The Player of GamesJanuary 22, 2013
Some reviewer compare this novel with Ender’s Game. I guarantee you that the comparison is not accurate. It does not have the same spoiler as the Ender’s Game. They are not even about the same thing.
This is my first Iain Banks novel, and certainly not going to be my last. The novel (clearly stated in the cover and back-cover) is about a player of games, more precisely, of boardgames. The character is Jernau Gurgeh, the best board-game player of the entire Culture (a post-scarcity hyper-advanced civilization). Now, instead of playing against his own people, he is sent to play in another civilization, Azadian Empire, where they live and die by a board game named Azad. Seems like a dream (or nightmare) comes true.
The plot is a bit slow in the beginning, starting with the daily live of a over-famous game player, Gurgeh, until something went wrong! One thing leads to another, and by no time he became the gaming ambassador of the Culture. Once the journey started, the pacing of the novel is steady, leaving no room for unnecessary plot. You have the intensity of the game, the intrigue, the power play, the bluff, the cheat!
But the more important thing about this novel is actually about the clash of civilization. It is not just about the contest between game players, but in the end it is a contest between two radically different civilization. One that consider that a game is only a game, and on the other side, the game is the entire life. That is what makes the book so interesting to see.
The one thing that I still find it lacking is the sociology of the Azadian civilization. Banks had tried to explore it, but somehow I still find it not enough. You cannot get the full grasp of the alien civilization like the one you get from reading a Larry Niven‘s novel. But maybe that is not the intention of Mr. Banks. Anyway the explanation of the alien race is enough to serve the intention of the story.
Final verdict: a strong four star!
My own personal note: this novel affects me a lot. I, myself, am a board-game player. I can see the struggle of the character. I am even inspired to write one sci-fi story after reading this novel. One thing that I can suggest to Mr. Banks: I think he is not familiar of Eurogames, the board-game genre produced by Europe, mostly German. These kind of boardgames do not depend on luck, unlike the Ameritrash counter parts. Given Mr. Banks is familiar with this genre, he can write even a better Player of Games.