May 31, 2011
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The Player Of Games

by Iain M. Banks

Jernau Gurgeh is a professional Player of Games, to the extent that anyone in the far-future Culture may be said to have a profession. Pan-humankind, alongside a plethora of sentient machines (including giant space ships with such wonderful names as So Much For Subtlety and Unfortunate Conflict of Evidence) has plenty of tech and no shortage of anything. This poses an obvious obstacle to writing a novel, since no sensible person in the Culture is likely to want anything badly enough to generate a novel. Iain M. Banks overcomes the difficulties with style, starting with the introduction of a sentient machine – the wonderfully unpleasant Mawhrin-Skel – who was created to be a soldier-diplomat, turned out to be entirely unsuitable for the job, but who very badly wants his old job back. Banks also sets himself a ghastly task – writing about a man whose passion is playing complex chess-like games of many sorts, all impossible to describe – and acquits himself well.