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The Player Of Games By Iain M. Banks


Understated and Elegant Banks' 2nd Culture Novel Pits Culture Gamer Gurgeh Against Azad

Iain M. Banks second Culture novel and our 2nd book review of such.  

I’m terribly impressed with this Culture series, this is really a new item to have a series of books that don’t adhere to the same characters over and over. Mr. Banks in his 2nd Culture novel breaks the mold of his first and focuses upon a Master Game Player, Jernau Morat Gurgeh.

It’s a brand new story arc that contains the premise of , a civilization that also includes Minds, a sort of melding or partnership with non-sentient consciousness, a space faring “Culture” that does mostly remind me of Christianity, in fact in my first review of Mr. Banks’ first Culture novel I almost did mention that fact.  But decided not to because the discussion seems to rule out the intelligence part, usually.  Meaning, that their really isn’t a practicality to Religion, at least not as yet.  No actual substance has yet occurred from the Clouds, as it were.

Be that as it may, I do find Mr. Banks to be a tad Prophetic.  His Player of Games is very astute and intelligent.  Banks is a terribly good writer seeming to inter-cut and meld ideas and invention with easy abandon.  In this one, Jernau Morat Gurgeh is a universal and respected ‘Game Player’, these are games not like those on Playstation or Xbox though, but involving Ideas, Concepts and actual life Movements within a given Game Environment.  There is Psychology here and Specific Rules in these games and Gurgeh is the usual winner of these contests.

He is invited by the Culture itself to journey to another Star System far into the reaches of space.  The Culture means for Gurgeh to go to this Empire of Azad and play their game, which determines who the next Emperor of Azad is to be, the Culture has a need for secrecy about the Empire of Azad and Gurgeh agrees to travel for 2 long years just to reach The Empire where the game of Azad is played.  

During Gurgeh’s play in the game of 12,000 important Azadians he does end up playing The Emperor himself, and it ends up being a bit more than this Alien  society can stand.  The Azad Empire is in fact rather barbaric in a society that is fascinated by wanton brutality of its citizens, a casualness of killing that will get them into hot water someday.  Banks makes it right clear that The Culture is far more advanced (Militarily) than the Empire of Azad, and it is certain that the Azad, the few who know of the Culture’s true destructive power, are concerned about their own sovereignty, in space and elsewhere.

Hence their is much consternation as the Alien of the Culture, Gurgeh begins to play and win at the Azad’s once in 12 year game, for rank and a rising of sorts in the Azadian Empires social standing.  In fact Gurgeh is told that although he has been beating everyone in sight at the game, the people of Azad are being told that he lost some time ago, in fact Gurgeh wisely decides to ‘play along’ with the deception, as the games final continues, but for real on a ‘Fire Planet’ within Azad Space.


In the book there is this:

Flere-Imsaho reveals that Gurgeh’s participation was part of a Culture plot to overthrow the corrupt and savage Empire from within, and that he, the player, was in fact a pawn in a much larger game. 

And from Wikipedia:

Given that, the Culture had intended all along to use him to discredit the brutality of the Azadian system by publicly giving the lie to the game’s representation of social reality.


Not really.  These are not reasons for any engagement of an Enemy or probable one within this scenario.  I never did ‘read’ the book thinking of this.  The Culture appears to be only interested in the Interactions of these players and having a Greatest of Gamers play the Azad  game was, and would assuredly only be for ‘entertainment’ purposes only.  The Culture just wanted to see what would happen… Moralizing is not the point here, and by this time The Culture would indeed need to look further than it’s own inherent structure.

They, The Culture, would have indeed been surprised by the outcome.





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