The Player of Games (The Culture #2) ★★★☆ ½

playergames (Custom)

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, Librarything & Tumblr by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Player of Games
Series: The Culture #2
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 417
Format: Digital Edition



Gergeh, the greatest game player, of any game in The Culture, is bored. His materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle is wearing thin and since the Culture is all about materialism and hedonism, he’s in for a bad time.

Thankfully, Gergeh gets in touch with Contact, a branch of the non-government that deal with contact between The Culture and other spacefaring races. A newly contacted race is an actual Space Empire, something the Culture doesn’t want around because an Empire is full of violence and dangerous ideas. Thankfully, this Empire is completely bonkers over a Game.

Gergeh is the Culture’s Representative in the Game that will decide who the next Emperor will be. It is a purely symbolic gesture for Gergeh, as he cannot become Emperor. But the Empire wants to show its citizens that no outside “Culture” can tell them what to do or beat them at their own game.

Of course, Gergeh beats them all, by the skin of his teeth, sets in motion the downfall of the Empire as its very psyche is shattered and once back in Culture Space, suddenly all is well with Gergeh and he’s satisfied with his inane, empty and completely meaningless life. Score one for The Culture!


My Thoughts:

First, Neal Asher’s Polity Universe has been likened to Banks’ The Culture novels and after reading this, I can see why. However, where Asher gives us characters who are in the thick of things and have a brain and have a modicum of moral backbone, Banks gives us characters who have been coddled since before birth and live a life of ease and pleasure so stultifying that it made me feel stupid just reading about it.

Now, onto what I really thought of this.

This is all based on the assumption of humanistic materialism. Basically, there is nothing but matter and the interactions of matter. There is no God, there is no soul, there is no afterlife, there is no Meaning. Everything is pointless drivel in the end because you just die and become somebody’s snot. If I was a believer in this, I’d just go around and kill as many people as I could for the pure thrill of it and the adrenalin rush.

Gergeh, the main character, is just about at that point. But he’s had all bad things removed from his genes, because obviously anything bad must have a material cause and it must be in the genes.

I was told over and over how great the Culture was, how so many advances had been made, how gene-tweaked everyone was to make them better people in all ways. And yet Gergeh is a bored, selfish, narcissistic (I like that word and use it a lot) bastard. His every thought, desire and action gives lie to what we’re told about the Culture. At least Asher is a bit more honest in his Polity books about people wanting to swan off after about 300 years or so.

I was recommended this as the first Culture book to read and I’m glad I did. It was engaging and fun once Gergeh started playing the Game in the Empire, But that didn’t happen until almost the 40% mark. That first 40% was a killer for me.

I plan on reading more, but if I continue to react to the rest of the books like I did this one, I probably won’t last the entire series. I feel like I broke out in a bad case of “Righteous Judgement” while reading this.

Maybe I completely read this wrong and Banks is being a satirist about The Culture? But I don’t get that vibe.

★★★☆ ½



18 thoughts on “The Player of Games (The Culture #2) ★★★☆ ½

  1. Humanistic materialism sure does lead to a lot of practical down-to-earth decisions. This sounds fun to some extent, but that 40% of pure struggling is also killing me psychologically. It’s nice to see that it compares to Neal Asher’s run though, cause that one sounded pure badass. Nice review, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure about Banks’ point of view toward the Culture, but what he shows are both sides of the coin: a post-scarcity civilization where hunger, poverty, need and sickness have been virtually abolished; and the lack of… challenges (for want of a better word) that comes from this civilization where everything you want or need can be yours at the snap of your fingers. And Gurgeh is indeed the “child” of such a background, a person who needs fresh challenges that his own milieu seems unable to offer.
    If you will decide to read Use of Weapons, you will see that the Culture does have a dark side indeed…

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Consider Phlebas was the first Culture novel I tried but it did not work well with me: I’ve learned afterwards that it’s better if one reads is after having familiarized themselves with Banks’ Culture and I intend to re-read it one of these days. I look forward to reading your comments 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad you finally read something of the Culture Universe.

    That’s the beauty of literature, and SF in particular. What and who we are certainly makes us appreciate certain works in different ways.

    As I said in my review, my background makes me “read” “The Player of Games” in a certain way.

    Like Cordwainer Smith’s Instumentality of Mankind and Ursula LeGuin’s Ekumen, the Culture novels throw light on the life cycle of empires.
    That’s the whole point of the good SF, surely – to make us rethink our ingrained attitudes by setting aspects of our own society (and our own values) in an imagined world. “The Player of Games” is still for me the sharpest crayon in Banks’ box. At its heart the moment when Gurgeh, watching closed circuit images in his room, is faced with the reality of the corruption and ruthless cruelty underpinning the Empire of Azad. As Banks himself admited several times that “Player of Games”, for all the philosophical trappings, is essentialy wish-fulfillment, The thing is, it’s starting to look like our problem is neither ‘not enough cool tech’, or ‘too many religous throwbacks’, but something rather more fundamental that Banks would have to deal with.

    I did think at the time of reading “Look To Windward” that he was treating the average citizens of the culture with a little more contempt and disdain than usual, that their actions are more like spoilt children than in previous books.

    Man, how I like discussing the Culture Novels…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I certainly don’t regret reading this, not at all. I’ve just been in a pissy mood all week and it has come across in my review and my comments. I actually finished this Sunday but put off reviewing to see if my attitude would change any, nope!

      When reading the Polity books, I have no problem accepting Asher’s anti-religion stance. But Banks’ philosophy just hit me hard for this book. I’m hoping in future books it won’t be like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah weirdly enough I’ve read books like this, where the world is supposed to be all “enlightened” but actually feels really nihilistic and then I get really judgemental even though I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of the book… Either way, it does sound like an interesting book- great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Culture books are famously hard to get into. the first 100 pages throw you into the deep end, and either you stick it out and get past it, or you don’t. I was never bothered by the post-scarcity society where everyone has everything they could ever need, but I can see how that would come off as obnoxious.

    I always get a kick out of the snarky droids and Mindships. They always seem to be making fun of stupid humans, and that gives me a chuckle.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. For me, the post-scarcity is obnoxious because the people are just as bad as they are today. And Banks’ whole philosophy is banked on [ha] the idea that everything bad is just a matter of genes. Give everyone exactly what they want and whammo, suddenly there will be nothing but peace and love and brotherhood. Doesn’t work on 2 year olds, and it doesn’t work on adults 😀

      The AI’s in Asher’s Polity books were always amusing so I’m glad to hear they’re just as snarky in other books in Banks’. That type of thing is fun to read.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s