vrijdag 28 oktober 2016

"The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks

"There's something very... I don't know; primitive, perhaps, about you, Gurgeh. You've never changed sex, have you?' He shook his head. 'Or slept with a man?' Another shake. 'I thought so,' Yay said. 'You're strange, Gurgeh.'"

Jernau Gurgeh is a famous player of games - he wins just about every contest he enters and he's getting bored. When he's proposed to travel to a faraway empire to play a game called Azad, he's a bit reluctant - it would mean being away for several years and he doesn't really feel like it. But he does see it as quite a challenge and a bit of blackmailing is enough to make him decide to take on the proposal. Azad turns out to be quite a complex game, which is really important in the Empire of Azad. It doesn't only require lots of insight, it also determines social rank and political status. In fact, it is so important a game that it decides who will rule the Empire. Gurgeh is up against players who have studied the game all their lives, so he doesn't really expect to do very well, although he hopes to hold out at least a few rounds against the 12,000 other contestants. But there are factions that will do anything to prevent Gurgeh from doing well and he soon finds out his life is in danger.

It took me a bit of time to get into this novel, as with lots of science fiction. The Culture - the society Gurgeh belongs to - is utterly alien. As a reader you are confronted with people who change gender ever so often (so they can be both father and mother); brains that grow new bodies; sentient drones and talking spaceships ... But once I got to see through the weirdness of all this, I saw a fascinating story unfolding. Banks builds not one but two very interesting worlds: the Culture (which is the background to all of his science fiction novels) and the Azad Empire, which is a violent, cruel and racist place. Gurgeh is an interesting character, but the drones are the real stars in this novel. "The Player of Games" is an example of clever science fiction, which is exciting, thought-provoking and at times really funny. In fact, Banks reminds me of Robert A. Heinlein at times, and comes across as a modern version one of my favorite SF authors. Excellent novel!

Author: Iain M. Banks
Title: The Player of Games
Publisher: Orbit, London
Year: 2013 (orig. 1988)
Number of pages: 309 p.
ISBN: 9781857231465

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