The player of games is a much shorter, simpler Culture novel to the previous.
See below. Also IMO a good science fiction book is one that asks questions of situations that current and possible technologies may place humanity in, in the future and offers a view of our own world and lives from a differing angle, maybe (and preferably) one unconsidered that asks questions, the more unconfortable the better.
The voices for the characters are quite entertaining and felt natural spoken in a smoothly flowing style, neither too fast nor too slow. I found myself able to visualise a scene as easily as if I were reading.
Quite probably, if I could sit that long.
whilst maybe not as complex and some say as good as 'use of weapons', 'The player of games' is still an excellent read.
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