Book Review: The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

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I went with a newer-than-classic science fiction novel for my last read. Published in 1988, it is a little old to be calling it ‘current’ or ‘modern,’ but it is too new to be calling it a classic. Given time, it will be a classic. It was that good. I have heard of Bain, but I never got around to reading any of his books. Now, I plan on reading some more of them.

The story is a little difficult to follow at first. Eventually, you learn this is happening in a civilization that has had space travel for 11,000 years, so it is taking place in the distant future. Banks includes some weird things that you might expect in a future scenario but doesn’t explain what they are. You just have to accept them as is. The more important ones explain themselves over the course of the book. Some never really did become clear, but it wasn’t important.

The story concerns Jernau Morat Gurgeh, a professional game player. He is considered to be the best player in the entire Culture (as the civilization calls itself). He gets recruited to go to a newly discovered Empire in the Magellanic Clouds, 150,000 light-years away. He was picked because this empire is built about a game – Azad. It is so engrained into the culture of this empire that it has taken the name of the game for itself – the Empire of Azad. Every “Great Year,” there is a tournament and the winner of the tournament becomes the emperor. Gurgeh is to go to the Empire and enter into the tournament. The trip will take two years to get there and he spends his time on the trip learning how to play Azad. Don’t worry, he is not permitted to win any governmental post as a result of how well he does, he does not become emperor (Bain is much more creative than that). It is merely an exhibition match for him. But, that doesn’t prevent the episode from becoming very involved and dangerous.

It is a pleasant read. There are a few areas where it gets slow but, for the most part, it flows well. I give it a high recommend.

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