The fatal mistake by the protagonist was not worthy of a person with that mind. That moment left me so cold I couldn't finish the book.
This is part of “The Culture” series, a “non-linear” science fiction series; i.e. the books are set in a particular background, but the series can be read in any order. The Culture is a vast civilization distributed throughout our galaxy, largely run by intelligent machines. The “Player of Games” is Gurgeh, a man who has specialized in gaming and game theory for decades. But he is getting so bored, he is tempted to cheat at games just to keep his excitement level up. He is asked to go to a rival civilization, the Azad Empire, to take part in the game of Azad, which is the center of their culture. The winners of the game become the Emperor and other leaders of the Empire.
The novel becomes both a political thriller and a thought piece about the obsessions of competition, especially when winning or losing is a life and death matter. It’s an excellent novel, with a deeply thought out main character, and constant tension, even when it seems not much is happening. (A LOT is happening, even though Gurgeh often misses the implications.)
I am currently on book four of the Culture series, and Player of Games is my number one pick of the bunch. The characters and dialogue are pretty typical Banks, but the story line just really stuck with me. I really enjoyed this one.
Iain Banks is a problematic writer for me, but this is the most accessible of his Culture novels I have encountered. Still dark and and nihilistic on a deep level, with more than a few cultural and rhetorical straw men to be demolished.
Almost certainly the last one of these I'll ever try.
The story took some time to get into but the build is worth it. Multiple times I was worried that the author had over committed and overextended himself but I was wrong. The build is perfect, the story provoking, the ideas...well worth consideration. Even where I don't agree with his interpretations I cannot but appreciate his analysis. This work deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as "Dune", "Stranger in a strange land" and "I, Robot". This is everything good sci-fi ought to be.
The only book I've read multipe times [maybe 10 ?] and rewarded with cerebral pleasure each and every time - - a most elegant depiction of a future society, as well as a futuristic Candide, subtley espousing on socio-economic-political mores and thinking. Easily will last the test of time and should be considered one of the all-time ultimate SF classics! (WARNING: This book fully engages the mind, so if in a fatigued state, it might be difficult to read and comprehend!) [The only other fiction books I've read twice were Stirling's Drakon, and Metzger's Dog, by Thomas Perry - - both exceptional reads.] The genius of Iain Banks will be sorely missed!
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