- Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
- Morpurgo, Michael — The Mozart Question (68 pages)
- Unsworth, Barry — Stone Virgin (312 pages)
- Phillips, Caryl — The Nature of Blood (212 pages)
- Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (549 pages)
- Lockwood, Richard & Steve Potz-Rayner — A Little Book of Lies (170 pages)
- Vickers, Hugh — Great Operatic Disasters (65 pages)
- Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (574 pages)
- Rennison, Nick — 100 Must-Read Classic Novels (164 pages)
- Augustine of Hippo (John K. Ryan, translator) — The Confessions of Saint Augustine (422 pages)
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott — The Great Gatsby (146 pages)
- Harrison, Fraser — Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota (188 pages)
- Banks, Iain M. — Consider Phlebas (466 pages)
- Banks, Iain M. — The Player of Games (307 pages)
- Page count
I find it unconvincing, despite previous literary evidence, that a novel about an individual playing a board game will be compelling, yet that is precisely what The Player of Games is.
The Player of Games is the second novel in Iain M. Banks' Culture series. This time Banks takes us inside the Culture and introduces us to a citizen who is acclaimed at playing every imaginable sort of game yet finds himself unfulfilled and losing interest in games. The fact that he might be open to new experiences comes to the attention of Contact, the Culture's intelligence branch. Contact informs our "hero," Gurgeh, that they have made contact with an Empire in one of the galactic Clouds next to our galaxy, a civilization who's every level is determined by a complex game known as Azad, and that Gurgeh has an opportunity to play in their next tournament as a guest.
The process by which Gurgeh decides to take this opportunity is itself revelatory, so I won't say more about it. But in the process of accepting this challenge, learning the game during the two year journey to the Azad Empire, and playing the game against people who have played it their entire lives, we learn a lot about Gurgeh, the people about him, and the inner machinations of the Culture.
The Player of Games is brimming with brilliant ideas. Perhaps none of them are wholly unique — you will no doubt pickup influences by Niven (ringworlds or orbitals), Gibson, Le Guin (the Azadians have three sexes), and others — but Banks' treatment of these ideas takes them to a whole new level. And, as with Consider Phlebas, by placing two diametrically opposed civilizations in direct competition, Banks once again sparks a running debate about the advantages of different modes of living. But lest you think this is all about weighty philosophical ideas and galactic political intrigue, The Player of Games is infused by the characteristic Banksian grim humor, sparkling dialogue, pacy action, and vividly graphic detail.