Reviews of Player of Games, the (1988)
Review by clong (2006-07-09)
I've always liked, and been pretty darn good at, games of strategy, probability, tactics, alliance, and the like. So a couple of the basic premises of the book really appealed to me. . . things like the existence of a society where being a player of these kinds of games could be your principal occupation (complete with at least a faint echo of the fan adulation and media coverage we give to professional athletes), not to mention the idea of an empire in which the Emperor is selected (and retains his/her/its position) through a massive strategy game tournament.
The protagonist Gurgeh was an interesting character, complicated and not always likable, a many-layered character that was revealed slowly. Banks did a good job of taking the reader along with Gurgeh as he made mistakes, changed opinions, and at times rode an emotional roller coaster. It was fairly easy to see that the drone Mawhrin-Skel was not what it claimed to be, and that rather Gurgeh himself was being manipulated by the powers that be of the Culture for their own agenda.
I also found the Azad society, and how it interacts with the outsider, to be intriguing, if not always believable. The "Fire Planet," the setting on which the final round of the tournament was played, was very cool.
So there were a lot of things to like about this, but not everything. The sexual politics issues of the three sex Azad society would have been handled much more effectively by an author like Ursula Le Guin. I was disappointed in the final scenes, and in particular Nicosar's meltdown. Gurgeh's romantic interest Yay seemed to be a completely superfluous character. And the hidden depravity of the Azad culture seemed needlessly over done and heavy-handed.
In the end, the Culture came off more sympathetically in this book than in the others I have read in the series. But The Player of Games left me more confused than ever as to who is running the show.
All in all, quite an enjoyable book, if not really in the same class as Use of Weapons (which to date is by far my favorite Culture book).
Review by ropie (2006-06-19)
I have enjoyed all of the books of Iain Banks I have read and approached Player of Games with the sort of reassurance that comes from knowing a writers style will always impress. I wasn't disappointed and all the usual things one can say about his novels apply here: tremendous characters and character interaction, humour and gravity in just the right measures, superbly portrayed societies and places, and much inventiveness and originality.
POG is not without its shortcomings. In some of his other books Banks tends to jump dramatically and confusingly between plots, times and locations. Not so here, but in its relatively simplistic linearity POG does have a tendancy to become repetitive (during the many game-playing sequences). However, there is more than enough going on under the surface, in terms of morality decisions and psychological investigation, to keep the story from becoming stale. And even though the prose is not quite as sparkling as his later novels, the writing is always very readable and rewarding.
I am not sure I could say which out of Look to Windward and Player of Games I preferred. They are quite different books. (Certainly Excession wandered on for too long and lost some of its impact because of this, though would probably improve with subsequent reads). POG has a great ending though Windward probably just has the edge with its rich story development.
Whatever, as with all his books this is rigorous yet accessible science-fiction and I look forward to reading more of Banks' work before too long.
Review by doom70 (2004-10-08)
I've become a big and of Banks SF writing. He seems to be able to nicely mis crazy, neat, creative ideas and real, gritty, lifelike characters. His stuff isn't boring, or predictable. This, next to Weapons, is my favorite.
Review by Rhaegar (2003-10-17)
As with consider Phlebas, this is another cinematic adventure that just leaps off the page. I continue to find it astounding how Banks manages to create wonderful sci-fi not only through his exhilirating action sequences, but also his deep analysis of the human psyche.