Ahoy there mateys! Several years ago, I was lamenting that there were no standalones that were somehow intertwined in one universe or world. Me brain is usually a sieve and lots of time in-between books in trilogies and such means that I lose details and sometimes have to start the series over. I wanted the effect of extreme world building with a tied-up story in each book. The First Mate suggested the Culture “series” in which every book is set in the same universe but all can be read as standalones and in any order. And sci-fi to boot. Arrrr! So I began with the novel consider phlebas which was Bank’s first Culture novel. Have read it twice now and loved it even more the second time. So eventually I bought this book which was Bank’s second written Culture Novel and the First Mate’s favorite.
I loved this book and the world Banks has set up so very much. The game player in this book is named Jernau Morat Gurgeh. He is considered one of the best game players in the galaxy. Through a series of circumstances, he is recruited/forced to play a top secret high-stakes game in another star system, Azad. However the “game” he is playing is anything but just for fun. The planet’s society, politics, religion, and very existence hinge of the outcome of the conclusion of the tournament.
What I found fascinating about this novel is that the tone is extremely different from the other Culture novel that I read. That one was full of action and multiple settings and a dare-devil protagonist. In this one, Gurgeh is a thinker and philosopher of games. He likes his routine and current lifestyle. He is an unwilling game participant at first but becomes engrossed as he gets more and more involved in the life and game of Azad. Yet the background of the Culture makes this book as compelling as the first novel in spite or maybe because of these differences.
I am not a huge game theory fan so the game itself did not always have me focus. But what certainly did were the politics and interactions of the characters. The Culture world has a “humanoid/machine symbiotic society.” Yet Azad is more primitive. I loved Gurgeh and his attitude of almost nonchalance towards everyone else. The game is the only thing for him.
I also loved his robot friend, Chamlis, who is crazy old and lovable for a machine. Gurgeh’s machine ambassador, Flere-Imsaho was also a hoot. He spends his free time bird watching and the remainder of the time trying to keep Gurgeh from making political and social blunders. He also has to hide what he is and he made me laugh with his complaints. I love the spaceship, Limiting Factor. Basically all the machines in this novel have fantastic and distinct personalities. They were nice contrasts to Gurgeh’s own personality.
There is no major way to explain the plot any further due to its complexity. This book was a fast read and I think the writing is superb. Needless to say I recommend the two culture novels I have read so far and I certainly shall be reading more in the series.
Apparently there are 10 books in total. Only 8 to go. But I shall take me time with them to savor the Culture flavor.
Side note: Apparently Mr. Banks passed away in 2013 from cancer. Boo-hiss! Cancer sucks. But I am grateful he left behind a whole world for me to explore.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
The Culture–a humanoid/machine symbiotic society–has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.
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