34. (34) – The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

            The second Culture novel was so different from the first.  The Culture is unquestionably the good guys in this novel.  I love the way Banks has shown the Culture and how it works, without really detailing it in a straightforward manner. You learned about the Culture first in Consider Phlebas from a changer hostile to the Culture and then in this book from a Culture Citizen who has dedicated his life to games. This book deals head-on with a specific example of what Contact does to incorporate other races as peacefully as possible.

In it we learn of a younger Empire that’s entire power structure revolves around a game (what an awesome idea). Our protagonist, Jernau Morat Gurgeh, is sent to play against the Empire of Azad in their game also known as the Azad. We learn of the strengths and moral weaknesses of the Azad largely through the lens of the Culture. The pacing of this story is good, many of the action sequences are intense and interesting (particularly the last on the fire planet) and the characters are engaging.

The Player of Games is probably the most straightforward of Banks’ culture novels.  It’s crisper, with fewer flaws than Consider Phlebas.  It doesn’t have the unique, challenging structure of Use of Weapons.  It doesn’t have the sprawling, divergent stories that many of the later culture novels have.  As much as I love the direction Banks took his later culture novels, there is something refreshing about the straightforward plotting of Player of Games.  In that sense, it’s probably the Culture novel that has the most universal appeal. 

Felan’s Rescue is now available on Audiobook!

Felan’s Rescue is now available in Ebook form (and Kindle Unlimited), Hardback, and Paperback!

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