Book Recommendation: ‘The Player of Games’ by Iain M. Banks

Recommended by Steven Rice, Museum and Archives Manager, Door County Historical Museum

With the holidays over and the depths of winter ahead, reading escapist fiction feels more appealing than ever, and what better place to escape to than the farthest future? The late Scottish author Iain M. Banks was a master of speculative fiction, and there’s no better entry point to his award-winning Culture novels than The Player of Games.

In the distant future of the novel, humankind has no material needs beyond the pursuit of pleasure. Jernau Gurgeh is a man of his time: a professional game player and galactic celebrity with nothing to live for but the next match.

That is, until political intrigue lures him away from his cozy existence to the Empire of Azad, a distant kingdom where all society is based on mastery of one intricate and deadly board game. Surrounded by deception and a hostile culture, Gurgeh must play for the highest possible stakes: his life.

Banks was an intelligent and witty writer, and his fish-out-of-water protagonist is by turns brilliant, exasperating and sympathetic. The Player of Games is a sci-fi triumph, a political thriller and a classic adventure rolled into one, with enough tabletop action to tantalize any board-game enthusiast.