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|This is the simplest of Iain Banks' sci-fi novels, being not much more than a year in the life of a professional games player.
He finds himself making an epic journey to a planet in a distant reach of the galaxy, where he is told that life itself is a game played on gigantic boards.
Quite predictably, it turns out that losing the game means death itself, and the player finds himself pitted against the best players on the planet; he beats a succession of ever better players until the climax of the book where he confronts the best of the best and, of course, wins. The book wouldn't be complete without a touch of bad sportsmanship, and the book's real climax comes about quite predictably when the loser tries to take the victor's life before true justice can be done, but, of course, he doesn't get away with it.
Despite the predictability and lack of real sci-fi imagination which Banks usually imparts to his work, the story is told with Banks' usual fluidity and attention to detail where it is needed, and the various game players who are brought into the reader's arena are imaginatively portrayed.
A good read but not one of Banks' best.
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