Book: The Player of Games - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The Player of Games
Thursday, 18 December 2003 at 06:56 pm
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Author: Iain M Banks

Details: (c) Iain M Banks 1998; Pub Orbit 1996; ISBN 1-85723-146-5

Verdict: The Player of Games is seriously impressive!

Reasons for reading it: Well, since I'm gradually getting to know modern SF, I obviously had to read Iain M Banks at some point. And the main reason it's taken me so long to get to him is not knowing where to start, so now that lethargic_man is around to recommend stuff, I'm all set. And wow, how have I lived through all these years without reading it?!

How it came into my hands: A present from lethargic_man; that has to be one of the best presents ever!

Where can I start? The Player of Games is almost breathtakingly well-crafted, and also fantastically readable. I really resented having to stop reading in order to sleep or work, and it even (shockingly!) dragged me away from LJ on a couple of occasions because I was so excited to find out what would happen next, and enjoying reading it so much. This kind of thing is why I love reading so much; I enjoy reading even second-rate books, but seriously good books present me with the same things I enjoy in any book, but perfected into delights.

The first thing that struck me about tPoG was the solidity of the world. World-building is not normally something I get excited about (which is probably why I'm not really a hard-core SF fan), but reading tPoG I really felt I was getting a glimpse into a society which exists as more than just a vehicle for telling a story. Yes, I know there are several books set in the Culture, but there are plenty of books where long series are set in the same one-dimensional world or period, or else a world that is only cosmetically different from the author's reality. I make a point of never comparing anything to Tolkien, but in this case I'm seriously tempted to break that rule.

The setup is just the kind of thing that appeals to me in SF, the The Left Hand of Darkness type scenario where the story concerns an ambassador from one culture and his impressions of a very different culture. Actually, come to think of it, Gentle's Golden Witchbreed (which coincidentally is probably the last book that impressed me to a comparable extent) is probably a better comparison. As a gamer myself I was very much taken by the whole gaming arc; a novel where various completely imaginary games play such a major rôle could quite easily be dull, but tPoG really captures what's cool about the kind of abstract and semi-abstract games I like, and maintains the excitement through descriptions of just about every class of outcomes of such games. Plus the way that the game stuff acts as a metaphor for the story itself and the cultures portrayed is very clever indeed, tPoG has all kinds of overlapping levels going on in a very fun way.

Gurgeh is a very well drawn viewpoint character, and one I can relate to well even if I don't entirely admire him. It's a pity that the viewpoint is too narrow really to get much impression of anybody but Gurgeh, but the minor characters managed at least to resemble people rather than plot devices.

I also enjoyed the whole nothing is quite what it seems setup; tPoG isn't a mystery novel, where the story is just padding for the puzzle, but there were enough hints that deceit was going on to keep me seriously intrigued. This being so, I really need to be careful of spoilers, but I think I can safely say that the final twist cause me to reassess as strengths a few little things that I'd been regarding as minor flaws in an otherwise fantastic book (mainly the slight feeling that I was being manipulated rather obviously, which makes perfect sense in the light of the ending). And that's quite a twist! TPoG also works really well at face value; the story that I almost believed was going on is a thoroughly exciting story in its own right.

After all that enthusiasm, I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the ending (of the main story, not the twist in the framing story, which as I've said completely wowed me). I think partly this reflects disappointment that the book was over, because I was so engrossed I wanted to keep reading. I've rarely felt like that since I was a kid. But also I don't think tPOG ends in quite the right place. I mean, after the dramatic climax where a galactic empire literally and symbolically goes up in flames, I don't really care that Gurgeh has a long and dull journey home, and I certainly don't care that when he gets there he has gratuitously wonderful sex with a woman who has played absolutely no rôle in the story beyond rejecting him in the first chapter.

Anyway, yes, I'm completely hooked. What fun!


Moooood: enthralledenthralled
Tuuuuune: The Mission: Butterfly on a Wheel
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (12/19/03 07:14 pm)
livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 2nd, 2004 07:43 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 08:43 pm (livredor's time)
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This is actually one of my favourite sci fi novels of all time
I can certainly see why. It seems to exemplify everything that's good about science fiction. Yay.

