Assigned Reading (#3): The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

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 97DAD27F-64B6-4DA8-A4F1-50E1BD28CEC7opens 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?


16 thoughts on “Assigned Reading (#3): The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

  1. I just finished this book this weekend and hope to do a review later this week. I have to admit, I had no problem with the names, maybe because I’m more immersed in the SF world overall? I was expecting to have a much harder time after your “Name” post too.

    If you like the Culture books, then I’d think about trying, at some point, Neal Asher’s Polity series. Same idea of AI Overlords, but in the Polity books you follow people who are in the know and not just an average, uninformed, selfish, self-centered citizen 😉

    I do think that this was a rather depressing book overall. Gergeh’s losing himself in games has lost it’s appeal and while he gets that “zing” back playing the new game, nothing has changed so when he goes back, he’s going to be just as empty. It might take another decade, but he’ll end up at the same point we found him at the beginning of the book.

    And the inconsistencies in the human part of the Culture, yeah, definitely going to be writing about that. Banks makes the claim that humanity itself has changed, not just the circumstances but Gergeh is the perfect example of how they haven’t changed, not one bit.

    I enjoyed it, but not as much as I have the Polity books 😀

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  2. You made it farther into ‘Prince of Thorns’ than I did! I didn’t give up on Mark Lawrence altogether, though. ‘Red Sister’ was fantastic, and didn’t contain gratuitous violence. I’m also going to give a shoutout for ‘The Curse of Chalion’ by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is part of a fantasy series, but it can be a standalone novel, too. It’s one of my favorite books ever.

    I’ve never read anything by Iain Banks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good to know. I’ll put Red Sister on my TBR list. I see we’ve already got a copy on the bookshelves. Just looked up the blurb for The Curse of Chalion on Goodreads and it sounds really interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll keep an eye out for a copy.

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  3. Player of Games is often recommended as the “entry level” book for Banks’ Culture series, so I’m very happy you enjoyed this and might feel curious to explore more of his books. Yes, the names are at times distracting, but you were right in not worrying and rather getting into the spirit of things. Now I can’t wait for the moment when you encounter some of the more outlandish ships’ names… 😀

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    1. Thanks 😀. Mr NW has informed me that he got me started on that one because it was short and fairly easy going. Probably a good decision. He’s said his favourite is Surface Detail. Not sure which one I’ll try next just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Player of Games is fantastic! Like Maddelena says, it’s probably the best entry book into Banks’ Culture books. His books are always a challenge to get into, but very satisfying. My favorite Culture book is Use of Weapons, and it spoiled me on Banks. I second recommending The Business – it’s not scifi, it’s a fun thriller with a lot of dark humor.

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