I just finished reading The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks.

I recently asked James for an example of the SciFi that he is into nowadays that I know nothing about, and this is what he recommended; the particular universe Banks’ books are set in is one he particularly likes. Given this, I was excited to read the book in the hope that it would be interesting and thought-provoking as well as having a strong plot, but I found myself disappointed on both of these points.

It’s possible that the setting of the series and particular features of the book could have come together to produce something interesting but clearly Banks wasn’t the person to do it. Throughout I felt as though I was reading some juvenile fantasy story that I might have read at 14 for entertainment,[1] aware then as now that it wasn’t really very good but was fun; of course, aged 21, such a thing is going to be both bad and not very fun now. There were just so many times when the plot point wasn’t very interesting and Banks still managed to make it worse with his execution.

On this last point I thought the book was sort of like the kind of thing I might write if I were to try writing fiction: overuse of metaphor in super-concentrated bunches surrounded by dull happenings strung together in an entirely unconvincing way. It was as if Banks wanted to show off the Fascinating Facets of his Culture invention, and forces that showing off in, so it’s altogether unsubtle and unconvincing. An example of this: near the beginning two characters start talking about the Culture all of a sudden, complaining about a particular aspect of it, and it’s not at all reasonable that they should be doing that at that point. The conversation is shoe-horned in to move the plot along, perhaps. No fluidity and grace.

Towards the end when things were picking up to the climax I got a lot more into the book and hoped that it would be a good ending. But no. Everything goes crazy and, get this—slight spoiler coming up but it’s not a big deal—the main character ends up in a sword duel with a crazed dark lord-type figure; it’s completely ridiculous and over-the-top. Then there is a massive reveal and there are pages and pages of explaining what has been going on the whole book, and I just didn’t care, it was all just not worth it.

This has been a very scathing short review. Lots of people love this series of books, but the thing is I am finding it very hard to understand why anyone above age fifteen would. It’s totally mystifying me right now, hence this harshness, and presumably, ignorance of their perspective. It’s not just that I didn’t like it, but that it seems so bad I can’t see how anyone can like it as anything better than time-wasting TV, yet, a lot of people do. I suppose I’m being this harsh because I was really looking forward to the book when my friend recommended it; not blaming him of course, but that doesn’t stop it from being frustrating. Up next a book of short stories from Chekhov.

[1] I spent my GCSE Chemistry lessons reading trashy fantasy; teacher was happy with this.