The Player of Games
Iain M. Banks
That ‘M’ is important and very distinctive. This is a completely different author to Espedair Street; even though both books list all Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks books. No? Don’t believe me? Well, yeah. His fiction is published as Iain Banks and his sci-fi as Iain M. Banks. Strange, but that’s the way he does it.
His sci-fi is some of the best I’ve read since Philip K. Dick. And as he doesn’t produce anywhere near as much as Dick, it averages a lot better. Though without some of the crazed inventiveness. But that sounds like damning Banks with faint praise: his sci-fi really is that good. There are fantastic ideas and a very plausible feel to everything. He doesn’t shoot himself in the foot by trying to explain how everything works: the technology is just there and it works.
But his strongest points are actually his characterisations and story. You get involved, you believe, and most importantly, you care. And on top of that, the story is usually about the growth and life of a character - sometimes a descending spiral with no apparent way out; sometimes a broadening and opening of a character you initially dislike.
This book is fascinating for the first real peek inside the Culture, instead of the view of a mercenary looking from the outside, in.