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Title: The Player of Games
Series: The Culture #2
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Edition
Gergeh, the greatest game player, of any game in The Culture, is bored. His materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle is wearing thin and since the Culture is all about materialism and hedonism, he’s in for a bad time.
Thankfully, Gergeh gets in touch with Contact, a branch of the non-government that deal with contact between The Culture and other spacefaring races. A newly contacted race is an actual Space Empire, something the Culture doesn’t want around because an Empire is full of violence and dangerous ideas. Thankfully, this Empire is completely bonkers over a Game.
Gergeh is the Culture’s Representative in the Game that will decide who the next Emperor will be. It is a purely symbolic gesture for Gergeh, as he cannot become Emperor. But the Empire wants to show its citizens that no outside “Culture” can tell them what to do or beat them at their own game.
Of course, Gergeh beats them all, by the skin of his teeth, sets in motion the downfall of the Empire as its very psyche is shattered and once back in Culture Space, suddenly all is well with Gergeh and he’s satisfied with his inane, empty and completely meaningless life. Score one for The Culture!
First, Neal Asher’s Polity Universe has been likened to Banks’ The Culture novels and after reading this, I can see why. However, where Asher gives us characters who are in the thick of things and have a brain and have a modicum of moral backbone, Banks gives us characters who have been coddled since before birth and live a life of ease and pleasure so stultifying that it made me feel stupid just reading about it.
Now, onto what I really thought of this.
This is all based on the assumption of humanistic materialism. Basically, there is nothing but matter and the interactions of matter. There is no God, there is no soul, there is no afterlife, there is no Meaning. Everything is pointless drivel in the end because you just die and become somebody’s snot. If I was a believer in this, I’d just go around and kill as many people as I could for the pure thrill of it and the adrenalin rush.
Gergeh, the main character, is just about at that point. But he’s had all bad things removed from his genes, because obviously anything bad must have a material cause and it must be in the genes.
I was told over and over how great the Culture was, how so many advances had been made, how gene-tweaked everyone was to make them better people in all ways. And yet Gergeh is a bored, selfish, narcissistic (I like that word and use it a lot) bastard. His every thought, desire and action gives lie to what we’re told about the Culture. At least Asher is a bit more honest in his Polity books about people wanting to swan off after about 300 years or so.
I was recommended this as the first Culture book to read and I’m glad I did. It was engaging and fun once Gergeh started playing the Game in the Empire, But that didn’t happen until almost the 40% mark. That first 40% was a killer for me.
I plan on reading more, but if I continue to react to the rest of the books like I did this one, I probably won’t last the entire series. I feel like I broke out in a bad case of “Righteous Judgement” while reading this.
Maybe I completely read this wrong and Banks is being a satirist about The Culture? But I don’t get that vibe.