Recently, I read and enjoyed Ann Aguirre’s first novel in the Jax series, Grimspace (my review). There are several short stories available for free on Aguirre’s website that may be worth checking out. I haven’t actually read any of them so I’m not sure how they compare to Grimspace. Even though I’m not a big short story fan, I am looking forward to reading the forthcoming story Renegade, which takes place in the Jax universe and is told from the point of view of March. It is supposed to appear with the rest of the free reads sometime in June.


Doing polls for what to read next are fun every once in a while so I added a new one to the right. Since it’s a little clunky to include more than just the title in it, I’ll add the full list including author and series (if any) below:

Young Miles (omnibus – #3 and #4 Miles Vorkosigan) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Blood and Iron (#1 Promethean) by Elizabeth Bear
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Calenture by Storm Constantine
Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
Scarlet (#2 King Raven) by Stephen Lawhead
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Right now I’m reading Dune for the first time. I finished Stephen Lawhead’s Hood and J.M. McDermott’s debut Last Dragon over the weekend so those reviews will be coming soon.

The Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks
416pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Good Reads Rating: 4.06/5

I have wanted to read one of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks for quite a while and one that sounded particularly interesting to me was The Player of Games. Unfortunately, that particular title was difficult to find in the U.S. — until it was reprinted here a couple of months ago. I am very glad it was since this is definitely one of the better novels I have read this year, containing layers and depth without ever becoming too dry or a chore to read.

Gurgeh has a talent for mastering strategy, making him one of the best professional game players in the known universe. In fact, games no longer present a challenge to him, causing him to look for new thrills to ease his boredom. He does not find any until a machine from Contact visits him and briefly questions him about his willingness to go on a voyage. Since he hates traveling, Gurgeh states he would not be interested, but a psychotic robot blackmails him into developing an acquaintance with Contact. Once Gurgeh finds out the mysterious trip is to a secret empire whose entire culture is based on an intricate game, his curiosity is piqued.

The game and life are so intertwined that both the empire and the game have the same name – Azad. Ability to play the game during a large tournament determines people’s placement in society – those who play well get better positions and the last man standing achieves the honor of becoming Emperor. Members of this society learn to play the complicated game from the time they are very young since becoming skillful at it requires years of practice. The Culture’s premiere game player has found just the occupation he was looking for – learning to play this elaborate game during his two year journey to Azad.

This book was very easy for me to get into, particularly since the first half a page immediately drew me in. There was a slow part toward the end of Part One and the beginning of Part Two, but other than that, the story sucked me in more and more as I read. I was riveted and unable to put the book down for the last 100 pages or so.

At first, I found the prose very straightforward and to the point, but some of the descriptions toward the end of the novel made me change my mind. Banks has a gift for painting a visual picture without being verbose and getting his point across succinctly. He is very much a “show not tell” author and his characters were well done through their conversations and actions without pages of description about every thought and feeling.

The setting and atmosphere were the highlights of The Player of Games. The Culture is a lawless utopia in which humans and sentient machines live together in harmony. (Well, almost – the machines are allowed to develop random personalities which can result in conflicts with smartass robots.) In contrast, under its glamorous sheen, the Empire is an amalgam of all the worst aspects seen throughout our world – racism, sexism, violence, and general cruelty all run rampant in this society. Both of these cultures were fascinating, particularly the way in which Banks twisted them. The Empire may be horrible, but the Culture is hardly perfect in spite of its lofty ideals.

The author does not shy away from disturbing depictions but they are told with a sort of flippancy. It’s just the way it is and that’s how he tells it without spending time elaborating on how horrifying it is. Brutality is not all there is, though, as the conversations between characters are often sarcastic and humorous (although some of the humor can be a bit dark).

The Player of Games is intelligent science fiction with a wonderfully realized setting. It manages to be profound and entertaining simultaneously. I highly recommend this novel and will certainly be reading more books in this series.


Excerpt from The Player of Games

A Kind of Peace
by Andy Boot
303pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 2/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 1/5
Good Reads Rating: 1/5

A Kind of Peace by Andy Boot is the first book in the “Dreams of Inan” series. “Dreams of Inan” is a shared world universe similar to Forgotten Realms in that more than one author writes stories that take place in Inan, a land in which technology and magic are intertwined. It is supposed to be an action-filled, fast-paced fantasy adventure, but unfortunately, it was not all that fast paced or exciting.

