In an attempt to educate Mrs. NW, who is not exactly an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, Mr. NW each month assigns a classic novel. The previous instalments covered The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
That’s right, lovely readers. Another month has flown by. I should be telling you all about how much I loved/hated Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, the actual book Mr NW assigned for this month but I never made it past page 20. A hopeless fail on my part, but all the gore/killing/raping wasn’t my thing [I’m not totally opposed to these things in novels. Bryce Courtenay’s Tandia is one of my favourite books of all time, which also opens with a violent rape scene, but in Prince of Thorns it seemed to be for shock value rather than anything more meaningful]. So I sent Mr NW off to the bookshelves to try again and he came back with something much more to my taste, The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.
To be honest, it took a while to warm to this book. I struggled with the characters’ names which made the reading slow going at some points. But as it went on, I began to find myself more immersed in the plot and beginning to enjoy learning more about “the Culture”. I think one of the best things about this novel is that even though it is centred around the playing of these extravagant games, Banks largely skips on the detail, and instead focuses on the characters’ emotions and responses.
Thrown in amongst the story were some fairly “science fiction-y” ideas: being able to change sex and manipulate genes, an alien race with three sexes – the apex being the dominant form, drug releasing glands to name a few. Some of these seemed a bit out there, but Banks does a good job of weaving the details into the storyline in a way that makes sense.
The best part for me was realising at the end that I, as the reader, had been manipulated and lied to as much as the central character, Jernau Gurgeh. With one little flourish on the last page everything fell into place. I think if I can get the hang of Banks’ weird character names I’d enjoy reading more in the Culture series.
P.S. I took this book overseas with me, and it may have got a tiny bit bent in the process. Hopefully I can sneak it back into the bookcase with out Mr NW noticing 😂.
Have you explored Iain M. Banks’ Culture Series? What are your thoughts on his books?