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.
©2008 Iain M. Banks (P)2011 Hachette Audio
"Poetic, humorous, baffling, terrifying, sexy - the books of Iain M. Banks are all these things and more." (NME)
"An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination which writes its own rules simply for the pleasure of breaking them." (Time Out)
I've heard a fair amount of praise for this author, and this was supposed to be his best. I had tried starting with his first book (Consider Phlebas) and it failed to grab me, to the extent that I gave up around halfway through. Disappointed in that, but thinking that 'Hey, an author's early work is usually poorer,' and knowing Banks' books to be more episodic than not, I thought I would give him another chance, but alas.
It's hard for me to describe why I grow so easily bored with this author. I can say that some of it stems from feeling unattached to most of the characters, the main protagonists especially. Gurgeh, the main for this book, was too close a Mary Sue for my tastes. I cared very little as to whether he would succeed or fail, especially after some rather cartoonish efforts were made to make his opponents (a whole civilization) out to be thoroughly vile and contemptuous.
Spoilers (sort of?) from this point on.
The fact that Gurgeh was shown to be obviously capable of breezing through every obstacle in his path, yet still had to be manipulated into doing "what needed to be done", and therefore was not so much the glorious hero as a selfish but useful buffoon, didn't make him any more interesting or respectable, it just made me feel all the more disappointed for giving *his* story any attention. The perspective of his handler(s) might have been more interesting, but on the whole, the lack of any real conflict/challenge means it would likely feel stagnant either way.
I enjoyed this story greatly. The only drawback was the narrator. Was the man mainline Nguyen 5Hour Energy or what? I kept checking to see if the speed was right. It was. He just read like he had to be someplace in the next five minutes.
I would strongly suggest reading the series from start to finish. This one, however, is one of the highlights on the journey. Masterfully crafted. Beautifully written. Wonderful characters. Cutting social commentary. Brutally honest.
RIP Mr. Banks. This book has made you immortal.
I never once "phased out" and needed to rewind. I'd often find myself sitting in my car, listening, well after I'd arrived at my destination. I can't recommend this enough.
This was my first foray into the Culture series and I fell in love with the setting. The Player of Games is listed as book two, but its story is self-contained and serves as a fine introduction to the universe. Banks hands out little nuggets of information about his world as the story goes on, such that the reader is constantly intrigued by the characteristics and vast scope of The Culture without ever getting mired in heavy world-building.
The story of master game player Jernau Gurgeh is well imagined and interesting. At times while reading I thought it linear and bland, but at the conclusion of the book Banks reveals a new layer of complexity and design behind the story. I won't spoil the finish for you, but to say that The Culture is as much a character in the plot as anyone else is.
My one complaint with the story is that the characters spend much of their time playing games that are never adequately explained. I would have loved to know more about the rules and strategies of Azad and the purpose behind them. As it is, I never felt invested in the game. This hampered my enjoyment of the many game-playing sequences, though they still moved the plot along easily, and after all they aren't the most important part.
The drone Mawhrin-Skel. Kenny voices all of the drones well, but Mawhrin-Skel stood out as unique. Flere-Imsaho was also quite amusing. Kenny does a good job of navigating the made-up names of all of the characters. He pronounces them confidently, which helped minimize my confusion early in the story.
Peter Kenny's performance is one of my my favorites in my library. He is the perfect choice for the story, and handles the critical revelation at the end very, very well.
I laughed on a couple of occasions. Banks interjects moments of humor into dialogue and into a couple of narrating segments that took me pleasantly by surprise. Though far from an outright comedy, the book is written with a tone that stops just short of taking itself too seriously.
A good introduction to a classic sci-fi universe. I can't wait to start my next Culture novel.
I absolutely loved listening to this story, excitement, intrigue, and scentient machines as the protagonists.
The performance really brought the characters to life.
Well put together story with excellent twists. Banks is a great storyteller and this is an excellent second or third novel to read in the Culture series.
The synopsis doesn't do this book justice! I wasn't sure if I would like it, but once it started it just kept building to the point that I didn't want to shut it off. And it was never predictable. Although I'm always trying to figure out what will happen next, I was regularly surprised. I'm going to seek out more by Mr. Banks.
Peter Kenny excellently captured both the gravitas of the game and the zaniness of the drones; my one complaint is that he narrates very fast, and some rewinding was required. Highly recommended.
The story had substance, but the premise was a little cheesy and anticlimactic. The story is slow and boring for 3/4 and the last 1/4 is fast and short. story is heavily focused on the title subject, at the cost of content on the games being played.
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