“All Reality is a game; Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance…”
‘Player of Games’ was my introduction to the utopian, resource-rich and almost indolent Culture civilization, created by Iain M. Banks. I read it around the age of 17 and was quickly reeled in by the ideals and possibilities of the Culture – a socialist society of humans, humanoids, aliens and robotic / AI intelligences spread across the Milky Way. The novels primarily look at the issues raised when such a society meets civilizations which do not share the same views – indeed, where both civilizations can find the other’s outlook anathema.
The second book of the series, its main protagonist is a character called Gurgeh, a renowned expert player of games (which 17 year-old boy hasn’t wanted to be one of those?), and which truly opened my eyes to some of the more exploratory ideas and philosophy that Sci-Fi can contain.
Since I first picked up and started to read ‘The Player of Games’, Banks’ Sci-Fi writings became and have remained some of my all-time favourites (his speculative / fiction novels are pretty good, too; I especially recommend ‘The Bridge’ and ‘A Song of Stone’). For that reason, it is probably my favourite book and I re-read it at least every few years.
Speaking of which, I must get it back from the last person I loaned it to…
The Culture – a human/machine symbiotic society – has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life – and very possibly his death.