The nation states of Inan have formed a peace treaty after warring with each other for over five hundred years. Suddenly the people have to learn to get along with others they have been taught to hate since they were children. One powerful mage is brought in for each nation state so they hold approximately equal power. The warrior Simeon 7, released from a prison camp after the truce was called, is appointed as the new bodyguard of Ramus-Bey, the irritable but studious mage of Bethel. Simeon suspects that this new-found peace may be a cover for an underlying conspiracy against his nation-state and Ramus-Bey.

I did not read this book expecting anything mind-blowing or original since it was just supposed to be a fun adventure. However, it started out slowly, especially for a book that was not all that long to begin with – the book did not begin to pick up until about halfway through. There was a lot of exposition and a lot of this was repetitive to an extent where it felt like it was insulting the reader’s intelligence. I do not need to be told twenty times that there is a conspiracy or that a character is smarter than everyone else believes him to be or how the power structure works.

The writing involves a lot of telling instead of showing. I do not normally have a problem with that, but this book did so much telling that it annoyed me (especially since we had gotten the idea already the first ten times we were told about it). For example, in the first few pages we meet Simeon and his love interest Jenna. Jenna is very snide toward Simeon but instead of showing the nature of their relationship through actions, the narrator keeps saying how Jenna sees anyone lower in rank to be inferior to her and compares Simeon to her pet a couple of times.

The characters were very generic and flat, especially the female character Jenna, who rang hollow throughout the entire book. Her actions just did not make sense to me with the attitudes she was attributed with earlier in the book. It states she thinks everyone lower in rank is beneath her and her view toward Simeon is nothing personal but later she just decides he’s ok after all. Her character seemed very forced and her presence felt like it served as nothing more than the token female character/love interest for the main character.

The rest of the characters are very, very good with one or two minor flaws or very, very evil. Simeon is loyal and smart, Ramus-Bey is intelligent but grumpy (although he becomes nicer later in the book). There is one character who starts on the side of evil but has a moment of redemption and turns to good. The bad guys go on and on about their ingenious plans and how intelligent they are but then prove to be very incompetent and not nearly as bright as they think they are.

There were also more typos in this book than in the average book. I found two errors within the first three pages, one of which was “the” missing an “e” in the very first paragraph. Omitted punctuation and more typos were prevalent throughout the rest of the book.

This book was mildly entertaining at times once it got to the point and Simeon and Ramus-Bey were somewhat likable since they had the cookie cutter qualities that have drawn people in for ages, although they were never interesting. There were also times where the book tried to be philosophical, but it just wasn’t that deep. It was like the author couldn’t decide if it should be a high-action adventure or a thoughtful story, tried to do both, and failed to make it work on both levels.

What little I know about the Inan universe from this book has promise – a society in which magic and technology are both present has potential to be interesting. The effects of the end of 500-year war could also be an interesting aspect of the world to explore. Most of the problems with this book were writing and the rest of the books in this series are written by different authors, so perhaps one of these later novels will be more to my liking.

A Kind of Peace just wasn’t that entertaining, well-written, or unique. In fact, it was repetitive, dull, and generic.


Other opinions:

I just finished The Player of Games today, so I’ll be closing down the what to read next poll in a minute. The winner is Stephen Lawhead’s Hood so that will be the next book I read.

This weekend I should have a review of the first Dreams of Inan book, A Kind of Peace, up. Sometime after that, I’ll be reviewing The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, which I loved. It was the first book I’ve read by Banks and it exceeded my expectations. I’m very glad some of the Culture books are being reprinted in the U.S. since now I have to get the rest of them to read.

It has been announced that Richard K. Morgan’s novel Black Man/Thirteen (UK title/American title) is the winner of the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award. This award, originally funded by Clarke himself with the intention of popularizing science fiction in the UK, serves as a means of selecting the best novel in the genre released in Britain during the previous year. More information on the award and past winners can be found on the official home page.