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The Player of Games, by Ian Banks January 15, 2014

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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The The Player of Games by Ian Banks is proving to be very amusing. I’m about one-quarter into it and it’s holding my attention raptly.
The story of a game player in The Culture, a fabulously rich and sophisticated (and very, very civilized) interstellar civilization living largely in huge habitats and huge ships, who leaves civilization for a barbaric empire in the lesser Magellanic clouds to play an enormously complex game, designed to mimic life’s larger struggles.  The game is the center of and in many ways symbolic of the empire’s power struggle, so The Culture’s Contact Bureau (the war and diplomacy people) want to put him in the game to lose and therefore convince the empire that The Culture is inferior and therefore not dangerous…I think.  At this point, I’m not sure of much, except that the machines in the Culture are sophisticated and duplicitous and that the Contact Branch’s ships have interesting names: Gunboat Diplomat, Of Course I Still Love You, and Just Read The Damned Manual.

Though the machines are subtle, devious and very, very powerful, The Player of Games is a human.  His long journey out of being a narcissist into understanding his role in the Great Game That is Life(tm) is of course the hidden subtext, but it’s carefully wrapped up in a socio-political thriller, so that’s OK and not at all preachy. Except where the A.I. he works with is explaining to him what an “empire” is, and how it’s put together from information control and nominally aligned power organizations…you know, like the USA.

But, we are an apolitical reviewer from a happy blog, dammit.  So none of that stuff here.  The audiobook is very nicely done indeed, with useful characterizations in the voices of the various persons (human and machine) and careful enough diction that my noisy car doesn’t keep me from hearing during my interminable commute.  I will soon start The Culture novel three, Use of Weapons, after a brief science reading hiatus; that shows you how good a read this is.  I would never finish a series if even one of them could not hold my interest.

EXCITING UPDATE: Elon Musk tweeted that he’s naming two SpaceX droneships after Culture ships in Banks’ The Player of Games. One drone ship will be called Just Read The Instructions, and the other will be Of Course I Still Love You.

Also, I liked The Culture novels so much I read them all.

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