The Player of Games

Discussion in 'Iain M. Banks' started by Boreas, Sep 23, 2015.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've been rereading this second Culture novel and have now finished the first of four sections, "Culture Plate".

    One thing I really love about this work is the slow, very slightly indulgent pace of the first section, where Banks quite adroitly (and without info dumps) gives the reader a rather thorough glimpse of various facets of mainstream Culture life, standards and perceptions.

    It doesn't 'seem' as if the writing is anything special, but it's actually quite subtle and skilled, and injected with a bit more humour (at least, a little more frequently) than with the previous novel, Consider Phlebas. There is quite a bit of information given away through individual reactions, a feature I really admire. Sometimes, an adjective or an entire sentence is casually thrown in that carries a fair bit of weight. And I haven't even gotten to the really good parts of the novel, yet, though I'm quickly approaching it.

    I'd always felt Gurgeh to be someone that I didn't particularly like, but someone who's development I truly appreciated. However, this time around, I'm actually liking (certain aspects), understanding and empathising with Gurgeh much more from the very beginning.

    Who's read this novel (or reading it now) and loved/hated it? Although, I would find it difficult to imagine someone disliking this particular book - I can understand some people having a difficult time with Consider Phlebas, but this one is just too straightforward and imminently readable.
    Diziet Sma and R-Hat like this.
  2. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    OK, I've not read the post above for fear of spoilers, but I'm about a fifth into this now, and what a contrast to Consider Phlebas!

    This is having much more of a slower build up, and is largely focused on a single character. The setting isn't a war filled universe either, it's a hedonistic Culture setting full of indulgence and excess.

    And I just laughed at one of the culture ship names - Just Read The Instructions.

    Good stuff so far, but looking forward to the pace hopefully picking up.
    Boreas likes this.
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    No spoilers in that first post! Glad you're enjoying it. I think it's a stronger novel than CP. The Player of Games is both more simple and also more subtle, especially with respect to Gurgeh's development. It actually makes him feel like a real life character to me. And I love the first, slow section depicting the quotidian interactions and conversations of regular Culture life. I find it to be a very important part of the narrative. Have you seen Cimino's The Deer Hunter? I've always felt the two long, 'domestic' sections beginning each of these stories to be similar and key for the rest of the narrative, not necessarily in terms of plot later on but for the contrast in perspective, attitudes and tone.
  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    The Player of Games has been an engrossing and delicious read.
    I realize now I should have begun my Culture reading experience with this book and not with Use Of Weapons. Having Banks presenting the different aspects of the Culture intricacies has given me a much better grasping of this society and its citizens.

    Banks’ tale-telling skills are elegant, smooth, sexy, poetic and bloody funny. The Player of Games reads with a beautiful and engrossing simplicity, which never stopped amazing me when reflecting upon it: How difficult it is to convey this story, in a deceptively simple way, with so many complexities regarding its structure, story arcs, and characterisation. How few authors can pull this off.

    Banks' characterisation, plot, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots and rhythm are admirable. He manages to bring home a far remote utopia, decadent, bored Culture, mingled with Minds, drones, alien races et al. It is intelligently casual, exotically familiar and conceptually challenging. The reader can deepen and explore the social differences presented or stay in shallow waters. The fun is guaranteed either way.

    I think my next Culture book will be Consider Phlebas.
    Boreas likes this.
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    It's such a good, succinct novel! But even within that narrative simplicity of form, there are these thin, subtle layers available for the peeling. I've been increasingly fascinated by Gurgeh the more times I've read TPoG. At first, I thought there wasn't much to him, but now I find him to be one of Banks' more complex creations, but it's sort of a hidden complexity, indirectly shown. And that first section on the orbital with depictions of almost 'provincial' Culture life is fantastic! It's actually very close to being a realist novel if you remove the SF tropes and signifiers. That scene where Gurgeh watches over his lover's dreaming/breathing is one of those brilliant, light touches that makes Gurgeh a full-fleshed character, a little inscrutable, yet simultaneously familiar.
  6. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    I found Gurgeh fascinating from the beginning and, in particular, as he awakes as the story progresses. It feels almost like the unchallenging lifestyle in the Culture leaves everyone practically in a constant supine position, half dormant and running at a half engine.
    You would need an impertinent, wicked drone such as Flere Imsaho to shake you out.
  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Precisely this! One can, surprisingly, relate to the characters.
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yeah, I think this book is generally the easiest place to start with the Culture. Although, I've come across many people who've started with UoW or Excession (two with more convoluted plots) and absolutely loved it. If you're a classicist, I suspect starting with UoW could be a good idea. I'd recommend UoW to anyone who likes Dostoyevsky, or for more contemporary writers, someone who likes Joseph Heller, for example. I started with Consider Phlebas and read them in order of publication. CP was a great read, but TPoG is when I realised I was going to read every Culture novel.
    I think what I meant to say was that, initially, I didn't find him very sympathetic, even though I did find him interesting and enjoyed his development. But now, I find him very sympathetic.

    Any parts of TPoG that were your favourites?

    Here's the review from the blog.
  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Banks, as any other worth considering author, has a special flavor in his narrative, and with his Culture books, there is definitely an underpinning background music, which one can easily miss if not well tuned into it.
    I thought UoW was an amazing read although a demanding one. If I had had the background to Banks’ writing style and Culture concept, I could have firstly enjoyed even more the humor and social aspects of it; and secondly, I could have focused more on the complexity of its structure in a more relaxing and enjoyable manner.
    I will definitely read UoW again, and I have the certainty I will appreciate it, even more, this second time round.

    Great review!

    I liked Gurgeh because he felt different to me. Within the apathy that seems to spread amongst the Culture citizens, he was reluctant to give in all the way.
    For example, when Yay mentions he is weird because he has never changed sex nor slept with another man. I don’t think Gurgeh avoided these based on moral principles at all. He was rooted, in my opinion, to preserve an original concept, an imprint of himself. He was even reluctant to pump himself with the glands induced drugs.

    I really enjoyed the first part, which let me learn about the Culture, how people behaved, the ethical paths they followed. I didn’t have this in UoW.
    Then, as soon as he starts mingling with the alien culture, I found it really interesting how Gurgeh began a mild but constant disconnection from the Culture. How he even preferred to speak Eäic to Marian. His attraction for some aspects of the Azda Culture was worrisome to the point Flehe I. took him sightseeing to bring him back to the Culture mindset
    Flehe Imsaho/Mawhrin Skel were a fantastically creative and hilarious addition, which definitely brought familiarity to the story.
    I love the personalities of those drones! I find the names so ingenious! I wish I had read and thought about Mawhrin Skel name when I joined the forum…!
  10. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I can change it if you really want!
  11. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Toll! In that case, as I get to choose, I would go for the name Diziet Sma: A special circumstances agent...;)

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