The Player of Games by Iain M Banks – 5/5 Stars

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks - front coverThe Player of Games by Iain M Banks - back cove

Takes substantial intelligence to get into the story, but once you’re in you don’t want to leave. Morat Gurgeh is The Player of Games. In the advanced civilisation known as the Culture he can adapt and play any game across the galaxies. He has lost before, but the thrill of not knowing whether he will win or not is partly what drives him. But he’s bored of requests to play, and seeks a challenge.



When Contact, a special division of the Culture, makes ‘contact’ with Gurgeh it is because they have something special planned for him. Across a breadth of space the Azad Empire is notorious for its cruelty and aggressive militaristic expansion. The empire’s board game, also called Azad, is what determines the hierarchical structure of their society. And Contact wants Gurgeh to learn and play Azad, but it’s not clear why to Gurgeh. When Gurgeh lands on a planet of the Azad Empire, he soon realises he is in way over his head. The Culture and his friends are forgotten about as he witnesses the barbarism of these humanoids. As a reader I wondered if Gurgeh would ever escape from the clutches of such evil, and if such evil would expand and eventually swallow the Culture, being as pervasive and authoritarian as it was.

This is a must-read!

Iain M Banks’ website

The Player of Games on Amazon

The Player of Games at Waterstones

The Martian by Andy Weir – 3/5 Stars

The Martian by Andy Weir - front cover











For those unfamiliar, the book is about an astronaut (Mark Watney) stranded on Mars without communication or backup from Earth/NASA. Mark must grow his own potatoes and put his practical skills to use in a struggle for his own survival, but the odds are against him because the next Mars probe won’t arrive for a long time and he may run out of food, oxygen, or water before then. Any of a hundred different things could go wrong, from the habitation to the rovers.

The Martian by Andy Weir - back cover

The Martian used retrospective first-person tense to good effect, relating Mark’s experience in a series of diaries listed as ‘sols’. The tense captured Mark’s hilarious take on his situation, and made for engaging reading.

My main criticism is the overuse of scientific terms and mathematical calculations, which was a bit overwhelming at times because not all of the calculations made sense to me, even if it was supposedly authentic.

Still, there were enough engaging chapters, and it was a good book overall.

The Martian by Andy Weir on Amazon

Andy Weir’s Website

The Invisible Man by HG Wells – 5/5 Stars

The Invisible Man by HG Wells

My third HG Well’s novel read and I’ve started to notice that he often has a main character on the run from something: mustering violence to protect against innumerable or unfathomable enemies, facing starvation through the quaint English countryside, and then having to make use of reason to make sense of the extremely improbable. Humorously, most of the sub-characters aren’t on the run as such, but are so highly panicked and foolish that it makes the heroic main characters look calm and collected by comparison. The sub-characters engage in gossip, wild speculation, and this drives their collective fury to such a level as to make all hell break loose on the roads. It doesn’t require a close examination to deduce that when reading HG Well’s novels, we are reading about a fragile society that is faced with what to them is an impossible occurrence: an invisible man!

Did this make me sympathise with the glut of people? Not really, for their (at first) baseless rumours convinced me that they did not need an invisible man to “appear” to startle them and provoke them into collective insanity. When the invisible man is “revealed” to them, the level of panic and outrage is turned up a notch, perhaps understandably, but it was difficult for most to see reason or think how there could be an invisible man; most were not enquiring minds. Kemp, introduced quite late in the novel, has an enquiring mind and scientific background. An educated man, if you will. Kemp sees those running away from an “invisible man” down the hill outside his window as classic fools, in the absence of evidence.

As for the invisible man himself, during the early few chapters I sympathised with him greatly, wrapped up as he was in bandages to conceal his affliction. He only wanted privacy from questions, but his odd garments and need to seclude himself naturally led to idle gossip and then break in’s and direct questions. It was easy to forgive the invisible man’s cruelty at this stage. The reader soon sees how infuriating it really is to be invisible in the 19th century: good for the element of surprise and disappearing but not ideal for survival in human towns and villages.

The Invisible Man is an intriguing tale, wound well with originality stemming from its main concept. Everywhere he went, he caused trouble and alarm. Though there was a touch too much background into how the invisible man arrived where he did, we got to learn how he made himself invisible and of his tribulations before the commencement of the novel. It was as much about how flawed Griffin (the invisible man) was; how his strengths made him a terror and how his weaknesses escalated the hunt against him; as about the novelty of being invisible. This is a stunning novel, with writing that flows so well it seems to swim pleasantly in the mind. Highly recommended!