Thursday, 7 February 2008

Review: "The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks

In "The Player of Games", Iain Banks presents a society centered around a game called "Azad", which is so nuanced that life itself is a reflection of the game and vice versa. The standing of players varies according to their performance in the tournaments held every few years, and the winner of the tournament assumes the role of emperor.

Into this society is thrust a human expert in Game Theory, a man who is a generalist, an expert in almost all games, a man perfectly suited to make sense of "Azad" and the society that shares that name.

This book reminded me in some ways of "The Game Players of Titan" by Philip K. Dick. In "Titan", a group of aliens from Titan imposes on human society a simplified version of the game that is the basis of Titan's society. "Bluff" as portrayed in "The Game Players of Titan" is a simple game by comparison with "Azad", more about luck and psychology than complex strategy. Although "Azad" is described in terms that leave much to the imagination, it is portrayed as a means by which an individual's intelligence, wisdom, and even morality are intimately tested against that of their opponents.

Banks' skills are used to good effect as he depicts the difference between the societies, the central clash between human society ("Culture") and "Azad" is well crafted, and his depiction of gender dynamics reminds me of some of my favorite short stories by Ursula LeGuin.

Anyway, suffice to say I plan to read more of his novels when I get the chance.

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