Use of Weapons is a very, very close second
Nice lethargic_man has lent me Use of Weapons so I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

I'd very strongly recommend "Against a Dark Background", which is actually my favourite novel, period.
Recommendations always good, thank you. I'll add it to my ever-growing list!
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:December 19th, 2003 07:48 pm (UTC)
51 minutes after journal entry, 03:48 pm (rysmiel's time)
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Oh, goodie ! I'm so glad you liked this. I'm very fond of it, though I think Use of Weapons has a slight edge on it in terms of the ambition of what it succeeds at, in ways which are really impossible to discuss without spoilers for UoW. If you find the Culture an interesting world to play in, you should enjoy the differing angels form which we see it in the other novels.

I think the way in which Player of Games most interestingly reflects off Le Guin is not Left Hand of Darkness but The Dispossessed; in that it is a book about the mechanics of concentrating force to a particular end. Which is a theme one normally only sees addressed from very right-wing perspectives in SF - lots of Jerry Pournelle and the like.

I do like the Games, and I found Gurgeh the right degree of imperfect, a realistically flawed person. And I can't in all honesty say that I object to gratuitous sex. [ In novels, either. ]
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livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 2nd, 2004 08:07 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 09:07 pm (livredor's time)

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I'm so glad you liked this. I'm very fond of it
*smile* I'm particularly pleased I reviewed this book, cos lots of people seem to be enthusiastic about it.

I think Use of Weapons has a slight edge on it in terms of the ambition of what it succeeds at
Well, that's five lots of recommendations so it's pretty obvious which one I should read next!

If you find the Culture an interesting world to play in
I like the way you express that. But definitely, yes.

the differing angels form which we see it
Are you channelling St Gregory by any chance?

I think the way in which Player of Games most interestingly reflects off Le Guin is not Left Hand of Darkness but The Dispossessed; in that it is a book about the mechanics of concentrating force to a particular end.
Ooh, very interesting comparison. I really enjoyed The Dispossessed; it's not as poetic as some of Le Guin's stuff, but it's incredibly solid and thought-provoking. But it rambles a bit; both LHoD and tPoG are much tighter in construction.

very right-wing perspectives in SF - lots of Jerry Pournelle and the like
I've never heard of him, but then I can't think of much SF that I'd specifically characterize as right-wing.

I do like the Games, and I found Gurgeh the right degree of imperfect, a realistically flawed person.
Oh, absolutely!
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:January 2nd, 2004 08:22 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 09:22 pm (livredor's time)
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And I can't in all honesty say that I object to gratuitous sex. [ In novels, either. ]
I think you're missing my point here (and possibly mistaking me for some kind of prude, which is an impression I'd hate to give). I don't object to gratuitous sex in real life, and I don't object to characters in novels having gratuitous sex, and I don't have any strong views about sex scenes that are gratuitous in the sense of superfluous to the plot and character development.

I think I might have preferred the sex at the end of tPoG if it had been gratuitous. In fact I was annoyed with the implication that it was the start of a beautiful relationship, when I didn't know enough about Yay to care either way. I was complaining that the sex was gratuitously wonderful, not that it was gratuitous per se.

My complaint was that after the fabulously dramatic ending of Machina ex Machina, even the most glorious sex imaginable is going to seem banal in comparison. I felt that it threw the balance of the narrative. If the description had ended with Yay's finally agreeing to spend the night, I'd have been happier; not because I believe as a rule in closing the bedroom door, but because that would have made it merely an aspect of Gurgeh's homecoming to his friends. That would seem to me more in proportion with the rest of the book, whereas with the glowingly poetic description overemphasises something which I didn't feel involved in and therefore can't see as important.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:December 20th, 2003 06:14 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 07:14 pm (lethargic_man's time)

The Player of Games

(Link)
Well, since I'm gradually getting to know modern SF, I obviously had to read Iain M Banks at some point. And the main reason it's taken me so long to get to him is not knowing where to start, so now that lethargic_man is around to recommend stuff, I'm all set. And wow, how have I lived through all these years without reading it?!

Don't get overenthusiastic and go off reading any Banks books. I recommended Paul Banks novels, he ignored my recommendations and read books I'd have recommended against, and has now been put off Banks. I'd recommend Use of Weapons very highly, and Inversions (but not until you've read at least one more Culture novel), and Look to Windward highly; the rest of the Culture books are iffier IMNSHO.

It's quite astonishing in retrospect how Iain M Banks has managed to write books about the events of the last few years before they happened. When discussing toppling the Empire of Azad with rysmiel in 1998 I said, "It's no worse than a lot of places on Earth; would you have the UN/USA step in to topple their governments too?"

