Book Title: The Player of Games
Author: Iain M. Banks
About the Author: Born in Scotland, Banks was named one of the Times’ “50 Greatest British Writers since 1945” and has written a series of science fiction novels called the “Culture Series.” His wikipedia page indicates that he was pretty obsessed with collecting fancy cars for a while, but after a car accident he sold them all. He was married, divorced and married the same woman again… love is never easy! He passed away from cancer in 2013. 😦
Main Characters: Some of the many, many characters in the book…
Jernau Gurgeh: Our talented, intelligent hero! Gurgeh is a professional game player, growing bored of his celebrity gamer life. To spice things up, he allows a drone bot to convince him to cheat at a game, setting off a chain of events that brings Gurgeh to participate in a different sort of game, on a different planet. This game, Azad, encompasses an entire alien civilization, and Gurgeh studied it for lightyears, but was that enough to play it through to the end, and win??
The Culture: Not a character, but an entire civilization. The Culture is a highly advanced and intelligent society that has alleviated it’s people of most hardships in life, such as pain, body image, sexual identity, etc. They solve this through synthetic drug glands and simple sex changes, allowing people to be who they want, and switch around if they want. The people of the Culture have jobs but I’m not sure if they have any bills to pay. It’s a Utopian society of sorts, however the lack of hardships tend to make the civilians a bit bored with life.
Mawhrin-Skel: A drone bot – the one that convinces Gurgeh to cheat in the first place. It’s small but mighty, using energy fields to impose physical force onto others. It once had a prestigious government job, and blackmails Gurgeh to get it’s job back at the “Special Circumstances” division.
Chamlis: A drone bot that is also Gurgeh’s oldest friend and confidant. It’s been around for a long time and has centuries of wisdom. It communicates with Gurgeh throughout his journey, sending messages and updates from home.
Flere-Imsaho: Another drone bot – this one accompanies Gurgeh to the alien planet. It’s a little fiesty and sensitive but seems to have Gurgeh’s best interests at heart. This bot is tiny, can fit in your hand, but is capable of so much more.
The Azadian Empire: Not a character, but another civilization. The Azadians developed the game of Azad, which is incorporated into their language and daily life in such a way that you need to BE Azadian in order to succeed at the game. Or so they hoped. This society includes three genders (male, female, apex) and the apices are hermaphrodites, and the alphas of their society. Males and females are lower class, bred for manual labor and sex slavery. The entire society is based on class systems and the higher classes enjoy abusing their power in extreme ways.
Emperor Nicosar: The ruler of planet Ea, which is where the game of Azad exists. The Emperor is decided by whoever wins the game of Azad, but Nicosar’s predecessor was killed and he assumed the throne by default (he had been second place in the last game of Azad) so he feels he has something to prove.
Plot Summary: Gurgeh is a genius at games and wants a new challenge. When temptation to cheat and get a Perfect Game gets the best of him, Gurgeh finds himself being blackmailed into participating in an alien game called Azad, which is on a planet hundreds of lightyears away. He learns as much as he can about the alien civilization as he can, and studies the game during the journey, and when he arrives the culture shock is very strong. The people regard him as a freak and untrustworthy. As he progresses through the game, he earns respect but it quickly turns to disdain and jealousy. The game takes months to complete, and as he plays Gurgeh learns more and more about the Azadian society, including the dark undersides that the apices don’t want him to know about. Gurgeh’s drone Flere-Imsaho tries to keep him out of trouble but Gurgeh manages to get into all sorts of drama anyway. Eventually Gurgeh makes it to the final round, and what ensues will literally change the entire Empire!
Lessons Learned: Power struggles are real, no matter what planet you’re on. Sci-Fi can be a fun genre to read and I shouldn’t discount it. Many books that start off slow are still worth reading. And most importantly: even in space, there’s scrambled porn.
Personal Opinions: Admittedly, it took me like 3 times as long to read this book, and my book club posts have been severely delayed as a result! Ooops! I was a little uninspired at the beginning… so many long weird names, so much random made-up stuff about alien societies, I felt out of place and confused. But as I pushed forward I started to get into the plot and the pace really started picking up.
The one thing that really irked me was the lack of chapters. Well, not exactly… there are 4 chapters in the whole book. It’s split mostly into thirds and then one short chapter that feels more like an epilogue. My issue is that when I’m reading, I’m the type who’s like, “OK I’ll stop when I finish this chapter.” Each chapter is a third of the book so… that plan doesn’t work. I had to just stop wherever and read back to get my bearings when I returned to the book. So that part I didn’t really like. But it’s a book about aliens, so it SHOULD be a weird read, right??