Sci-fi Book Club : The Player of Games

Manchester Science Fiction Book club met at 7pm (except for the confused stragglers who arrived at 7:30 and so missed out on the pizza) in the refurbished downstairs of MadLab.

“The Player of Games” by Ian M Banks is the first book we’ve done that produced a unanimous show of hands for the question “Who liked it?”.

Fortunately we didn’t agree about everything in the book. It is a tale of blackmail, intrigue, manipulation and gamesmanship.

Guegeh travels from his utopian (some said boring) civilisation

“The Culture” to visit the far away empire of “Azad”.

This 5 year trip is ostensibly to play an hugely complex game but the shadowy members of ”Special Circumstances” – the culture’s foreign office – have other more serious motives on their (huge and bizarrely named) artificial ship-minds.

We agreed that Bank’s wit and word play was well deployed, making a complex story very readable.

Most felt that the level of detail was about right, enough to stave off confusion and leaving plenty of room for us to imagine the rest. Some felt that the complexity of the Culture’s geography made the first pages a struggle.

The plausibility of a game underpinning a whole empire was discussed without once mentioning football (or even cricket)!

We disagreed about the morals, and the motivation of the central characters, especially in the climatic chapter where the game is played for the highest stakes.

Comparisons were drawn with both the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the use of humour at the expense of gloomy automata and the Rocky films (1-4 but not 5 or 6) in terms of the plot.

No one was overly shocked by the revelation of the narrator’s identity, but we did discuss how reliable a witness he is.

In contrast to “The left hand of darkness”, we spent very little time talking about sex or gender politics, despite the fact that they play an important role in contrasting Azad and the Culture.

The book was so popular that a splinter group looked like forming which would only read books by Ian M Banks or his non-scifi alter-ego Ian Banks.

This may have been averted by adding “Feersum Endjinn” to the list of books we will read in the coming months.

Those of us who have read and re-read the Culture novels had to restrain ourselves from spoiling their plots for the others, but we did share our favourite names of culture ships.

‘Till tuesday 21st of September when we read “The Carpet Makers” – at 7pm!

Yours – @Steely_Glint (yeah it is a ship name from a Banks culture novel)

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