I remained dubious about the merits of so doing outweighing the negative aspects, and Banks went on to address this issue in Look to Windward, a novel which prefigured events in Afghanistan and the attitude of the Taleban.

Anyhow, I'm glad you liked The Player of Games.

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livredor: hands
From:livredor
Date:January 2nd, 2004 08:25 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 09:25 pm (livredor's time)
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Don't get overenthusiastic and go off reading any Banks books.
Thank you for the warning. I shall continue to heed your wise advice.
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livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:January 2nd, 2004 08:41 pm (UTC)
14 days after journal entry, 09:41 pm (livredor's time)
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It's quite astonishing in retrospect how Iain M Banks has managed to write books about the events of the last few years before they happened.
Wow. Now that's a sharp comparison. I mean, the point that Azad can be compared to our current reality had not escaped me, but I hadn't thought of the situation in those terms, precisely.

When discussing toppling the Empire of Azad with rysmiel in 1998 I said, "It's no worse than a lot of places on Earth; would you have the UN/USA step in to topple their governments too?"
The flaw in that analogy is that no power that currently exists is interested in (and I doubt capable of for that matter) political manipulation to foment an internal uprising. Invading countries at random because their leaders don't support American interests is a very blunt instrument compared to the kind of thing that's being described in tPoG.

I remained dubious about the merits of so doing outweighing the negative aspects,
Yes, this seems an entirely reasonable thing to doubt. However oppressed people are in a particular set-up, violent revolutions are never going to be pleasant.

and Banks went on to address this issue in Look to Windward, a novel which prefigured events in Afghanistan and the attitude of the Taleban.
Oh cool, that's in the list of things you've given me permission to read, so I can find out. Sounds intriguing.

Anyhow, I'm glad you liked The Player of Games.
*huge grin* And thank you so much for giving me a copy, I so appreciate that!
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:January 29th, 2004 07:46 pm (UTC)
41 days after journal entry, 08:46 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Analogies between the Culture books and RL

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The flaw in that analogy is that no power that currently exists is interested in (and I doubt capable of for that matter) political manipulation to foment an internal uprising.

Well, possibly not now; but America has done this in the past. (Who do you think provided Osama bin Laden with weapons and training?)

Invading countries at random because their leaders don't support American interests is a very blunt instrument compared to the kind of thing that's being described in tPoG.

This is true.

Oh cool, that's in the list of things you've given me permission to read, so I can find out.

Don't be under the misapprehension I am giving you permission to read things; far be it from me to tell you what you can and can't, or even should and shouldn't, do.
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livredor: hands
From:livredor
Date:January 30th, 2004 03:33 pm (UTC)
41 days after journal entry, 04:33 pm (livredor's time)
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Don't be under the misapprehension I am giving you permission to read things; far be it from me to tell you what you can and can't, or even should and shouldn't, do.
Don't fret, I was just teasing. I know you never tell me what to do. You just came across as a little teeny bit bossy upthread.

My comment was originally much more exaggerated than that; exaggeration, in this sort of medium, is a useful way to flag that I'm joking. Except that it turned out to sound way kinkier than I had even slightly intended, so I toned it down quite a lot, at which point it wasn't really very amusing any more. Sorry.
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 31st, 2004 06:47 pm (UTC)
42 days after journal entry, 07:47 pm (livredor's time)
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The flaw in that analogy is that no power that currently exists is interested in (and I doubt capable of for that matter) political manipulation to foment an internal uprising.

Well, possibly not now; but America has done this in the past.
True, but I think it's tended to backfire on them, for most of the examples I can think of! So again, it seems like they don't know what they're doing as much as the Culture. Though of course, it's not stated in tPoG whether their plans are actually going to work. Are there in fact any examples where this kind of attempted manipulation has brought about the desired effect? It's possible we wouldn't know about it if it did, of course.

(Who do you think provided Osama bin Laden with weapons and training?)
Ouch. I did know that, but I don't always keep it at the forefront of my mind.
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 1st, 2004 12:37 pm (UTC)
43 days after journal entry, 01:37 pm (lethargic_man's time)

The USA meddling to foment an internal uprising anywhere?

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Don't know enough world history to provide you with a ready answer; I can, however, come up with a example of something similar: the USA driving the USSR into economic collapse through the arms race. (This is a reason I have heard for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but admit I don't know enough about to argue for cogently.)
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